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223 Barrel House serving up new look

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Kevin Braa has changed the feel of the historic Barrel House bar with a new drink menu and a new atmosphere. Samantha Bengs / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
The cocktail menu at 223 Barrel House featured classic recipes with unique flavor twists. Samantha Bengs / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

Add another new business front to downtown Red Wing's tally — the Barrel House has opened its doors again under the hand of Kevin Braa.

Rebranded as 223 Barrel House, the bar looks and feels drastically different than its previous state.

"I have always wanted a place of my own. It just happened a little sooner than I expected," Braa said.

While Braa was close to moving away from Red Wing a year ago while he was working at the Minneapolis restaurant IceHouse, his son, Ezrah, and a lasting curiosity of the vacant Barrel House space kept him in town.

"This location was always in the back of my mind. After walking through it, I was hooked," he said.

Soft lighting, booth seating and a lounge back corner all accentuate a wooden bar running the length of the building. Two small television screens behind the bar play classic black and white movies. The music ranges from jazz and blues to classic hits.

"I don't want electronics to be the focal point. I want the drinks, the bar and the atmosphere to be the focus," Braa said.

223 Barrel House is liqour forward, he said.

"This is a sit and sip type place. I try to explain that to people coming in," Braa said.

Like most bars, 223 Barrel House has beer on tap, canned beers and a selection of wine, but the cocktail list allows Braa's mixology to shine.

"I like to add some new twists to the classic drinks," he said.

Tapping into history

Above the bar, a placard reading "founded in 1886" can be found. The Barrel House holds the distinction of being the first bar established in Minnesota. One of Braa's earliest customers in 223 Barrel House was Glenn Eckhoff. Soon to be celebrating his 92nd birthday, Eckhoff said he has seen his fair share of history in the bar. In fact, the career contractor crafted the wooden back bar in the 1980s.

"It still looks pretty good," Eckhoff said of the back bar.

Glenn Eckhoff

Eckhoff said some of his earliest memories of the Barrel House date back to when he was around 8 years old, stoking the fire stove in the bar with his father. A few years older, Eckhoff said he recalls a bank teller cage in the bar, utilized mostly by Red Wing Shoe employers cashing their paychecks and grabbing a drink.

"I bet some of them left their whole checks here," he said with a laugh.

The history of the Barrel House, including Eckhoff's, is something Braa said he wants to learn more about.

"The more that I see people coming in that used to spend time here, it's all coming to reality," Braa said. "It's really cool to have that historic touch."

A restaurant and bar industry veteran, Braa said he has worked in many different businesses, from dive bars to fine dining.

"Once you become a bartender, and you enjoy the work, it's hard to leave," he said. "With your customers, they are so many stories and emotions shared. You learn a lot everyday."

223 Barrel House is open 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday-Friday and noon to 1 a.m. Saturday. Braa said he hopes to open on Sundays in time for leaf season.

"We couldn't have done this without the help of the owner Jill Gauby and the great support from the community pushing for this to be open," Braa said. "I urge people to come in a try a new drink."

Visit 223 Barrel House's page on Facebook for more information.

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