At chef David Fhima’s new restaurant, Moulin Rouge is much more than a cabaret — it represents a moment in time. Here are five things to know before Maison Margaux’s May 12 opening.
Maison Margaux, the new North Loop restaurant by chef and restaurateur David Fhima, has been described as “Moulin Rouge-themed.” With that inspiration, one might expect the restaurant to be cloaked in red velvet and shimmering with marquee lights, or topped with a facsimile of the famous cabaret’s iconic windmill. But Fhima offers a clarification: Maison Margaux has a Moulin Rouge theme, yes, but what it really alludes to is a moment in time, less than the cabaret itself. The restaurant is styled as a traditional French brasserie, and while the interior touches lean modern, the restaurant aims to capture the spirit of La Belle Époque, an era when culture and the arts — from Expressionist painting to vibrant cabarets like, yes, the Moulin Rouge — flourished in Paris.
“There’s nothing here that looks like the Moulin Rouge,” says Fhima. “The Moulin Rouge inspiration is a time: Laissez les bons temps rouler. [Let the good times roll.]”
Fhima had the idea for the theme simmering for several years, but it wasn’t until he purchased the historic Ribnick Furs building in the North Loop in 2021 that he was able to bring it to life. It seems kismet for the space: When Fhima and his son Eli, who serves as director of operations, toured the space, they found a tattered Moulin Rouge poster stashed away in the attic. Adding to the sense of predestiny, Fhima says, one of his sisters was a dancer at the Moulin Rouge, albeit in an era much later than La Belle Époque (the venue has continued its cabaret shows through the last century and a half).
After more than two years in the works, Maison Margaux opens this Friday, May 12. Here are five things to know about the North Loop’s newest restaurant.
The Ribnick Furs building, built in 1884, is known as the North Loop’s oldest retailer. According to legend, it was originally a fishery, but it eventually became a central hub of the city’s fur and hide industry. Isaac Ribnick started his business Ribnick Luxury Outerwear in the space in 1945 — his son Burt and grandson Bill carried on the business. It closed in 2021 as the Twin Cities’ last remaining furrier. Transforming the space from a fur and hide processing facility to a restaurant was a feat: Eli Fhima says the rafters in the basement — now renovated into a glittering bar and lounge, cloaked in crimson velvet — were coated in animal fat and fur. The restaurant has three distinct spaces: an airy event space upstairs, a dining space on the main floor, and an underground bar.
The menu features traditional French brasserie fare, with some Mediterranean influences. “We’re not reinventing anything,” says Eli Fhima. “The only thing we’re reinventing is our execution and the plate. Otherwise, we’re doing strictly brasserie.” Think: French onion soup, steak au poivre, and racks of lamb served with Dijon cognac beurre blanc. Pissaladière, a flatbread dish from the south of France, is topped with anchovies and carmelized onions; the Basque piperade, spiced with Espelette peppers, is served with sourdough and tuna. Frog legs provencale, perhaps one of the most quintessential French dishes, is also on the menu. The basement bar will lean a little more into bar food, featuring dishes like burgers and lobster deviled eggs. The Moulin Rouge theme is most dramatic in the basement, which is, indeed, cloaked in red velvet and shimmering with marquee lights.
Maison Margaux emphasizes French wines — Fhima has been collecting wines for more than 45 years, and has 10,000 bottles in his personal cellar. The restaurant offers over 860 selections, with 35 served by the glass, and there are three sommeliers in-house. One of Maison Margaux’s wine cellars has an intriguing backstory: Now sealed off with stones, it was reportedly once a tunnel to the Mississippi that fishermen used to haul the day’s catch into the building, in the time when the Ribnick Furs building operated as a fishery.
“We’re committed to our BIPOC community,” says Eli Fhima. “We really made an effort to hire Black, to hire Somali, to hire Jewish, to hire Muslim, to hire white, to hire Latinx, to hire transgender. … That’s kind of our essence — wealth is built at the table. Differences are settled at a table in a restaurant setting, so we can give our community and personnel the platform to do that.” Staff also have 401ks, health insurance, and other benefits.
Maison Margaux is one of a number of heavy-hitting restaurants slated to open in the North Loop in the next year. Just down the street is the former Bachelor Farmer building, where chef Danny del Prado is devising an Argentinian steakhouse; near the riverside, chef Tim McKee’s Basque-influenced restaurant will open in the forthcoming West Hotel. Chef Gavin Kaysen’s Spoon and Stable is also just a few doors down. “I think it’s amazing,” says Fhima. “I remember moving to Minneapolis 25 years ago, the North Loop didn’t exist … seeing how it exploded, it’s just phenomenal.”