Night Life: Best Bars 2009
Thirsty? Got something to celebrate? Need a place to gab with the girls or a spot that’ll dazzle the boss? Then raise a glass to our first-ever guide to the Twin Cities’ best watering holes—from wine bars and microbreweries to Irish pubs and sake saloons. Plus 10 not-to-miss happy hours!
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A toast to legendary bygone watering holes
The Rainbow Bar
The last real dive in the heart of Uptown, this saloon had an edge to it—because of the $2.50 Long Island Teas, certainly, but also because you never knew who might sidle up to your booth: aging queens, raging alkies, unreconstructed punks. The place had soul, in an era when that actually meant something.
The Polish Palace
There was nothing palatial about this Nordeast cross between the Old World and Frank Sinatra’s world, where kielbasa and chips would set you back $3.25 and posters of half-naked women hung among twinkling Christmas lights over red-vinyl booths. Except that good things just happened to you here through no effort of your own—like on the night a regular emerged from the kitchen bearing pizza and distributed slices to anyone who wanted some.
Police referred to it as a literal “den of thieves.” Jazzman Butch Thompson recalls playing there behind chicken wire, the kind that protected the Blues Brothers from bottle-tossing drunks. Rumor had it you could trade an Alcoholics Anonymous medallion for a drink—“A Whale of a Drink,” according to the bar’s infamous sign— assuming you could finish it before your lights were punched out.
It was a chow-mein house that seemed to belong in San Francisco, exotically outfitted with a grand staircase, a fountain, and a pool hosting a tiny turtle. But by the time this downtown Minneapolis fixture, which opened in 1919, finally closed, it hadn’t just gone to seed, it had gone to pot—literally. Nineteen people were arrested there in a drug bust that ended the place’s good fortunes and made you wonder what exactly was in that famed Wondrous Punch.
Al’s was never particularly interesting—a noisy little beer box that functioned as the liver of St. Louis Park for 83 years, catering to the suburb’s modest vices. But as a road-bump to progress, it excelled, holding back the in-rush of cookie-cutter condos and fancy salons. It was a stubborn reminder that most suburbanites aspired not to luxury but simple relaxation: A home to fill with their family—and a home away from home to fill with their friends.
More nightclub than bar, Rogue brought us as close as we’ve ever been to a Studio 54 moment. Opened by notorious New York party boy Nick Beavers in 1993 (after a stint at Hazelden), the egalitarian disco drew the city’s most eclectic crowd: gay, straight, black, white, and every variation thereof. Then, just two years later, Beavers committed suicide amid a pile of bills and pills, and no Twin Cities club has since captured Rogue’s been-there, done-that, now-let’s-just-freaking-dance feel.
From tapas to tacos
10 Happy Hours We Love
If you’re a seafood lover, then try happy hour at Stella’s rooftop patio, where you can order the oysters for $1, along with discounted appetizers and drinks. Mon.–Fri. 3–6 p.m., everyday 10 p.m.–12 a.m. 1400 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-824-8862
McCormick & Schmick’s
A variety of seafood appetizers are offered, starting at just $2, with prime people-watching on Nicollet Mall. Mon.–Fri. 4–6:30 p.m., 9–10 p.m., 800 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-338-3300
Catch the Latin fever at Conga, where you can watch live dancers or practice some salsa yourself, all while enjoying half-off drinks and appetizers. Mon.–Fri. 5–7 p.m., 501 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-331-3360
Sangria for $2 a glass and tapas at a discoun-ted price add a Spanish twist to the happy-hour menu at Solera, which boasts three floors of seating and a memorable rooftop patio. Mon.–Fri. 5–6 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 10 p.m.–1 a.m., Sun.–Thurs. 9–11 p.m., 900 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-338-0062
Happy-hour regulars rave about the reasonably priced sushi and sake, while newcomers like the bar chefs who talk them through the food choices. Tues.–Thurs. 5–7 p.m., 10 p.m.–12 a.m., Sun. 8–10 p.m., 600 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-871-4055
The creative, yet affordable small plates (like the popular wasabi-potato cake), along with its interesting wine list, set Sapor apart as an alternative to the usual happy-hour fare. Mon.–Sat. 5–7 p.m., 428 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612–375–1971
Nick & Eddie
Swedish meatballs, gnocchi, and chicken tacos are highlights of their inventive appetizer menu that pairs itself nicely with pleasant views of Loring Park. Daily 4–6 p.m. and 11 p.m.–1 a.m., 1612 Harmon Place, Mpls., 612-486-5800
This pirate-themed Stillwater gem offers playful, Caribbean-style, rum-infused cocktails. Mon.–Fri. 4–5:30 p.m., daily 10:30–midnight, 423 Main St., Stillwater, 651-439-5375
Modeled after a traditional brasserie, Meritage presents an elegant-yet-casual happy hour that includes half-off bottles from their extensive wine list. Mon.–Fri. 3–6 p.m., 410 Saint Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670
Green Mill has perhaps the thriftiest of the Uptown happy hours, with beer, wine, and some cocktails starting at less than $3. Mon.–Fri. 4–7 p.m., daily 10 p.m.–1 a.m., 2626 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., 612-374-2131
MAYSLACK'S MUSIC LOUNGE
Best for Recalling your college days
What to drink A Leinie’s, natch
What to Eat The roast-beef sandwiches
Back when Stan Mayslack, a former pro wrestler, was making the roast-beef sandwiches at his eponymous bar, the line would often extend out the door and down the sidewalk. And while Stan’s been gone for a while now, and the wait is shorter, the sandwich is not—gone or shorter: the six-inch heap of garlicky meat and onions tells you everything you need to know about this brick-walled bastion of old-school camaraderie. Sure, the college crowd predominates now on weekends, and when they threw out the trough urinal in the men’s room recently, they also tossed out their dive-bar credentials. But you want live music? How about everything from bluegrass to hard rock? You want to dance? They’ll move the tables. Fish fry? All you can eat, baby, every Friday. About the only thing you can’t do here is feel sorry for yourself, especially if you win the meat raffle on a Saturday afternoon. 1428 Fourth St. NE, Mpls., 612-789-9862, mayslacksbar.com
Best for An Americana crowd-pleaser
What to drink A specialty tap brew to appease your palate
What to Eat Burgers, or hot dogs
There is something distinctly American about a bar where tater-tot hotdish is served with roasted-mushroom béchamel, and the beer brats are topped with smoked-bacon apple kraut. The dishes and drinks found at the Bulldog are classic Americana, with exotic flair. The burgers, hot dogs, and even the cupcakes made here are sophisticated and creative versions of their boring ancestors. While waiting in anticipation to discover just what kind of amazing edge the wasabi mayo or the truffle oil and Brie will add to the burger you ordered, try a suggested beer on tap for yet another surprise. The Bulldog has a rotating selection: If it’s on tap, sample the Kasteel Rouge (which lolls in and out of availability) — a cherry-pit lager that’s like a intricate fusion of deep fruit wine and dark rich ale. It’s easy to feel at home in this tater-tot, beer-brat, hotdish-loving culture—especially when those tots are fennel-dusted in a tarragon aioli. 401 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-378-2855, thebulldogmpls.com
MEISTER'S BAR & GRILL
Best for An old-school escape
What to drink A cold can of Hamm’s beer
What to Eat The Burger Meister
There’s no pressure at this homey family-run spot. Come dressed up or in your work-stained clothes. Nobody will care—or even notice. Sit at the bar, which feels more like a diner counter, order a drink from the Bartender Meister, and watch the Cook Meister (who is equally amicable and quick to offer a handshake) flip and fry. Hungry or not, it would be near-impossible to sit at the bar and not order a Burger Meister—a wonderfully juicy bur-ger blanketed in bacon and cheese, cooked alongside onions in front of your very eyes. The griddling and frying takes place directly behind the bar, where pitchers of local beers are poured, and cold cans of Hamm’s ring up at $1 a piece. Wood paneling, fishing and classic-car memorabilia, and neon beer signs are propped up among homemade-specials signs and handwritten orders. It feels familiar, like you’ve found your way back to somewhere you used to go all the time. 901 S. Fourth St., Stillwater, 651-439-9860
Best for Finishing off a business deal
What to drink An Epiphany martini
What to Eat $5 sushi during the daily happy hour
With a name like Prohibition, the bar at W Minneapolis–The Foshay conjures up images of an underground speakeasy. But unlike the period from 1919 to 1933, when imbibing was banned in the United States, Prohibition the bar is far from clandestine. Occupying the 27th floor of the hotel, this swanky establishment has all the trappings of a penthouse, like the one that was built here for Wilbur B. Foshay some 80 years ago: wood paneling, velvet couches, chandeliers, and sprawling, skyline views of Minneapolis. It’s grand and glamorous and makes drinking an occasion—not in a raucous, boozy way, but in a put-on-your-finery-and-sip-a-martini sort of way (might we suggest the Epiphany, an elegant pour of Grey Goose pear vodka, St. Germaine elderflower liquor, and Veuve Clicquot Champagne?). Not that you can’t come as you are or order what you want. Prohibition is, after all, about revelry for the masses, and you don’t need a secret knock to join in. 821 Marquette Ave., Mpls., 612-215-3700
NICK & EDDIE
Best for Outlining your screenplay
What to drink Cheap, good French wine
What to Eat The $8 bar plate by chef Steven Brown
Every city has a bar of the moment that captures its artistic spirit—Harry’s New York Bar, for instance, in post–World War I Paris will forever be legendary for its role in the lives of folks like Coco Chanel, Irving Berlin, and Ernest Hemingway. The Cotton Club was critical in New York City during the era of the Harlem Renaissance, and artists like Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway would have been all the poorer, and lonelier, without it. The Cocoanut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles was a linchpin of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and we’ll never know how much of Joan Crawford’s or Clark Gable’s career was shaped by drinks in that fabled bar. (We could do this all day.) In Minneapolis, the bar of artistic ferment and community has been Nick & Eddie, the New York–like bistro on Loring Park. Drop in there any day and you’ll find music-universe and art-world luminaries like dramaturg Michael Lupu, film producer Christine Walker, Soul Asylum’s Danny Murphy, the Replacements Tommy Stinson, painter and musician Steve Kramer, painter and musician Don Holzschuh, Walker curator Olga Viso, choreographer Ralph Lemon, and, for three memorable days last year, honest to God, Mikhail Baryshnikov. Set up a cheap glass of good French country Burgundy, order an unreasonably good $8 bar plate of, say, pork confit or hangar steak, crafted by chef Steven Brown, casually let it drop that you’re working on your grant application or latest solo show, and let the next big thing begin. 1612 Harmon Place, Mpls., 612-486-5800, nickandeddie.com