Twin Cities Best Bars
Cocktails. Tap rooms. Beer. Bourbon. It's all here, ready for your consumption
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THE ESSENTIAL LIST
George and the Dragon
You can get better fish and chips at, well, The Anchor Fish and Chips, and a more colorful atmosphere at Merlin’s Rest. And running out of Guinness, which happened one of the nights we visited, is almost grounds for dismissal. But in southwest Minneapolis, George provides the one thing that really matters in a pub: a gathering place. Here, you can take the kids after soccer practice, talk with your neighbors or about your neighbors—the line out the door suggests there is no one who doesn’t feel welcome. (The garrulous owner, Fred Navarro, may well be your neighbor: he lives a few blocks away.) Careful, though: this is still a bar, and the New Holland Dragon’s Milk, offered as a Guinness substitute, may well be the strongest beer you’ve ever had. This gentrified dragon still has some fire in its belly. —T.G.
813 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-208-1047, ganddpub.com
Don’t get us wrong, we're all about the cheap burgers and beer at the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives–lauded Anchor Bar in Superior, Wisconsin. But the last time we stopped in, the place had more flies than the great outdoors, the cracked vinyl seats scratched our thighs, and if you wanted your table wiped off, you had to grab a rag and do it yourself. So, instead, we retreated to Minneapolis’s old-school 1029 Bar, where you can experience the vibe of a dive—gruff service, charitable gambling, bras and beer paraphernalia all over the walls—while enjoying the Smack Shack’s gourmet fare, including lobster rolls and sandwiches stuffed with roasted leg of lamb. —R.H.
1029 Marshall St. NE, Mpls., 612-379-4322, the1029bar.com
Top Beer List
The Happy Gnome’s encyclopedia of 76 craft drafts can be daunting, even for the snobbiest of beer snobs. Thankfully, the list is broken down into seven simple categories: Belgian-y, Hoppy, Unique, Fruity, Malty/Sweet, Something Lighter, and Depth. Try all from your favorite category or come during non-rush hours (i.e. not during weekend dinnertime) to mix and match a five-sample flight. But whatever you do, don’t ask for a Miller Lite. Because nobody wants to see an unhappy gnome. —E.B
498 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-287-2018, thehappygnome.com
Those who watch wine prices hate to look at a restaurant wine list and know that they’re paying double the price of drinking the same bottle at home. But a couple of west-metro eateries, Spasso and Pairings, do away with alcohol markup entirely by allowing diners to purchase beverages in their adjacent liquor shops and enjoy them with their meal at no additional charge. And while you’re at it, Cheapskate, Spasso offers a limited number of complimentary round-trip car-service reservations each day, for parties of up to six people. —R.H.
Spasso Restaurant, 17523 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka, 952-224-9555, spassomn.com • Pairings Food & Wine Market, 6001 Shady Oak Rd., Minnetonka, 952-426-0522, pairingsfoodandwine.com
Some bars are simply old. Tired. Worn-out mutts that no longer want to play. What you want is old-fashioned. A pup in its prime—Lassie licking your face in Technicolor. You want Murray’s, the venerable downtown steak joint, which re-opened in September after overhauling its pink-draped dining room and smoke-soaked bar, restoring the luster to a circa 1946 gent who has aged into white bucks and leisure suits. There’s a horseshoe bar now, faintly Art Deco with a shiny walnut top, and booths wrapping around the walls. There are TVs, unavoidably, but they function more like animated décor—no one’s really watching. Instead, patrons are ordering cocktails like they just got back from the Korean War. They’re talking about kids and mortgages, but in a far-off way. They’re thinking about a steak. Because a good retro bar doesn’t make you feel old, it makes you feel forever young. —T.G.
26 S. Sixth St., Mpls., 612-339-0909, murraysrestaurant.com
You used to be able to hang. Whiskey on the rocks. Hendricks and tonic. A velvety Pinot Noir. But now you’re pregnant. Or the DD. Or training for the Twin Cities Marathon. But a Coke or, God forbid, a Shirley Temple, ain't gonna cut it. You’re an adult, for crying out loud. That’s why you've booked happy-hour plans at Café Maude, where you can order Le Tigre, described on the menu as a “slightly spicy grapefruit punch.” Or a zesty strawberry-lemon spritzer. Or, for those with a sense of humor, the Rubber Ducky: a spunky blue-raspberry lemonade garnished with a Peep. Finally, a full list of fun, sophisticated drinks for the teetotaler. Just because you’re abstaining doesn’t mean you’re dull. —K.D.
5411 Penn Ave. S., Mpls., 612-822-5411, cafemaude.com
Since 2009, Bradstreet Craftshouse has received all sorts of recognition for its handcrafted cocktails and elegant fare, including within this magazine's pages. And while the pre-Prohibition cocktails are delicious and the small plates are a delight, we’d like to also pay tribute to Bradstreet’s sexy, swanky décor and laid-back ambiance. Most downtown Minneapolis drink joints feel like one cavernous cattle call—mechanical bull included. By contrast, Bradstreet’s soothing, dimly lit digs are an intimate oasis, especially the ultra-mod Parlour Room in back. If you’re looking to relax, go ahead and part the heavy velvet curtains, knock back a few hard beverages, and melt right into a couch. —A.B.
601 First Ave. N., Mpls., 612-312-1821, bradstreetcraftshouse.com
Dakota, Turf Club & Amsterdam
The best nights out couple booze and music with a fine synergy, making magic of them both. What goes better with a fine Scotch or a big pour of Merlot than smooth jazz? Exactly. If it’s a sipping night, order it neat at the Dakota (and wear something nice). If you're in the mood to crack open a PBR, the music—live or from a jukebox—will go down easy at the Turf Club or the 331 Club. And for a knockout punch of strong Belgian ale and jams, look no further than Amsterdam Bar and Hall. —K.D.
Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, 1010 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-332-1010, dakotacooks.com • Turf Club, 1601 University Ave., St. Paul, 651-647-0486, turfclub.net • 331 Club, 331 13th Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-331-1746, 331.mn • Amsterdam Bar and Hall, 6 W. Sixth St., St. Paul, 612-285-3112, amsterdambarandhall.com
Donnie Dirk’s Zombie Den
When the night of their attack arrives—and it will, my friends, make no mistake—you’ll find us here, perched on one of the tufted-vinyl chairs and slumped over a brain-numbing concoction with a kitschy name like the Frozen Stiff (an ice-cream drink, natch). Because if you’re gonna tangle with someone’s mummy, you’ll need something more than a Mich Golden. And you’re going to want food that goes beyond beer nuts (there’s a direct line to Psycho Suzi’s for deliveries). Plus, we’re comforted by the formality of the place: bartenders in white, bloodstained button-ups, waitresses in long black gowns. And if things get really bad, there’s always that case in the corner: the one with the chainsaw inside and the sign that reads “In case of zombie attack, break glass.” —J.H.
2027 N. Second St., Mpls., 612-588-9700, donnydirks.com