Nightlife in the Twin Cities

Where to find bustling scenes of local and big-name music, all types of comedy, top-tier mixologists, and more
Palace Theatre
Palace Theatre

Photo by Darin Kamnetz

Minneapolis and St. Paul bring the biggest touring headliners and entertainment acts to Target Center, Xcel Energy Center and U.S. Bank Stadium year round. In summer, the outdoor Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium join that list. Those big-ticket venues aside, there are dozens of venues to sing along with your favorite artists, laugh out loud, dance the night away and unwind with a drink.

Our most iconic music venue is First Avenue, now joined by a smaller stage for up-and-coming artists called 7th St Entry. Vaulted into the limelight with the help of Prince, First Avenue has stirred hope in more than a few musicians that they’ll get their own star on the building’s exterior someday—alongside 100-plus others such as Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Queen Latifah, Nine Inch Nails, Trampled by Turtles and, in gold leaf, Prince.

The First Avenue family has expanded to include the mid-size Fine Line Music Cafe a few blocks away and, over in St. Paul, the divey Turf Club, the historic Fitzgerald Theater and the two-level, 2,400-capacity Palace Theatre. Management has taken care to let each venue’s personality come through, and the music roster is as diverse as ever.

Other favorite music venues include the Varsity, Amsterdam Bar & Hall and the Armory, which reopened in time to host Jennifer Lopez and P!nk during Super Bowl LII. Amsterdam’s moving wall dividers allow for a flexible performance space, and you can’t knock the Varsity’s layout or, as odd as it sounds, its aesthetically awesome bathroom, named best in the U.S. in 2013. The Armory is a larger venue with a spacious general-admission floor, high ceilings, seating on the upper levels and bars that line the walls, all of which make for an amped-up night.

For jazz, Dakota on Nicollet in downtown Minneapolis is a good bet. For a little taste of every genre, go to the Cedar, a nonprofit that has brought sounds from around the world to Minneapolis for 30 years through its almost-daily events and programs such as the Global Roots series.

House of Comedy
House of Comedy

Courtesy of House of Comedy

Dance floors can be found at our bars, too. Honey, located in the basement of Minneapolis Asian fusion restaurant Ginger Hop, is always buzzing. For more of an upscale experience, try the Exchange & Alibi Lounge or the Living Room at the W, on the ground floor of the Foshay hotel in downtown Minneapolis (there’s also a speakeasy, Prohibition, on the 27th floor). Loon Cafe has a small but inviting dance floor, and, over by the University of Minnesota, the Kitty Kat Club features hipster-friendly acts. At the Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul, you can go old school with swing dancing every Thursday night.

Gay bars like the Gay 90’s, Saloon and Lush are also great for dancing—with the Gay 90’s alone sporting three dance floors that fit different music to each of the venue’s six bars. More laid-back evenings can be found at the 19 Bar, which, at 50-something years old, is the oldest gay bar in Minneapolis. The place exudes a neighborhood-bar atmosphere, similar to the vibes at eagleBOLTbar (having a patio always helps).

Themed bars Psycho Suzi’s and Betty Danger’s, although conceived by the same creative mind, go in different directions: The first offers a whole-hog tiki theme and a vast patio along the Mississippi River. The second is a country club, mostly because of the argyle, paired with such unlikely features as a functioning Ferris wheel, an 8.5-hole mini-golf course and a Tex-Mex menu.

Both are known for their fun, if kitschy, cocktails, and you’ll find expert mixologists spread throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul. Some are shaking it up at distilleries like Tattersall, others at restaurants like Martina and Town Talk Tavern, and others still in the back bars of Parlour, Marvel Bar and Young Joni.

If you prefer beer, you have dozens of options. Visiting Northeast Minneapolis or the North Loop, you can walk to some of the best bars and taprooms in one night. The Twin Cities also have two giant breweries, Summit in St. Paul and Surly in Minneapolis, with the latter boasting a Destination Brewery of two levels, a full food menu, outdoor concerts and tours.

Our breweries come in all shapes and sizes. Bang Brewing is in a two-story grain bin. Fair State Brewing Cooperative was one of the first co-op breweries in the state, and now others, like Broken Clock, have followed suit. Some breweries, like Lake Monster Brewing and Modist Brewing Co., have added local distribution, while others, like Dangerous Man (known for its Chocolate Milk Stout), keep the experience exclusive to their growler shops and taprooms.

After getting drinks, fill your calendar with a little laughter. Big-name comedians routinely stop by Twin Cities theaters, but we also have a handful of comedy clubs. Acme Comedy Club, Joke Joint at Camp Bar, Comedy Corner Underground and Mall of America-based Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy host weekly stand-up comedy. For the longest-running satirical theater in the country, go to Brave New Workshop for sketch comedy and late-night improv. ComedySportz provides the snappier short form of improv while HUGE Improv Theater introduces you to the oft-forgotten long form. While you’re here, best not to neglect either.

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