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!

LA BELLE VIE

Minneapolis

Best for Living large
What to drink Anything on the latest cocktail menu
What to Eat Truffled crêpes, pappardelle, foie gras

It’s perhaps too much of a burden to call any person or venue perfect. But there’s a case to be made that the lounge at La Belle Vie is, in fact, the region’s most perfect drinking spot. The room, of course, is fit for your best Armani suit, though the tattooed rockabilly chicks at the corner banquette look just right, too. The lounge menu is perfect as well, cooked with the exacting skill that the James Beard Award–winning chef Tim McKee and his team deploy in the La Belle Vie dining room. But here, in the bar, those five-star techniques are applied to simpler comforts, like a basic French crêpe filled with truffled ham and Brie de Meaux. The savory assemblage is topped with a trembling, creamy poached egg, which dissolves at the poke of a fork into a sauce, elevating the crêpe to something sublime and soul-stirring. And the cocktails! Bartender-of-the-decade Johnny Michaels is as creative as an auditorium full of MCAD students. One night it’s a fresh cherry-and-lemon smash made with gin that seems like it should be served up during a summer lawn-tennis game in paradise. Another time it’s a high-concept bourbon old-fashioned flavored with house-made tobacco bitters and garnished with a dried beef stick in such a way that it instantly evokes north-woods-supper-club brunches and makes you understand something you never grasped before about the meatiness of bourbon. And even with all this high-brow perfection the place never forgets it’s a watering hole: A trio of friends can share a fancy Belgian 750-milliliter beer like a Triple Karmeliet (served on ice in a silvery champagne bucket, naturally) and get out the door for little more than they’d pay at one of those bars that smells like a perfect dishrag. 510 Groveland Ave., Mpls., 612-874-6440, labellevie.us
 

SEVEN

Minneapolis

Best for Patio-partying
What to drink Anything that ends with “–tini”
What to Eat Sushi rolls, bananas Foster

Seven doesn’t do anything small—it’s got three levels, four bars, and enough square footage to feel you’ve left the city limits just by crossing the floor. The pecs are a little bigger here, the necklines a little lower. It’s seven, apparently, on a scale of five. Walk up from the steak house, past the Sushi Ultralounge, to the Sky Bar, and you’ll find yourself on a roof that might as well have goalposts and bleachers, where salesmen sip martinis from plastic cups amid the flicker of a stone fire pit. It would all feel McMansion-like if it weren’t for the setting. Kick back on one of the canopied, Cancun-style couches that line the roof like confessionals for hedonists, and then enjoy the view: At no other Twin Cities bar can you sense this sweep of urban grandeur. Suddenly, the place doesn’t feel like overkill at all—it feels like the center of the city. 700 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-238-7777, 7mpls.com
 

MOTO-I

Minneapolis

Best for Sipping sake
What to drink Sake (duh)
What to Eat Fresh pork buns, five-spice doughnuts

Upon ordering Moto-i’s signature flight of three sake drinks, you’re presented with a place mat containing charts, diagrams, and explanations of the sake-brewing process, as if you were flying to the moon and this was somehow essential to your return. Moto-i is proud of its status as the first sake brewery outside Japan—not like a snob, but like a geek who’s passionate about his off-beat hobby. You may not know your nama from your nigori, but it doesn’t matter here: This place isn’t about attitude, but, rather, aptitude. Modeled after the low-key pubs in Japan called izakaya, Moto-i keeps the stereo quiet and the mood mature. Sake is a sipping drink, after all, despite the shot-glass serving size. Though brewed like beer, it’s more like Scotch in complexity, with the strength of wine. Do as the Tokyoites do and slow down and recharge, on the rooftop patio or at the sleek bar below, before heading back into the clamor of life’s great party. 2940 Lyndale Ave., Mpls., 612-821-6262, moto-i.com
 

TOWN TALK DINER

Minneapolis

Best for Bellying up to the bar
What to drink The “adult” malts
What to Eat Cheese curds and Frickles—fried dill-pickle slices

The Town Talk Diner has a perfectly respectable dining room, from which you can’t help noticing that the art-deco bar on the other side of the wall always sounds like a barrel of monkeys. Maybe it’s the retro stools, the color of candy Red Hots. Maybe it’s the proximity—the bar couldn’t get any smaller without everyone sipping from the same glass. Maybe it’s the “adult malts” that the jocular bartenders blend like hip soda-fountain jerks: the Monkey Business, for example, which fuses chocolate, banana liqueur, peanut butter, and bourbon. Yeah, it’s probably those drinks. How else to explain that everyone seems to know each other, yet it’s never the same mix of people? That kind of instant community can only come from plunking yourself down at the bar and calling for a Panty Dropper (sorbet and sparkling wine). Once you’ve lost that inhibition, the party will follow. 2707 ½ Lake St. E., Mpls., 612-722-1312, towntalkdiner.com
 

ST. PAUL GRILL

St. Paul

Best for Finishing off a business deal
What to drink The $750-a-glass Macallan
What to Eat Burgers, steaks, fries

Single-malt-scotch drinkers tend to be solitary types: They’re measured, exacting seekers of nuance and lovers of complexity. They speak in full sentences, though far more rarely than beer lovers do. They don’t suffer fools lightly. In Minnesota, you will find these exacting souls in particular preponderance in one place: the St. Paul Grill, the home of the region’s best single-malt-scotch selection. With dozens of choices ranging from the rarest of the rare and the priciest of the pricey (millionaire scotch aficionados are directed to Macallan from 1949, for $750 a glass) to the smokiest of the smokey (16-year-old Lagavulin, $13) and the smoothest of the smooth (Dalwhinnie, 15 years in the making, $11), the St. Paul Grill gives single-malt-scotch drinkers exactly what they want: fireworks, but presented decorously, in the quiet confines of a glass. Want to know what it’s like to be a member of the club? Grab a seat at the grand old wooden bar in this landmark hotel, summon a scotch as well as a steak (or one of the best burgers in town) from the grill’s estimable kitchen, and experience the joy of serious drinking. 350 Market St., St. Paul, 651-224-7455, stpaulgrill.com
 


HALL OF FAME

Nightspots that have stood the test of time

Rooftops
Stella’s Fish Cafe, Mpls.
Joe’s Garage, Mpls.
The Liffey, St. Paul
Hipster Scenes
Café Lurcat, Mpls.
Chino Latino, Mpls.
Jetset, Mpls.
Wine Bars
The Riverview, Mpls.
Domacin, Stillwater
Heartland, St. Paul
Dive Bars
The C.C. Club, Mpls.
Dubliner Pub, St. Paul
Half Time Rec, St. Paul
Sports Bars
Alary’s, St. Paul
Majors, Golden Valley
Joe Senser’s, Plymouth
Old-Money Hangouts
The Monte Carlo, Mpls.
Lord Fletcher’s, Spring Park
Lucia’s, Mpls.

MY FAVORITE HAUNT

Robyne Robinson, KMSP news anchor, art collector
“My favorite bars tend to be inside restaurants, where dinner isn’t just liquid: Barbette for a nice glass or two of wine in my Uptown ’hood. But I also like Saffron, the hidden jewel of downtown Minneapolis, where you can pair your drink with exotic Mediterranean tapas, a comfortable lounge setting, and conversation.” Barbette, 1600 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-827-5710, barbette.com. Saffron, 123 N. Third St., Mpls., 612-746-5533, saffronmpls.com

Sarah Hicks, assistant conductor, Minnesota Orchestra
“If I’m suffering from post-concert hunger pangs, I opt for 112 Eatery so I can have lamb scottadito and cauliflower fritters with my martini. They have a great wine list, too, but conducting makes me thirsty for vodka. Wherever I go, though, I often end with a nightcap at Brit’s, especially if Freddie [octogenarian employee and customer favorite Freddie Manton] is there.” 112 Eatery, 112 N. Third St., Mpls., 612-343-7696, 112eatery.com; Brit’s Pub, 1110 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-332-3908, britspub.com
 

 

IKE’S FOOD & COCKTAILS

 MSP International Airport

Best for Waiting out a delayed flight
What to drink The boozy ice-cream drinks
What to Eat Deviled eggs, the filet Oscar

We like Ike—whoever he is. Why? Because the guy runs one of the classiest joints in town, a place where the waiters wear monkey jackets and the chefs sport toques, the kind of establishment where the paneling is dark, the lighting is low, and the sidecars and gimlets are always on the strong side. What’s more, the food isn’t dainty (we suggest the deviled eggs, an iceberg wedge, and the filet Oscar—and for chrissakes don’t hold the blue cheese). So what could be better? Here’s what: an Ike’s at the Minneapolis–St. Paul airport, an island of calm in a sea of TSA-induced frenzy, a place where you can escape Fox News, cell-phone chatter, and women in track suits and men in Zubaz. The airport location has all the assets of Ike’s downtown Minneapolis establishment: smartly dressed servers, classic food, tap beers, a fulsome wine list, and a Kahlua-drenched dessert called the MSP Sundae, made with Sebastian Joe’s ice cream. Chili’s it ain’t. So, Ike, here’s to you. MSP International Airport, 612-355-4642
 

CAFE MAUDE

Minneapolis

Best for Convivial conversation
What to drink The Black Bunny mojito
What to Eat House-cut fries with truffle-fontina fondue

So you’ve made plans with your significant other/dear friends/favorite neighbors and have no idea where to go. You want a cozy bar that’s festive enough for a Friday night, but informal enough for a Tuesday happy hour. You don’t want anything too cheap or too expensive, too crowded or too hushed. There should be intriguing cocktails, a nice wine list, and a handful of microbrews. There shouldn’t be crying babies or bachelorette parties, but a little live music would be nice—as long as it’s not too loud. Sound familiar? Sounds like Café Maude. The popular south Minneapolis bistro keeps bar, too, and does so with the same convivial qualities that make dining here such a draw. Namely, attentive service, stellar drinks and small plates, and a familiar feeling, as if this is the place you had in mind all along. 5411 Penn Ave. S., Mpls., 612-822-5411, cafemaude.com
 

BARLEY JOHN’S

 New Brighton

Best for Handcrafted brews
What to drink The wild-rice triple-fermented ale
What to Eat “Pizza N” with hot sausage

 Brewpubs are where beer nuts go to see how real beer is made—or they should be. Too many corporate brewpubs offer beer that’s little better than you’d find in the local convenience store. Not so at Barley John’s, the most ambitious brewpub in Minnesota. How ambitious are they? Visitors can sample highly technical, complex beers like their Rosie’s Old Ale, a triple-fermented ale made from a wild-rice base that is aged in wooden bourbon barrels for two years. No, that’s not a typo—two years. Aging a beer both makes it more concentrated (evaporation through the barrel is slow but steady; in two years a 55-gallon barrel of beer might lose five gallons of water) and creates intense flavors of coffee, Madeira, roses, and buckwheat. Think you’ll find a two-year-old wild-rice-based beer anywhere else on earth? Nope. Which is why beer nuts from all over the state make regular pilgrimages to Barley John’s, a little New Brighton spot (with very good pizza!) that is as ambitious as it is accomplished. 781 Old Hwy. 8 SW, New Brighton, 651-636-4670, barleyjohns.com

BRADSTREET CRAFTSHOUSE

Minneapolis

Best for Classic cocktails
What to drink The old-fashioned
What to Eat The lamb sliders

You don’t have to be a cocktail connoisseur to appreciate Bradstreet, but it will significantly enhance the experience if you are. Here, in the golden glow of this downtown hideaway, mixologists meticulously craft classic cocktails with avant-garde twists. Twists like hand-pressed juices, house-made infusions, and specially molded pieces of ice that maximize chilling and minimize dilution. Bradstreet’s cocktails are designed, not dumped in a glass. They’re usually stirred—not shaken—until perfectly balanced and blended. It sounds terribly complicated, but the effect is quite simple: After an old-fashioned made with Demerara syrup, black-walnut liqueur, and house orange bitters, everything else is just a drink. 601 First Ave. N., Mpls., 612-312-1821, bradstreetcraftshouse.com

BARRIO TEQUILA BAR

Minneapolis

Best for An urban adventure
What to drink The El Toro
What to Eat Sweet corn soup, guaca-mole, tacos, churros

On the surface, Barrio couldn’t seem more un-Minnesotan. It’s dark. It’s sexy. It’s loud. And you’ll find people eating dinner there after 9 p.m.—on a Tuesday. Yet look a little deeper and you’ll see that Barrio, despite being a tequila bar, isn’t that exotic. It’s simply the manifestation of something that’s as Minnesotan as the state fair and Summit beer—the need to, every once in a while, throw off our Midwestern reserve, let go, get weird, and have a shot (or two) of tequila. Of course, usually we go to Cancun or Vegas to have such adventures. Now, thanks to Barrio, you can go cray-zee closer to home. 925 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-333-9953, barriotequila.com
 

JAKE O’CONNOR’S PUBLIC HOUSE

Excelsior

Best for Ruminating on your luck
What to drink Guinness or Jameson
What to Eat Fish and chips, laddie!

Take a seat at the far end of the bar at Jake O’Connor’s. Wait for the Guinness to settle and marvel at the way the panes of warped glass filter light, turning afternoon into night and softening the bright cold glare of reality. The bar here is hand-carved, the work of men in Ireland, shipped over in pieces. The food is mostly traditional: lamb stew, fish and chips, and that oddly comforting dish known as shepherd’s pie. Most nights, there’s plenty of Jameson to go around. But the best thing about a good Irish bar is always the gloom. For an hour or two, you can drop the façade, the sunny American disposition. Go ahead: Worry, be unhappy. Drink slowly, then order a second round—or a third—and puzzle a bit over what Yeats said: “Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.” 200 Water St., Excelsior, 952-908-9650, jakeoconnors.com
 

TOAST WINE BAR & CAFE

Minneapolis

Best for Re-acquainting with an old pal
What to drink An Italian varietal
What to Eat Cheese, charcuterie, pizza

Toast is that rarest find among wine-drinking spots, one that delights people who love drinking obscure wines but also isn’t off-putting to those who know nothing about wine. Wine newbies love the place for the paper-thin-crust pizzas, loaded with zesty toppings; for the exactingly sourced antipasto platters; for the ample glass-pour list; and for the chic subterranean space that reads like a bit of lower Manhattan but reveals Minneapolis’s soaring skyline. Wine professionals love the place for its dedication to the unsung wine varietals from obscure corners of the world, as the list is stocked with bottles from places like Sicily, Mallorca, and Salento (the heel of Italy’s boot). 415 N. First St., Mpls., 612-333-4305, toastwinebarandcafe.com
 

THE LEXINGTON

St. Paul

Best for Keeping it real in the 651
What to drink A martini straight up
What to Eat Burgers at lunch, prime rib at dinner

It seems that every week St. Paul grows to resemble its twin, Minneapolis, just a little more—not that there’s anything wrong with that. If you haven’t noticed it yourself, you’re obviously not a restaurant hound: The big news in St. Paul restaurants lately has been almost entirely about Minneapolis restaurants opening offshoots in the eastern metro—like Pop!, Barrio, Brasa, Salut, and the Bulldog. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We will say, however, that the creeping Minneapolis-itization of St. Paul makes us appreciate the grande dame of St. Paul restaurants, the Lexington, all the more. Enter the Kennedy Camelot-era fortress on the corner of Lexington and Grand any afternoon and you’ll immediately know you’re nowhere but here: The very specific Betsy-Ross-by-way-of-JFK brand of Americana décor, fellow bar guests who know Ayd Mill Road like the back of their hand, and, of course, steaks that are to steaks as Jackie O.’s pearls were to pearls—bigger, better, and now iconic. (Note: The chicken potpies are the best in town.) Find a bar stool, order an old-fashioned or a martini and revel in the essential St. Paul–ness of it all. And please note: There’s something very right with that. 1096 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-222-5878, the-lexington.com


MY FAVORITE HAUNT

Bill DeVille, deejay, 89.3 The Current
First Avenue is like the Wrigley Field of rock clubs. They’ve only made a few improvements over the years, knocking down walls and opening things up—they’ve even cleaned the 30 years of fuzz from the ceiling—but it’s just always given me the best concert experience. I’ve seen more great shows at First Avenue than at any other Twin Cities club.” First Avenue, 701 First Ave. N., Mpls., 612-332-1775, first-avenue.com

Joe Duffy, chairman, Duffy & Partners

“The ingredients for a great bar experience are pretty straightforward: knowledgeable staff, great food and drink, and (if I do say so myself) smartly designed interiors. On that score, I’d have to name Rick Webb as the best restaurateur/saloon keeper in the Twin Cities. Webb has developed three great spots, but Ciao Bella is still my favorite. My wife, Patsy, and I go there often and enjoy our favorite drink, Herradura tequila with Cointreau and fresh lime.” Ciao Bella, 3501 Minnesota Dr., Bloomington, 952-841-1000, ciaobellamn.com
 

 

LAST CALLS

A toast to legendary bygone watering holes

The Rainbow Bar
R.I.P. 1999
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
R.I.P. 2002
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.

Moby Dick’s
R.I.P. 1988
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.

The Nankin
R.I.P. 1999
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
R.I.P. 2009
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.

Rogue
R.I.P. 1995
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

Stella’s
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

Conga

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

Solera
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

Fuji Ya
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

Sapor
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

Smalley’s
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

Meritage
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
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

Minneapolis

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
 

THE BULLDOG

Minneapolis

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

Stillwater

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
 

PROHIBITION

Minneapolis

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

Minneapolis

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
 

* We challenged the 18 top bars to a mix-off! Learn more online about our Minnesota Monthly Signature Cocktail Competition

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