Constantine Re-inspires the Art of Bartending

Constantine is not another craft cocktail bar. They won’t be dubbing their drinks hand-crafted, artisanal or [insert hip adjective here]. And don’t you dare call it a speak easy.

The church-turned-bar space located in the basement of Hotel Ivy is a mixed drink brainchild of Jesse Held, whose repertoire includes award-heavy places like Borough & Parlor and coup d’état. This time, Held and Jeff Erkkila—Constantine’s liquid chef—are paying homage to the building’s origins with a pulpit host stand, a stained-glass window and by filling their Bible-esque cocktail menu with up to 70 drink options.

The cocktails tend to play off classic drinks, but with a touch of artistry and finesse. Martinus & The Cold Beggar is their spin on a dirty martini, and is garnished with a piece of pickled herring. It’s served up beside things like a Treasure Trail—a far superior take on the Fuzzy Navel—and It’s Not a Tumeric, made with lemon grass, ginger, lime, Turmeric Casa Amigos Repisado, nam pla and seltzer. While Constantine bartenders will happily serve you up a regular gin and tonic (seriously, they need a break sometimes, too), their strength lies in the cocktails they mastered over two months of training. Are they “hand-crafted cocktails”? Sure. But Held has a small beef about that.

“You’re so inundated with that term,” he said. “… I think over the years it’s been lost in translation; really, what does ‘craft cocktail’ mean? And what is a craft cocktail bar for that matter? I think what I’m trying to do is break the mold of being pigeonholed into a craft cocktail bar. … We’re more of a tippling house where people come here, drink, have fun with their friends. It’s a gathering point.”

A gathering point, may we point out, whose first visitors were the Rolling Stones a few weeks ago. Held and his bartenders served the legendary rock band into the wee hours of the morning, showing them just what Constantine is about: the art of tending drinks.

To Held and his team, mixing a drink is so much more than just the cocktail itself. It’s about showmanship. It’s an absolute labor of love, and it’s obvious—like the way Constantine bartender Jourdan Gomez wanted to know exactly how we felt about the concoctions we tried. Their job is important to them, no doubt spilling over into the customer service they provide.

“The craft isn’t in the cocktail; it’s more in the bartending,” Held said. “That’s what Constantine’s about: I am trying to bring the elegance and the beauty and the artistry back into bartending for you all to see instead of just a drink.”

Call it what you will, but Constantine will be sure to have you thanking the cocktail gods once you pay a visit. Service starts at 5 p.m. June 29 at 1115 Second Ave. S., Minneapolis.