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The Growler profiles Poplar Haus

May 29, 2019 01:08PM ● By Editor

The route to Poplar House via the Gunflint Trail // Photo by Becca Dilley

 By James Norton of the - May 29, 2019

Ask a handful of Minnesotans about going “up north” and you’ll probably get a cluster of different responses that share a few things in common. Up north isn’t a specific place, although many people have a place in mind. It’s not a where, it’s a what—a slower pace of life, a retreat from the lacerating daily battles of the modern world into a place defined by pine trees, clear skies, and freshwater.

It may be physically impossible to be more emotionally “up north” than the lodge and cabins of Poplar Haus on the Gunflint Trail.

In order to understand Poplar Haus, you’ve got to radically shift your frame of reference. Imagine the trip to Duluth—not quite three hours from Minneapolis–St. Paul, and yet a different world, from the steeply sloped streets to the aerial lift bridge to the cool, mercurial mass of the inland ocean that is Lake Superior. 

Now travel another two hours along the lake and you’re in the gem-like hamlet of Grand Marais, which stretches out parallel to the lake, saluting the lighthouse perched on the eastern end of the harbor breakwater. 

Now turn away from the lake, and head up the Gunflint Trail, moving north and eventually northwest toward the Canadian border. A bit less than an hour from Grand Marais, past countless birch, pine, and aspen trees, and you’ve arrived. 

But where have you arrived? Walk into the main lodge, and you may need to catch your breath—the place’s spare, soaring, Scandinavian-esque elegance is a minimalist frame for Poplar Lake, which joins you at the bar or at your table through oversized windows and an enviable lakeside deck.

The lakeside dining room is well suited for any of Minnesota’s season // Photo by Becca Dilley

“You get to stare at this every day, which is great,” says Bryan Gerrard. Bryan is part of the core team at Poplar Haus, along with his wife and front-of-house maven Stacey (Palmer) Gerrard, chef Kippy Kuboy, event coordinator Lynse McDonough, and a couple of key kitchen team members: Ted Greum (formerly of the Gunflint Lodge) and new-hire Jaclyn Von.

Between them, the Poplar Haus team has seemingly worked in every high-profile restaurant in Minneapolis, from La Belle Vie (Kippy) to Piccolo (Jacklyn) to Smack Shack (Bryan and Stacey) to an event company called Rustic Elegance (Lynse). The two couples that founded Poplar Haus in 2017 (Bryan and Stacey, and Kippy and Lynse) came seeking a change of pace after years of working in an urban hospitality industry that has a reputation for draining people dry.

“One of my favorite things about being up here is that nine out of 10 people are just decompressing. Everybody’s just chill—everybody’s just happy to be here, they’re happy to be out in the woods,” says Lynse.

“What I loved about this place is, in Minneapolis right now if you want to open a place, you have to have an angle,” says Bryan. “You gotta have something, you have to have a thing. Up here, this is an opportunity for us to run an honest business being who we are and just be normal with no competition and just do what we do.”

The owners of Poplar Haus, left to right: Lynse McDonough, Kippy Kuboy, Bryan Gerrard, and Stacey (Palmer) Gerrard // Photo by Becca Dilley

For the Poplar Haus team, doing what they do means a menu centered on accessible food and drink done well, and without concern for the trends that sometimes drive restaurants in Minneapolis–St. Paul. “These cocktails and the food we make, it’s normal for us,” says Bryan. “Instead of trying to come up with the next Hai Hai, we could just do what we know how to do—be an oasis for an urban environment. And it’s also an entry point for the Boundary Waters. People who have never been here come up because of us and say, ‘I’ve never been this far north before.’ They love it and get hooked on it. There are four Boundary Water portages off of our lake. You’re looking at it right now.”

To read much more of the original article and read related reporting, follow this link to The Growler Magazine website.

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