Above: The Tin Fish on a late spring weekday morning.
I love The Tin Fish; I think it's Uptown at its best when you can get lunch (and even a drink!) and sit enjoying it while overlooking Lake Calhoun. The lake itself is always beautiful, but The Tin Fish's corner offers the bonus of plenty of activity, allowing for good people (and dog) watching. There's a range of offerings at different price points, the food gets overall good reviews, and it's both child- and dog-friendly. The space is attractive; their decor pays homage to the historic building's lakeside location, but without going too over-the-top kitschy or cutesy. In short, I think it's the kind of business that belongs on our lakes, and does a good job of enhancing people's (locals and visitors alike) Lake Calhoun experience.
So what's not to love about The Tin Fish? The food is good, the location superb, the experience relaxing and pleasant. Well, let's just say that I was happier when I envisioned The Tin Fish another shining example of local entrepreneurship, unsullied by franchise options and unique in both name and location. The Tin Fish is not, as many would guess, an independent operation; it's part of a franchise-based chain with multiple locations. As the website puts it, "The Tin Fish name continues to spread across the country." With each new location a little of the charm of the existing one dies; for now it works for me because I never have to actually see another The Tin Fish, and can pretend that they don't exist, but the more a company, especially a restaurant, moves into chain territory, the less appeal they hold for me personally. It's not that a chain can't offer a perfectly pleasant experience (as The Tin Fish does), but there's simply something disconcerting about knowing that at other people elsewhere are sitting at a restaurant with the same name and the same (or similar) menu.
Despite my dislike of chains, I'll continue to eat at The Tin Fish, and hope that it continues to thrive. It's a great place, and does enhance both the Lake Calhoun and the Uptown experience. Still, I can't help wishing that the owners of The Tin Fish's Lake Calhoun operation could go their own independent way, or if not, then at least I hope to never run across another The Tin Fish on my travels. There's a time and a place for chains, but in my mind that doesn't include the banks of Lake Calhoun.