A few years ago, Johnny Michaels was tending the bar at La Belle Vie when an elderly woman walked in. She had an air of sophistication, the look of someone who has traveled and sampled broadly from what life has to offer, so Michaels decided to mix up a cocktail that would impress. He shook it into a glass, watched her take a sip, served another customer, and then returned to see how the woman liked it. “Young man,” she said, “that’s the best drink I ever had—and I’ve had a lot of drinks.”
Happily, the old gal had landed in the hands of an expert bartender. Michaels is the inventor of numerous libations, including the Charles Bronson (it packs a punch) and a drink called A Boy Named Sue (which begins with a pour of Jim Beam and ends with a pansy-blossom garnish). What’s more, the lucky lady had found one of the finest, most elegant bars in the Midwest.
What makes a great bar? That’s the question our editorial staff strove to answer as we put together this month’s cover package on top-shelf Twin Cities bars, “Night Life” (page 46). Certainly, a good bartender, like Michaels, matters. But a well-cultivated wine list or a host of microbrews on draft can make a bar stand out, too. Food is important, as is décor. And the crowd should be considered. Like an expertly blended martini, a great bar yields an experience that’s refreshing, even transformative. Recently, for example, I found myself talking Iranian cinema with a perfect stranger at Nick & Eddie, my input considerably enhanced by a pint of fizzy Hefeweizen. A decade ago, while sitting in a seafood bar in Portland, I wondered aloud what it would be like to drive the cherry-red Lamborghini parked outside. To my surprise, the guy on the stool next to me reached into his pocket and proffered a key.
After much debate (and probably one margarita too many), the Minnesota Monthly staff finally identified 18 Twin Cities bars that deliver a truly intoxicating experience, as well as 10 spots that feature can’t-miss happy hours. No doubt, some readers will quibble with our selections, but it would be hard to argue that the picks were made by anything less than a panel of experts: Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, our dining guru, recently finished a book on wine, Drink This, due out this fall; Elizabeth Dehn, our lifestyle editor, is a woman of such refinement and taste that she wouldn’t look out of place hoisting a glass on Sex and the City; and our arts editor, Tim Gihring—well, he’s from Wisconsin. Need I say more?
If you’re a regular reader of this magazine, you may be wondering if something is slightly different about this page this month. In fact, you’re right—the photo has changed. In July, Minnesota Monthly’s staff gathered at the Bulldog Northeast to bid adieu to editor-in-chief Andrew Putz, whose visage graced this page for the last two years. Andy, who left to take a job as editor of Boston magazine, spent his time here beefing up the pages of this magazine, coaxing great stories out of its writers and urging its staff to dream big. His infectious enthusiasm for great journalism, storytelling, and pretty much anything made with bacon will be sorely missed. Salut, buddy. Wind be at your back and all that.
Joel Hoekstra, Managing Editor