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Twin Cities Best Bars

Cocktails. Tap rooms. Beer. Bourbon. It's all here, ready for your consumption

Twin Cities Best Bars
Photo by Maki Strunc & Sidecar

THE ESSENTIAL LIST


PUB

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
 

DIVE BAR

1029 Bar

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

Happy Gnome

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
 

BARGAINS

Spasso, Pairings

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
 

RETRO BAR

Murray’s

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
 

NONALCOHOLIC

Café Maude

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
 

LOUNGE

Bradstreet Craftshouse

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
 

MUSIC

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
 

ZOMBIE BAR

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
 

 

SAKETAILS

Moto-i

Restaurants without hard-alcohol liquor licenses sometimes pour cocktails that substitute in sake, but the result often leaves you longing for the traditional version of the drink. Not so at Moto-i, locally known as the first sake brewery/restaurant outside Japan. There, the saketails and saketinis complement the floral flavor of the fermented-rice beverage. The Japanhattan is a mild Manhattan, sweet with cherry and vermouth; the Lychee Splash tastes like a crisp white wine. And, during Sunday brunch, the vodka-futsuu Bloody Marys cost just $1 a pop. —R.H. 2940 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-821-6262, moto-i.com
 

BAR SCENE

Eat Street Social

A quality craft cocktail at Eat Street Social is a given, considering that the talent behind the bar mixes drinks concocted by Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz. Eat Street serves everything from a seasonal gin-and-tonic with house-made tonic to a liquid version of the restaurant’s famed dessert, the rosemary panna cotta. And don't forget about the non-alcoholic soda-fountain drinks, such as phosphates, egg creams, and rickeys. But it’s the social aspect of Social that truly sets it apart. It’s quickly become home to Eat Street’s hottest bar scene, where you’re just as likely to bump into somebody you know as introduce yourself to someone you don’t. —R.H.
18 W. 26th St., Mpls., 612-767-6850, eatstreetsocial.com
 

Ice Cream Drinks

Burger Jones

Jax Café and Erte do a fine Grasshopper and Pink Squirrel, but Burger Jones leads the new era of hard shakes. You probably haven’t enjoyed ice cream this much since you had to stand on your tiptoes to order it from the side of a truck. And now, there’s nobody to tell you to share. The Up All Night is a culmination of very adult flavors: rich, dark chocolate; intense espresso; and, of course, liquor. But a tall, cherry-topped glass of the creamy treat will leave you feeling like a kid again. Then again, that’s probably just the alcohol kicking in. —A.B.
3200 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-746-0800, burgerjones.com
 

A Minnesotan's Guide to Craft Beer

Artisan breweries are booming. Taste the range of Minnesota’s brewing talent with our picks for some of the best beers in the state, available in bottles or cans.

 

(1) Schell’s Pilsner
One of the oldest breweries in America, New Ulm-based Schell’s introduced its “specialty” beers some 30 years ago, including this light-but-full-bodied Pilsner. It's one of the best American examples of the classic Bohemian beer, an accessible step up from mass-market lagers.

(2) Lake Superior Kayak Kölsch
The Duluth brewery has been making this brew since opening in the 1990s. We've been guzzling it, their take on the ultra-crisp, refreshing German Kölsch, ever since.

(3) Lift Bridge Farm Girl
Founded in 2008 and named after Stillwater’s most iconic transportation infrastructure, Lift Bridge has become a household name with this sweet, yeasty, citrus-kissed Belgian farmhouse ale.

(4) Third Street Brewhouse Rise to the Top
Fans of New Glarus Brewing’s famous Spotted Cow have been digging this Cold Spring, Minnesota-based newcomer’s Cream Ale, which is mild and easy-drinking with a floral, slightly funky flavor and creamy head.

(5) Olvalde Farm Auroch’s Horn
As assertive as you’d expect from an ancient ale once consumed from the horn of the auroch (a now-extinct wild bull), this fruity, honey-sweet, high-alcohol beer with a thick, almost chewy texture is brewed at a one-man operation in southeast Minnesota.

(6) Boom Island Brimstone
Northeast Minneapolis’s new Boom Island Brewing Company specializes in Belgian beers, and this brand-new tripel has mild, fruity, bread-y flavors that belie its strong alcohol content. 

(7) Brau Brothers Bancreagie
With a last name that’s the German word for beer, these three southwest Minnesota brothers were practically destined to brew such gems as this challenging-but-beguiling reinterpreted Scotch ale that’s intensely smoky, with a whiff of barnyard.

(8) Summit Extra Pale Ale
Minnesota beer drinkers can’t get enough of their hops, and this St. Paul brewery’s flagship brew whetted the local palate for pine needle-sparkle way back before craft brew was cool, in 1986.

(9) Surly Furious
This bellicose beer came out of a Brooklyn Center warehouse in 2006 and spawned Minnesota’s recent craft-brew revolution, with a throat-searing 100 IBU—the maximum rating on the International Bitterness Unit scale. All those hops give Furious a grapefruit aroma and a juicy bite.

(10) Fulton Sweet Child of Vine
One of the easiest-drinking hoppy beers, the Minneapolis brewery’s favorite son has more balance than bite, with a smooth, smoky finish.

(11) Steel Toe Size Seven
This St. Louis Park upstart’s Northwest-style IPA is an aggressive kick in the hops.

(12) Flat Earth Cygnus X-1 Porter
As dark as its namesake black hole, this smooth riff on an English porter from St. Paul’s quirkiest microbrewery is rich with roasty flavors of chocolate and malt.

(13) Grain Belt Nordeast
In 2010, the iconic northeast Minneapolis Grain Belt Brewery was honored with the introduction of this mild amber lager, considered a “gateway” craft brew with more flavor than Grain Belt Premium.

Find these Minnesota brews at such specialty beer shops as The Four Firkins (5630 36th St., St. Louis Park, 952-938-2847, thefourfirkins.com) or other fine-liquor stores.
 

 

Who Drinks What Where

Hot spots according to Twin Cities music stars

Who: Pert Near Sandstone (left to right: Nate Sipe, Kevin Kneibel, Andy Lambert, Adam Keisling, J. Lenz)
Hot Spots: Palmer’s, Aster Café,  Merlin’s Rest
On Tap: Fulton Sweet Child of Vine for Sipe; local IPA and shot of bourbon for Lambert; German beer and a shot of Apfelkorn for Kiesling; Summit EPA or a Minnesota Mule from Haute Dish for Lenz
The Dish: Both Sipe and Lambert snowshoed to their favorite watering holes (Aster and Merlin’s, respectively) during the blizzard of 2010.

Who: Gabriel Douglas; vocals, guitar, and bass drum for The4onthefloor
Hot Spots: Muddy Waters, Cause, Triple Rock, The Depot
On Tap: Johnny Takedown from Billy or Paddy at Muddy Waters; Silverback from any bartender in LynLake
The Dish: “Nothing goes better with brunch than a Surly Coffee Bender. Nothing…except maybe a screwdriver for your third round.”

Who: Poliça (from bottom left: Drew Christopherson,Chris Bierden, Ben Ivascu, Channy Leaneagh)
Hot Spots: Club Jäger, Icehouse, Masu Sushi and Robata, Bar La Grassa
On Tap: Cocktails (any from Icehouse; Supernishipowa and Godzillita from Masu)
The Dish: “At shows we drink whatever we get for free. We like cocktails, but also do just fine with a bottle of whiskey.”

Who: Tony Zaccardi, bassist for Romantica and Kruddler
Hot Spots: Republic, 112 Eatery, Fulton taproom
On Tap: PBR tallboy, Stoli 7 with lemon, Fulton Lonely Blonde
The Dish: “When we play at Varsity Theater, I like going to Library Bar for college drink prices. It’s a great place to feel old.”

Who: Adam Levy (The Honeydogs, Liminal Phase, Hookers and Blow)
Hot Spots: Gluek’s, Icehouse, Eat Street Social
On Tap: Irish whiskey
The Dish: “Stop giving us Jäger shots during shows. We prefer Paul Ryan’s Sexless Marriage: an ounce of bitters and wood alcohol.” —E.B.

Photos courtesy of respective band or musician
 
 

1st Drafts

2012 was the year of the taproom. Sure, Brooklyn Center-based Surly got the discussion going last year, nudging legislation that would allow it to serve its beer on-site at its yet-to-be-built facility. But other brewers beat them to the punch, opening their own taprooms in spaces both richly appointed and ramshackle. At last count, there were nearly a dozen taprooms open across Minnesota. Here, our four Twin Cities favorites. —J.H.

FULTON
When the Twins are down or the rain begins to fall and you need something to smile about, head a block west of Target Field to the Fulton Brewery. You’ll feel better with a Lonely Blonde (the drink!) or a Sweet Child of Vine in hand. Plus, there’s always a food truck parked outside where you can get something to sate those beer munchies. Chef Shack, Barrio, Gastrotruck or Hola Arepa—check out Fulton’s website to see who’s parked outside on any given night.

414 Sixth Ave. N., Mpls., 612-333-3208, fultonbeer.com; Fall taproom hours: 3–10 p.m., Thursday–Friday;
12–10 p.m., Saturday; 11 a.m.–7 p.m., Sundays
 

Lift Bridge
Tucked away in an industrial park, the Lift Bridge Brewery isn’t really on the scenic tour of Stillwater. But a stop is still well-worth the drive: it’s the only way you can be sure to get a taste of the four-year-old brewery’s seasonal beers, which sell out fast in stores. Our recommendation: sample the seasonal suds as part of a flight that includes the brewery’s IPAs, stouts, and even barleywine.

1900 Tower Dr., Stillwater, 888-430-2337, liftbridgebrewery.com; Fall taproom hours: 5–8 p.m., Tuesday–Thursday; 12–8 p.m., Friday; 12–5 p.m., Saturday
 

Harriet Brewing
Curious to know what goes into that growler? Harriet Brewing offers free hour-long tours led by owner/brewer Jason Sowards every Wednesday at 6 p.m. (Reservations required.) From mixing malts to making labels, you’ll learn every step of the beer-making process. Feel free to bring the kids—only those 21-plus can taste, of course.

3036 Minnehaha Ave.,
Mpls., 612-225-2184, harrietbrewing.com; Fall taproom hours: 4 p.m.–midnight, Wednesday–Friday; 1 p.m.–midnight, Saturday
 

Indeed Brewing
The newest addition to the taproom scene (when the issue went to print), Indeed pours delicious pints, but it’s the elegance of the 1,500-square-foot taproom and patio that accounts for the repeat visitors. The crown jewel is a 37-foot white-oak bar, but the vintage furniture scavenged from an old clubroom adds to the Old World feel. Prost!

711 15th Ave. NE., Mpls., 612-843-5090, indeedbrewing.com; Fall taproom hours: 3–10 p.m., Thursday–Friday; 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Saturday
 

 

Creative Cocktailing

Pass the bourbon, the shrub, and the bitters: it’s time to get shaking. We asked three of the Twin Cities’ most revered bartenders to invent a new Minnesota-themed cocktail. We gave each an inspirational drink name and the license to create. Below are their delicious formulations that will keep you sipping well into winter.


1 - Dan Oskey, The Strip Club Meat & Fish

Dan Oskey blends flavors like artists do paint, combining seemingly disparate tastes into fresh new beverages to savor—the alcoholic kind at The Strip Club as well as his Joia soda line. Oskey says he’s not a runner (“I don’t believe exercise is actually good for you,” he quips), but incorporated an acidic homemade shrub, or drinking vinegar, into his cocktail so the drinker might feel the marathoner’s proverbial burn. His saffron-yellow Mile 23 has a raisin-like aroma, and a clean, bittersweet flavor with hints of the malty botanicals of the old-style gin, the herbal fennel liquor, as well as pear, sage, and a hit of spicy cinnamon.

2 - Johnny Michaels, La Belle Vie

Johnny Michaels of La Belle Vie was at the forefront of the craft cocktail resurgence when it hit the Twin Cities a few years back. Since then, he’s gone on to consult on drink lists at several fine bars around the metro, including Café Maude and Icehouse. His Great Halloween Blizzard of 1991 is an alternate version of his Ciderhaus, made with whiskey instead of bourbon, in honor of his storm experience. The snow had stranded Michaels at a friend’s house without a winter hat and, when the two set off in search of provisions, he improvised a paper balaclava from a Lunds grocery bag, tucking the upside-down sack into his jacket collar and ripping out a hole for his eyes. Michaels and his friend then headed over to Hennepin-Lake Liquors in Minneapolis, where his robber-like headgear set the staff into a panic. After Michaels abated their fears, the staff sent him off with a replacement blaze-orange hunter’s cap branded with the Jack Daniel's logo. With that memory in mind, Michaels created this boozy warm-up that softens the alcohol’s sting with the sweetness of apple and woodsy allspice.

 

3 - Pip Hanson, Marvel Bar

Pip Hanson and his crew at the Marvel Bar are meticulous drink-makers who like to experiment with non-traditional mixers—they hand-chip their ice from 300-pound blocks and shake their gin with olive oil. Inspired by his titular ingredient, Hanson not only reached for a corn-based spirit, but actually juiced his own fresh kernels. (Don’t be deterred by the septic smell, as the sweet juice tastes much better than its odor suggests.) Hanson’s drink is a bourbon silver fizz—silver means it’s shaken with an egg white. The result is a creamy, light, butter-yellow beverage with a sweet-tart bite and a whisper of corn below its frothy top: Indian summer in a glass. Were you to find yourself lost in Sever’s Corn Maze with one of these in hand, you wouldn’t really care if you found your way out.
 

Mile 23, Twin Cities Marathon
2 oz. Anchor Distilling Genevieve Genever-style gin (or other genever)
½ oz. Liquore Strega
1 Tbsp. pear sage “shrub”
drinking vinegar
4 drops cinnamon/ancho tincture
fresh sage

In a mixing glass over ice, add Genever-style gin, Liquore Strega, and shrub. Shake and strain into martini glass.

Top with cinnamon/ancho tincture and garnish with a sprig of fresh sage.
** Go to mnmo.com/drinkup for shrub and tincture recipes.

 
The Great Halloween Blizzard of 1991
1½ oz. Jack Daniel’s whiskey
(or other whiskey)
½ oz. Schonauer Apfel (or other apple schnapps or apple-juice concentrate)
¼ oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram (optional)
Dash of Angostura bitters
Splash of dry French sparkling cider (or a splash of fresh cider and cava)
Apple slices

Pour whiskey, apple schnapps, and allspice dram into a lowball glass with ice. Top with bitters and sparkling cider. Garnish with apple slices.
 
Lost in Sever’s Corn Maze
1 ²/³ oz. J.W. Dant Bonded bourbon
(or other bottled-in-bond bourbon)
1 oz. fresh sweet-corn juice
²/³ oz. fresh lemon juice
¹/³ oz. simple syrup
1 egg white
1 oz. seltzer

Place all ingredients except seltzer in a Boston shaker. Add three cubes of standard kitchen ice cubes and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds, or until almost all of the ice has melted. Strain into a chilled glass, tap the glass
against the counter, and gently swirl to separate foam before topping with seltzer.

 
 

Grain to Glass

45th Parallel Distillery releases the region’s first craft bourbon

Paul Werni is hard at work, with the dirty hands and Red Wing work boots nearly worn through the toes to prove it. This afternoon, at his 45th Parallel Distillery, which sits just off the same latitude line in New Richmond, Wisconsin, Werni uses a forklift to position a 53-gallon white-oak barrel over an enormous stainless-steel tank. It’s something he’s been waiting to do since the date scrawled on the barrel’s side: 5/24/2010.

Werni’s business partner, Scott Davis (a former Auriga partner who now co-owns Toast wine bar in Minneapolis), climbs up on the tank, inserts a small hatchet in the barrel’s bung, and pops out the plug. Amber liquid rushes forth, sloshing into the tank in rapid gulps, emitting a sweet, woodsy smell that might resemble maple syrup if it weren’t so alcoholic. I lean over the vat and take a deep whiff, which leaves my sinuses tingling. “It looks like root beer,” Werni says. “Root beer for adults,” Davis quips.

The two former college roommates founded their distillery about five years ago and started making their much-lauded vodka. This summer, they debuted their first batch of bourbon. So far as they know, their 45th Parallel vodka and Border Bourbon brands are the region’s first small-batch, fully grain-to-glass artisan spirits. Unlike most mass-market liquor companies, which purchase neutral grain spirits from large corporations, such as Archer Daniels Midland, to blend and bottle, 45th Parallel actually distills its own alcohol. Werni and Davis buy grain grown by a farmer just down the road and boil it in a coppery German still, which looks like it belongs in a Wes Anderson movie—industry as artsy fetish.

Photo Courtesy of
45th Parallel Spirits

Bourbon is a type of whiskey made with a majority of corn, plus wheat, rye, and barley. When it’s aged, temperature changes cause the wood and the liquid to expand and contract, and the spirit to penetrate the oak, absorbing its flavor and color. Werni and Davis plan to release their remaining 94 barrels of aging bourbon and rye over the next couple of years, before they expand to other spirits, such as rum and brandy.

Every variable in the whiskey-making process—variations in grain, wood, temperature, timing—affects the final product. Davis says it reminds him of baking bread: “There are so few ingredients, but so many things that can go wrong.”

Based on the bourbon I sampled, a lot is going right. The spirit tasted a little sweet, a little smoky, and very smooth, flavored of grain and wood. Kentucky may be the birthplace of American distilling, but the Midwest, with its wood and grain resources and arguably better aging climate, may someday rival it. —R.H.

45th Parallel’s annual open house takes place Saturday, October 13, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.;
1570 Madison Ave., New Richmond, Wisconsin; 715-246-0565; 45thparallelspirits.com

 


Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

Sep 16, 2013 03:03 pm
 Posted by  Bombay

I am looking for craft cocktails in the Minnetonka, Eden Prairie area. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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