As much as you might be tempted this time of year, you can’t do all your drinking on a lake. Luckily, from the hard-drinking Hub of Hell days to the current burgeoning craft beer movement, MSP has always had some great bars. But the truth is, some bars are greater than others, at least in terms of their impact on the Twin Cities’ drinking scene, so we decided to rank the two towns’ 12 most important bars. Drink it in...
The 12 Most Important Bars in the Twin Cities
If you’re in St. Paul and you’re looking for one hell of a craft beer selection, then this is really the place to go. It has 70 taps and over 300+ bottles, so it’s not exactly slim pickings. To top that, there's also a pretty excellent whiskey list featuring a hoard of brown booze options. From bourbon, to rye, to fine Scotch, it's basically got a little (or a lot) of whatever you like.
Before the Internet rage begins because most people tend to think of this place as a little nondescript hole on Minneapolis’ South side, let me just throw down one simple little fact: Merlins Rest has the BIGGEST selection of Irish and Scotch whiskey in the state. Don’t believe us? Go there and ask to see the Whiskey Bible. Yeah, that’s right, it has an entire book to browse through as a whiskey menu. Have fun with that! Also, there are live bagpipers sometimes.
Local mix-master, Sir Jesse Held, may have been a cocktail man-about-town for a while, but the opening of Parlour marked his run as the booze man behind Jester Concepts. Since then he’s launched a fleet of other bar programs around town (his most recent effort being the new speakeasy, Constantine), but the drinks at his flagship definitely helped to change the game, our favorite being the Wise Beyond His Years which features blended Scotch, single-malt Scotch, Licor 43, lemon, yerbe mate honey, and sage.
To say that we love the bar at The Strip Club would be an understatement. The drinks are incredibly crafty, yet you don’t feel like you’re stuck in some uppity, overly stuffy bar. Instead, you feel like you’re in a place where the staff appreciates you and would be just as cool with serving you a cold beer. The drink menu changes seasonally and the results are always spectacular, but even the long-standing staple drinks, like the Cobra Kai, are simply stunning.
Part fine-dining, part night club, part fine-drinking establishment, Icehouse has helped to usher in a new era with its cocktail menu. While the full-sized cocktails are delicious and worth noting, it’s the $5 sipping shots that should be changing the game forever. These “small”-sized cocktails are not only a great value, they’re also all amazing. If you’re not getting the Satan Laughs & Spreads His Wings, you’re doing things wrong.
When Bradstreet announced the initial closing of its Graves Hotel location, we all got a little sad inside, but quickly news followed that it'd be opening up right on the skirts of Uptown and our tiny hearts swelled with joy. They’re still mixing up cocktails like the bosses they are with Bradstreet classics like the black walnut Old Fashioned, the Hemingway daiquiri, and our personal favorite as well as the bar's namesake cocktail, The Bradstreet. These guys were on the forefront of the Twin Cities craft cocktail movement and it shows.
When it comes to bourbon, B&theB reigns supreme, but it's also got a load of delicious cocktails to help cure you from a very likely case of meat sweats. The Hennepin Manhattan is a Thrillist favorite, but you can never go wrong with a Knob Creek Old Fashioned, or, if you’re more in the mood for something non-bourbon-centric, The Last Word -- a gin-based cocktail with Luxardo, Chartreuse, and lime juice. Someday we’re hoping this spot'll start renting out living space in the beer garden, but until then, you’ll just have to frequent it often.
“The CC Club just isn’t what it used to be,” says every single person who ever used to go there in their early 20s, but the CC Club might just be the king of Minneapolis dive bars. Sure, it may not seem to be anything special from the get-go, but in addition to having opened up just after Prohibition as the CC Tap, this place has been the home base to many famous Minnesotans over the years including journalist David Carr, comedian Tom Arnold, and of course, The Replacements. In fact, The Mat’s famous song, "Here Comes a Regular," was written about this South Minneapolis watering hole and at the end of a recent film shoot, Woody Harrelson and the rest of his cast held their wrap party here. It may not be the place for a fancy Manhattan, but it IS the place for a PBR tallboy, a shot of Jameson, and something of the punk rock variety playing on the jukebox.
This legendary boozer served as the longtime home of legendary Twin Cities bartender, Johnny Michaels. During his time here, he revolutionized the local cocktail scene with his modern takes and twists on old classics. His cocktail book, North Star Cocktails, done in conjunction with several other local mix-masters, is a must for any legit cocktail enthusiast. Despite the fact that Johnny has moved on, this bar's still managing to rock the cocktails just as hard under the new leadership of liquor pro Adam Gorski.
If you’re looking for another bar with that Replacements vibe, but one that also manages to make some of the best cocktails in the city, then this is the place for you. Having been nationally recognized time and time again for its food, it’s about time it started getting recognized for its incredible cocktail program. The Smoking Baptist is a thing of beauty featuring mulled whiskey, orange tea, and a Laphroaig rinse, while The Slow Thaw sports bourbon, grapefruit, and a bit of sambal for some heat.
This place might not be the first modern Twin Cities speakeasy, but it’s the one that’s certainly responsible for bringing the concept back into vogue. Hidden within the dank basement of the Bachelor Farmer, you can get the top-shelf cocktails that helped launch the Twin Cities cocktail scene into the national spotlight.
Downtown St. Paul
Yeah, it has beer, and sure, the wine list is easily one of the best around, but the COCKTAILS! The Young Love is outstanding and made with Copper & Kings "Immature Brandy," Lillet Rouge, and St. George pear liqueur, and the Meritage Manhattan uses Cognac as its primary spirit and is one of the best in town. Maybe next time you’re there, skip the bubbly with those oysters and shoot for something a little more adventurous.
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1. The Happy Gnome498 Selby Ave, St. Paul
2. Merlins Rest3601 E Lake St, Minneapolis
3. Borough and Parlour730 Washington Ave N, Minneapolis
4. The Strip Club Meat & Fish378 Maria Ave, St. Paul
5. Icehouse2528 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis
6. Bradstreet Neighborhood Crafthouse1930 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis
7. Butcher & The Boar1121 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis
8. CC Club2600 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis
9. La Belle Vie510 Groveland Ave, Minneapolis
10. Heyday2700 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis
11. The Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar50 2nd Ave N, Minneapolis
12. Meritage410 Saint Peter St, St. Paul
Despite the diminutive name, you’ll want to arrive at this St. Paul bar with a giant-sized appetite, because not only is the 70-strong draft list (helpfully broken down into categories like “hoppy” or “sessionable”) deep on Midwest favorites reliably on point, but the burgers are also not to be missed. Better yet -- have that burger and beer (or let’s be real, beers) on their patio when the Minnesota weather permits, because let’s be honest, there’s no better state to be in between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Merlins Rest is one of Minnesota's most important pubs. Don't believe us? Take a look at their whiskey list...it's the longest in the state. You can also find scotch and various beers here, but we highly recommend sticking with whiskey when you stop by Merlins Rest.
This dual-level North Loop establishment offers fine dining upstairs and a warm and comfortable lounge downstairs, providing you with a meal and a hangout all at one locale.
Grass-fed beef is the name of the game at St. Paul’s premier meatery, an independent St. Paul chop and fish house, helmed by chef JD Fratzke. Strip House exhibits incredible use of ingredients from small, local farms, but it’s also distinctly unique and almost rustic despite its overall level of refinement and balance. The drink menu changes seasonally and the results are always spectacular, but even the long-standing staple drinks, like the Cobra Kai, are simply stunning.
This laid-back Whittier spot hosts live indie and jazz music acts daily in a two-story, polished industrial bar and restaurant (complete with plenty of large, comfy leather booths for the whole party). Head upstairs and watch the show, or stay downstairs for gourmet European and American fare like lobster gnocchi or a lamb platter. And it wouldn't be a real night at the Icehouse without going for one of their specialty cocktails or something from its massive top-shelf whiskey collection.
Bradstreet Neighborhood Crafthouse has some of the absolute best cocktails in Minneapolis and a nice array of small plates to go with them. Try the pork neck toast with their classic black walnut old fashioned. For the best cocktail experience, order the signature Bradstreet cocktail, made of Jim Beam Rye, jasmine, ginger, lemon, and egg white. The bar also offers on-tap cocktails, which are a must-try in this hip yet comfortable establishment.
A deceptively large neighborhood noshery with wood stoves and penny-tiled floors dominated, Butcher puts equal emphasis on bourbon, beer, and shareable plates.
This Uptown bar and eatery has a divey, rock club feel (complete with jukebox!), rocks an outdoor patio, frequent happy hours, and boozy brunch specials which're highlighted by crispy hash-browns and whiskey & eggs.
Critically acclaimed La Belle Vie on the outskirts of downtown is the birthplace of two of the finest culinary careers in the Midwest: Chef Tim McKee and Sazerac slinger Johnny Michaels.
When it comes to affordable yet elegant cuisine, Heyday is your spot. It's easily one of the best restaurants in the Twin Cities, if not the country. Head to this rustic-chic space (it sports exposed brick and a gorgeous wooden-beamed ceiling) for favorites like the chicken liver tart, chilled blue mussels, and grilled quail, which all help to create a downright exquisite menu. Be sure to leave room for at least one of the inventive desserts including pea shell sorbet, and wash it all down with a creative cocktail like the Don't Think Twice with pisco, aperol, grapefruit, and elderflower.
Upstairs, you'll find a friendly brick and timber restaurant offering a variety of organic dishes made with ingredients from their rooftop garden and other local growers, while downstairs is the dimly lit speakeasy that completes the duality of the building, as well as your unfulfilled craving for craft cocktails. At Marvel Bar, order the signature cocktail Oliveto, which features olive oil, egg white, lemon, Licor 43, and Gordon’s gin.
Meritage is a swanky French brasserie slinging lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, including eats like an outrageous French onion soup, oysters, and crepes. Their wine list is expertly curated, and perfect for anyone with any range of wine knowledge.