Earlier this week I published my 2021 top 10 breweries in the state. I do love me some craft beer and visiting breweries every chance I get. But if being stuck at home throughout 2020 taught me anything, it is that a truly elite cocktail is really hard to come by.
Before Covid, I thoroughly enjoyed crafting cocktails at home. This is not a new thing I picked up because going out was such a challenge. I’d been several years now that I have been honing a Manhattan recipe to be made precisely the way that I like it. Before moving on to an Old Fashioned, then Sazerac, then Boulevardier and then maybe even doing something crazy like venturing into gins.
But the advent of being home a lot meant more time to experiment with cocktails at home. Which, to be honest, was a lot of fun. My personal cocktail game has improved dramatically and I’ve even moved on to barrel aging my own cocktails or beginning to try more adventurous drinks.
But, like I said, the value of an elite cocktail made by someone who really knows what they are doing is impossible to measure.
Unlike the brewery list, I’m not going to make this a rank. When it comes to breweries, I feel like I’ve been to enough to them that I confidently put forth a ranking of 1 to 10. Cocktail bars? More research is needed before I can start ranking. Research I am happy to do, but it will take more time. Until then, here is just a list of places around the Twin Cities that really make elite cocktails.
Address: 2027 North 2nd St Minneapolis
I will start with my favorite, and it is a relatively new favorite. This place is awesome. The slogan here is “Old ass bar, good ass drinks.” You can stop reading now, if you’d like.
Meteor is a place that opened just a couple months before this global pandemic hit and caused it to close. It was during the Minnesota shutdown that I learned it existed. Started by people who are known in the local cocktail community who wanted a laid back bar that still made amazing drinks.
Eventually they were able to re-open and I was there one of their first nights. And I’ve been back several times. People who know what they are doing and a really cool bar. Lucky for me it is extremely convenient to get to quickly and I plan on making this place a regular stop.
The menu here is simple and always evolving. But the attention to detail to not only the ingredients but how the drink is made, is second to none. Really I’m hoping that one day they just hire me (zero experience, very passionate...call me).
The Sample Room
Address: 2124 Marshall St NE, Minneapolis
This would be an old favorite. I first was here way back in 2018 and I returned with a friend more than a couple times. This is where I learned about the wonderful world of barrel aged cocktails. I vividly remember having a barrel aged negroni here that was unforgettable. And I’ve been back for that, as well as other cocktails aged.
In fact, this inspired me to buy a barrel (or two) for home and I’ve now been making and aging my own for about the last year.
The Sample Room is right along the Mississippi on Marshall Ave. A little bit north of Psycho Suzi’s and a little south of Betty Dangers (or Tony Jaros if that’s more your speed). A quaint and quiet little bar that typically has some random old movie playing. I do believe I’ve watched Flight of the Navigator and Bedknobs & Broomsticks while sitting at the bar. I would not suggest bellying up at this bar if you’re hoping to catch a game.
Address: 1620 Central Ave NE #150, Minneapolis
Now moving into the section of this list that is dedicated to actual distilleries with cocktail rooms.
For me, Tattersall was one of the first places I went to where truly craft cocktails was their specialty. I will absolutely never forget my first experience at Tattersall and it is atop my list of one of my favorite venues in the Twin Cities. The first time, it was a challenge just to find the place, but so worth it (it’s a non-descript turn into a long parking lot along railroad tracks. you’ll find it...eventually).
As a distillery, Tattersall also makes a wide assortment of various liqueurs intended to be used to make your own cocktails. I’m quite certain that I have at least 8 different products of theirs at my home for when I’m honing my own drinks. I’d recommend their gin, barreled gin, orange crema, lime crema, sour cherry, bitter orange and even their absinthe.
But the experience in their cocktail room and the quality of the cocktail is fantastic. This place is a special one to me, some elite experiences and great drinks.
Address: 6801 Flying Cloud Dr., Eden Prairie
My visit to Flying Dutchman was one in 2020, in the fall. Outside seating only, at the time, and a limited staff. But I was very impressed.
Turns out our server was the distiller and an owner. She took plenty of time to answer all of my questions about their spirits, how she decided to leave her former career to jump into distilling and their process. So the service was great, but the cocktails were as well.
What is really fun about Flying Dutchman is that they have a huge menu of drinks. They didn’t have a menu with 3 or 4 bourbon drinks, 3 or 4 vodka drinks, 2 tequila drinks, etc. No. They had probably 35-40 total cocktails to choose from. The ones I was able to sample were all very good.
They make their own spirits, attempting to use top notch ingredients and make their spirits as pure as possible.
Turns out, there are good cocktails outside of Northeast.
Address: 8601 73rd Ave N STE 14, Brooklyn Park
Sticking in the suburbs, we move north to Brooklyn Park. Another distillery & cocktail lounge that was first visited during the pandemic. So the people were distanced, the experience was a little muted but I was very impressed.
Skaalvenn is in a commercial park building in Brooklyn Park. You park and begin walking down a couple hallways of random businesses. Each door completely non-descript and you aren’t sure if this is an office building, a doctor’s office or some sort of beige purgatory.
Then you get to the Skaalvenn door, you open it and it looks like you’re walking through a portal into a completely different world. The decor is a mix of Asian and Nordic, which is a unique but it works. The menu was large and the drinks were very unique. The small group I was with ordered different types of drinks and all were impressive.
There is close attention here to the presentation of the cocktail as much as the quality.
Anoka Hardware Store
Address: 201 Alley - Red Light, Anoka
Moving from distilleries to speakeasies. And believe it or not, we are starting in Anoka.
Speakeasy style bars are popping up all over the place and if done well, they are extremely fun. Marvell Bar was one of the first in the Twin Cities, and was rather fun. But now they seem to be everywhere. I’ve been to several, so driving up to Anoka for a speakeasy really did not have me terribly excited. Too many “speakeasy” bars were really just at the back quarter of a restaurant, you walked through a curtain into another room and that was supposed to be the fun, exciting and super secret bar. Really, kind of blah.
But the Hardware Store blew me away. This one you walk into a small room that has a few tools stuck to the back wall with a little cash register. A little hokey, you give them the password and then they slid part of the wall to the side and you entered a whole different place.
Beautifully decorated, a silent movie playing to the side and really great drinks. Every place I’ve listed here has great drinks, but the Hardware Store is easily in the top 3 here.
At one point we were able to have a conversation with the owner who really said he wanted to open a great bar that was closer to home and he didn’t have to drive to Minneapolis for elite drinks. I’m grateful.
Address: 123 2nd St N, Stillwater
Another surprisingly cool place. This was the only speakeasy I’ve been to that was actually difficult to find. I may have walked around for a couple minutes before getting my bearings and finding my way to this place.
Very cool, quiet and relaxed atmosphere with a really diverse menu. I do believe this was where I had a drink that came to me on fire. The three key factors to a great cocktail experience is your company, the atmosphere and the quality of the cocktail. My trip to Velveteen hit on all three.
Young Joni Back Bar
Address: 165 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis
One of my favorites on this list. Atmosphere of the Back Bar is right near the top, this place is really cool. To gain entrance here, you walk down an alley looking for a thin red light. That’s your door. Once inside you find a charming wood-clad bar. Every chair sit on and each glass you drink from are different, as if purchased at random garage sales or thrift stores around town.
The menu is even part of the speakeasy theme, making the entire visit an experience.
The drinks were very good, though not quite as memorable as some of the names above. This is as much about the experience as it was the drinks. I’ve very much enjoyed my time at the Back Bar.
Still On My List:
- Cobble Social House - In the North Loop, I’ve been trying for a few weeks to get to Cobble Social House. First, need to convince someone to go with me. Two, need to find a reservation. Online, this place looks very cool. And of course, I’m excited to try their drinks.
- The Mudd Room - Again, need to find a friend for this trip to Mendota Heights. Also again, online this speakeasy looks neat.
- Hai Hai - I’ve heard they have some of the best cocktails in the metro. It has been on my list for a couple years, just never found the right time to get there.