For fans of a well-mixed drink, no bottled cocktail or canned mixer can replicate the handiwork of the masterminds behind the bar. And after months of just making do at home, those fans are thirsty for something different.
"The people that are coming out, they want to pretend they're somewhere else," said Trish Gavin, bar manager at Lat14, Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine and the soon-to-open Khâluna. Gavin is meeting the moment with a new tiki menu at Lemon Grass, and when Khâluna opens next month, the cocktail list will follow the Dutch East Indies trade routes from Europe to Indonesia, each drink brimming with flavors from the seafarers' stops along the way.
At the same time, drinks with few ingredients and fewer steps were perhaps the most that people could handle making at home, and bartenders are finding a renewed interest in the classics — only better.
Another benefit to keeping it simple in the painfully short-staffed service industry? "You're not putting a lot of labor and special ingredients into the classics," said Travis Serbus, co-owner of Petite León. "Also, there's no need to reinvent the wheel."
Still, some bartenders are reinventing more than the wheel. They're reimagining the whole way a bar works by cutting back on waste and fermenting cast-off ingredients to turn them into something new.
Serbus is forgoing garnishes at his zero-waste bar, and turning citrus peels into cordials. He makes his drinks visually appealing by choosing gorgeous glassware instead.
At Cardamom, bar director Megan Luedtke is introducing Walker Art Center visitors to fermented brines and syrups that echo the flavors of the Mediterranean and the Aegean regions.
"Fermented things add so many different layers, complexity, texture," Luedtke said. "It's the new frontier of bartending."
An added bonus? Some drinks using fermented ingredients can be served spirit-free without sacrificing flavor. (Fresh, modern nonalcoholic cocktails are another rising trend at metro-area bars.)
But whether you're in the market for a newfangled concoction or a classic cocktail, a spirit-forward meditation or a spirit-free sensation, one thing drinkers seem to have in common is that they wanted to be dazzled. And after the industry was put on hold, bars are once again overflowing with inspiration.
Where to go for a cocktail when you want ...
... to cozy up in a hideaway
Basements, backrooms, alley-side doorways and neon-lit signals. These bars aren't calling out for attention. Instead, they're moody and atmospheric — you just have to know they're there.
Basement Bar at Sooki and Mimi, 1432 W. 31st St., Mpls., sookiandmimi.com/basement
Cobble Social House, 213 3rd Av. N., Mpls., cobblempls.com
Constantine, 1115 2nd Av. S., Mpls., constantinempls.com
Hyde, 24 University Av. NE., Mpls., hydemn.com
Sockdollager, 590 W. 79th St., Chanhassen, sockdollagerbar.com
... a martini and some history
Whether sidling up to the copper bar in the oldest restaurant in Minneapolis or a four-generation steakhouse in St. Paul, lounging in a landmark Loring Park lobby or amid Old World accordion tunes from a bygone Russia, these institutions will transport you to another era.
Mancini's Char House, 531 W. 7th St., St. Paul, mancinis.com
Monte Carlo, 219 3rd Av. N., Mpls., montecarlomn.com
Moscow on the Hill, 371 Selby Av., St. Paul, moscowonthehill.com
P.S. Steak, 510 Groveland Av., Mpls., psmpls.com
... a tropical vacation
You'll find tiki glassware, flaming limes, fruit and flowers, and more rums than you knew existed at these bars/restaurants that celebrate tropical drinking traditions. The cocktails will take you somewhere much warmer than Minnesota.
Hai Hai, 2121 University Av. NE., Mpls., haihaimpls.com
Hola Arepa, 3501 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., holaarepa.com
Lemon Grass, 8600 Edinburgh Center Drive, Brooklyn Park, lemongrassmn.com
Pau Hana, 14435 Hwy. 13, Savage, pauhanamn.com
Psycho Suzi's, 1900 NE. Marshall St., Mpls., psychosuzis.com
... something spirit-free
With alcohol consumption on the wane among younger generations, more bars are getting into the zero-proof cocktail game. There's always been the Shirley Temple, but now, you'll find new and improved variations on that classic with housemade grenadine as well as fermented kombucha-like beverages; Italian sodas with inventive syrups; and smoky teas standing in for spirits.
EaTo, 305 Washington Av. S., Mpls., helloeatompls.com
Martina, 4312 Upton Av. S., Mpls., martinarestaurant.com
Norseman Distillery, 451 NE. Taft St., Mpls., norsemandistillery.com
Young Joni, 165 13th Av. NE., Mpls., youngjoni.com
... to taste spirits at the source
Because of strict state laws governing what distilleries can serve, bartenders at these cocktail rooms have to get creative, even a bit experimental, to make satisfying cocktails that showcase their spirits. (Who knew radicchio could be a spot-on substitute for Campari?) While there, go ahead and sample everything that's made in-house — whiskey, gin, rum, vodka, even one-of-a-kind apple liqueurs from a cidery.
Minneapolis Cider Co., 701 SE. 9th St., Mpls., minneapoliscider.co
O'Shaughnessy Distilling Co., 600 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls., osdistilling.com
Royal Foundry Craft Spirits, 241 Fremont Av. N., Mpls., royalfoundrycraftspirits.com
Tattersall Distilling, 1620 Central Av. NE., Mpls., tattersalldistilling.com
Twin Spirits Distillery, 2931 Central Av. NE., Mpls., twinspirits.us
... to bar hop in the North Loop
These restaurants, bars and downtown Minneapolis' first distillery are closely concentrated for a high-octane night without the need to drive.
Rooftop Lounge at the Hewing Hotel, 300 Washington Av. N., Mpls., hewinghotel.com/hewing-rooftop-sauna
Stilheart Distillery & Cocktail Lounge, 124 3rd Av. N., Mpls., stilheartdistilling.com
... to stay in the suburbs
Suburbanites don't have to stray far to find great cocktails. These distillery cocktail rooms, restaurants and bars are lighting up the metro.
The Alchemist, 2222 4th St., White Bear Lake, thealchemistwbl.com
Copperwing Distillery, 6409 Cambridge St., St. Louis Park, copperwingdistillery.com
J. Carver Distillery, 1320 Mill Lane, Waconia, jcarverdistillery.com
Pocket Square Cocktail Lounge, 7530 42nd Av. N., New Hope, pocketsquarecocktails.com
Volstead House, 1278 Lone Oak Road, Eagan, volsteadhouse.com
... an Old Fashioned
What seems to be everyone's favorite drink these days is in the midst of a renaissance. Try it with a spirit besides bourbon. Have it smoked. Or keep it classic.
The Butcher's Tale, 1121 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., butcherstale.com
Handsome Hog, 173 N. Western Av., St. Paul, handsomehog.com
Parlour, 730 Washington Av. N., Mpls.; 267 W. 7th St., St. Paul, parlourbar.com
Whiskey Inferno, 14425 Hwy. 13, Savage, whiskeyinferno.com
If all you know about agave spirits is that tequila goes into a margarita (and these bars have some great ones!), there's more to know about spirits derived from the Mexican succulent, its many species and the flavors they can summon. Rattlesnake and desert rain, anyone?
Colita, 5400 Penn Av. S., Mpls., colitampls.com
Escondido at Viv!r, 1414 Quincy Av. NE., Mpls., vivirmpls.com/escondido
Nico's Tacos, 2516 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.; 2260 Como Av., St. Paul, nicostacobar.com
Tequila Butcher, 590 W. 79th St., Chanhassen, tequilabutcher.com
... Japanese spirits
How about a daiquiri with Okinawa rum, shio koji and black lime? A peachy cocktail with Suntory Haku vodka and grapefruit soju, served in a paper takeout container? Or a premium Japanese whiskey, served neat.
Gori Gori Peku, 33 1st Av. N., 2nd floor, Mpls., kadonomise.com
Sanjusan, 33 1st Av. N., Mpls., 1st floor, sanjusanrestaurant.com
Yumi Japanese Restaurant & Bar, 400 Selby Av., St. Paul; 217 Water St., Excelsior; 200 Southdale Center, Edina, yumisushibar.com
... cocktails on tap
There's virtually no wait for pre-crafted cocktails at these bars that keep the good drinks on tap.
Boxcar Bar at the Market at Malcolm Yards, 501 30th Av. SE., Mpls., malcolmyards.market
First Draft Taproom & Kitchen, 324 6th Av. N., Mpls., firstdraftmn.com
Nighthawks Diner & Bar, 3753 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., nighthawksdinerbar.com
... to peep the fall leaves
The metro area doesn't have a monopoly on great cocktails. Keep these distilleries in mind if you're branching out to take advantage of Minnesota's beautiful autumn. Or really, any time of year.
Cantilever Distilling Co., 2078 Spruce St., Ranier, cantileverdistillery.com
Loon Liquors Distillery, 1325 Armstrong Road, Northfield, loonliquors.com
Panther Distillery, 300 E. Pike St., Osakis, pantherdistillery.com
RockFilter Distillery, 113 Maple Drive, Spring Grove, rockfilterdistillery.com
Vikre Distillery, 525 Lake Av. S., Duluth, vikredistillery.com