Out + About

The best bars, cocktail trends, and date spots on our radar this year.

Best of Out + About 2009

Beer Geek Heaven

At The Four Firkins, you’ll find sour beer from Belgium, dark coffee beer from London, a few Japanese varieties, and all kinds of domestic microbrews—plus brewery-specific stemware, a temperature-controlled cooler for age-able beers, and plenty of tastings and meet-and-greets with brewers. What you won’t find: domestic macrobrews. Owner Jason Alvey stocks 750 types of beer in his St. Louis Park shop, all neatly organized by type—IPA, wheat, et cetera—so novice and experts can navigate the store with ease. If you don’t know Fat Tire from Flat Earth, Alvey and his staff are there to help. “I would say 80 percent of the people who walk through the doors aren’t beer enthusiasts, they just like beer,” Alvey says. “We’re creating beer geeks. I love that.” 8009 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-938-2847, thefourfirkins.com

Theme Bar

If you haven’t noticed, the zombie apocalypse is rapidly approaching. Exhibit 501: Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den. The former Stand Up Frank’s in North Minneapolis was transformed by owner Leslie Bock, who also brought us a popular Nordeast tiki lounge (Psycho Suzi’s) and hipster tattoo parlor (Saint Sabrina’s). Non-zombies are welcome, of course, but drink at your own risk. 2027 N. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-588-9700, donnydirks.com

Drinks That Are Really Art

At Bradstreet Craftshouse in the Graves 601 Hotel, they don’t just mix drinks—they make liquid art. The drink list was designed by Toby Maloney of Chicago’s The Violet Hour, and drinks are hand-crafted using house-made bitters and juices, exotic liquors, specialty syrups, and five kinds of ice, including Kold Draft ice, which is 40 percent colder than regular ice. Want to sip a mixological masterpiece? Try an Aurora Fizz, a dreamy concoction of Belle de Brillet pear brandy, Laird’s Applejack liqueur, lemon zest, fluffed egg whites, and orange bitters. 601 1st Ave. N., Mpls., 612-312-1821, bradstreetcraftshouse.com

Way to Blow $95 in One Shot

There’s a reason Barrio’s original location took home our top prize for Best New Bar last year. It has great Mexican street food, killer cocktails, and the biggest selection of tequila this side of the Rio Grande. The grande dame of the tequila shots—the $95 Tequila Patrón Burdeos—is made of the finest blue agave cactus grown in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. Make sure this is your first shot of the night, so you can savor its glory. 925 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-333-9953; 235 E. 6th St., St. Paul, 651-222-3250, barriotequila.com

Classy Happy Hour

The Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant calls it “cocktail hour,” and you won’t find a better—or classier—one on Nicollet Avenue. Each Friday from 4–6 pm the Dakota treats its fans to live jazz, $3 wine and beer, and $1 appetizers from chef Jack Riebel’s delish menu. 1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-332-1010, dakotacooks.com

Down-and-Dirty Happy Hour

At Liquor Lyle’s, 6–9 pm is the only time of day you don’t get 2-4-1s. And until 6 pm, $1–$3 gets you a large selection of apps, some of which (tacos, fried zucchini) are surprisingly tasty. A recent after-work happy hour included four Premiums, two tacos, a couple of sliders, and a total bill of less than $12. Plus, there are free wings every day from 6–7 pm. Talk about recession-friendly. 2021 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-870-8183, lylesliquor.com

Charitable Trend

You gotta love a good gala, but not everyone can afford to spend the time (five-plus hours) or the money (often upwards of $150 a plate) to support their favorite local charities. So big-time charities are getting smarter, pairing big-ticket dinners with late-night events targeted at young professionals, where $40–$75 gets you a late-evening arrival (7 pm or after the main dinner), drinks, snacks, and the night’s entertainment. Symphony Ball’s Crash the Ball, Bullfrog Bash’s Late Night Leap, and the Basilica of Saint Mary’s M Party were just a few of this year’s well-attended soirées.

Neighborhood for Bar-Hopping

If your goal is to hoof it from bar to bar until your hooves are sore, you can’t beat Northeast Minneapolis. Start at The Bulldog N.E. for burgers and beer, then head to Conga Latin Bistro for a spicy change of taste. Hop over to Keegan’s Irish Pub for another beer, then let your mood decide. Nye’s Polonaise Room? Whitey’s? The Terminal Bar? U Otter Stop Inn? Take your pick—and take a cab home.

New Bellanotte

When Bellanotte closed, it took with it the favorite hangout for athletes, playboys, posers, and the scantily clad ladies who love them. Soon after the semi-surprising shuttering, the Bella crowd found a new home: Seven Skybar and Ultralounge. Saturday nights during summer, the line for the impressive rooftop bar wound around the entire Ultralounge. As the air began to chill, the crowd moved inside—but didn’t cover up. The restaurant quickly embraced its new customers, dropping the price of sushi and adding “all-you-can-eat” nights. 700 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 7mpls.com, 612-238-7777

Bar People Are About to Discover

As soon as the Twins’ new stadium opens, hordes of Minnesotans are going to discover the hip but humble charms of Lee’s Liquor Lounge, located at the corner of Glenwood Avenue and North 12th Street, within cheering distance of the new stadium. Lee’s is destined to be the new Huberts, but with more charm, style, character, and everything else. 101 Glenwood Ave., Mpls., 612-338-9491, leesliquorlounge.com

Pseudo-European Wine Experience

A short drive over the Wisconsin border might fool you into thinking you’ve switched continents. Chateau St. Croix offers a European-style wine-tasting in a beautiful chateau modeled after the ones the owners visited while living in Germany. The only things that spoil the illusion are the CheeseHead White and Helga’s Red wines, which are distinctively local. 1988 A State Road 87, St. Croix Falls, 715-483-2556, chateaustcroix.com

After-Theater Stop

After a night at the Guthrie, head across the street to the intimate, sophisticated Sanctuary, which drops its menu prices for play-goers and offers $3–$6 wine, beer, cocktails, apps, soups, salads, and desserts from 10 pm–12 am Fridays and Saturdays. It’s the perfect place to wind down after a theater evening—or any evening, for that matter. 903 Washington Ave., Mpls., 612-339-5058, sanctuaryminneapolis.com

Excuse to Go Out With Your Girlfriends

Boutiques and shopping centers have caught on to something: Women love to shop! And they love to shop with their girlfriends. Many local retailers, including 50th & France boutiques, have started Ladies Night Out events to give women a chance to shop in a relaxing atmosphere devoid of penny-pinching husbands and boyfriends. Many of the shopping events are fundraisers and offer cocktails as you shop. What’s not to like?

Reason to Go Outside in January

Icehouses on a frozen Minnesota lake are a common sight in the dead of winter. But the Art Shanty Projects turn an acre of icehouses into a series of tiny art galleries and makeshift activity stands. “Exhibits” in previous years have included a cribbage board made in the ice and a karaoke shanty. Bundle up and enjoy the fun. Jan. 16–Feb. 14. Medicine Lake, Plymouth, artshantyprojects.org

Spiritually Uplifting Date

Date nights at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis are an excellent way to bond with a long-term partner or get into a few happily compromising positions with someone you’d like to know better. The center offers a variety of date nights, including partner yoga and Thai yoga bodywork. 212 3rd Ave. N., Ste. 205, 612-436-4700, yogacentermpls.com


Not everyone cottons to karaoke, but those who do look for a great song selection, the opportunity to warble many times in one night, and an enthusiastic, forgiving crowd—which is what you’ll find at The 1029 Bar in Northeast Minneapolis. The back of the bar is taken over by karaoke Wednesday through Sunday, and that’s just the way patrons like it. Handy TV screens show what order you’re in to sing, so you can enjoy the cheap beer and not worry about missing your turn. Or turns. 1029 NE Marshall St., Mpls., 612-379-4322, the1029bar.com

Biking and Walking Trail

In Dakota County, the Big Rivers Regional Trail (AKA the Mendota Trail) offers lovely views of Fort Snelling, Pike Island, and, most spectacular of all, the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. The trail is paved on an old railroad bed plunked deep in a river valley beneath a shelf of scenic limestone bluffs. The geology protects it from local car traffic and makes for a quiet, scenic ride. It’s woefully underused, so traffic is never a problem. co.dakota.mn.us/parks/rivers.htm

Budget Bests

Because limited funds don't have to mean limited fun.

Time to See a Movie 

Shows at all AMC Theatres— Rosedale, Southdale, Eden Prairie, Arbor Lakes—are $5 all day, all ages, Monday–Thursday. amctheatres.com

Cheap Movie Theater

Even though the seats and projection system have been upgraded, the Riverview Theater in south Minneapolis still only charges $3 for adults, $2 for kids and seniors, and $2 for everyone, every day, before 6 pm (and all night on Tuesdays). 3800 42nd Ave. S., Mpls., 612-729-7369, riverviewtheater.com

Minnesota History Outing

The Minnesota History Center has seriously upped its game in the past year. Besides its regular exhibits on the history of Minnesota, it has added The Greatest Generation, an interactive tour de force that takes museum-goers from the mid-1930s through World War II and into the post-war boom of the 1950s. Also, on Nov. 27, a new exhibit opens called Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World. Developed in partnership with The Bakken Museum, it explores the ways in which Ben Franklin influenced our world, and includes more than 40 hands-on experiments and games. Admission is usually $10, but visitors can get in for free Tuesdays from 5–8 pm. 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, 612-259- 3000, mnhs.org

Cheap Date Night

On Tuesday nights at the Red Stag Supper Club, you can get two entrees, a bottle of wine, and dessert for a grand total of $32. 509 1st Ave. NE, Mpls., 612- 767-7766, redstagsupperclub.com

Best Guthrie Deal

The Guthrie’s rush line opens 10 minutes before every performance. Preview tix are $15, weeknights and matinees are $20, and Friday/Saturday nights are $25. Arrive 45 minutes ahead of time and your chances of getting in are great. 818 S. 2nd St., 612-377-2224, guthrietheater.org

Theater Deal for Newbies

At Gremlin Theatre, general admission is $20, but if you are under 30, you only pay half your age. 2400 University Ave., St. Paul, 651-228-7008, gremlin-theatre.org

Music for Less Than $5

If you see a band at the Kitty Cat Klub, chances are you won’t have heard of the group—until a year or two later, when they start creating some buzz. The KCK has an uncanny ear for the up-and-coming music scene, and the cover charge is rarely more than $5, and often free. 315 14th Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-331-9800, kittycatklub.net

Free Bests

Art Museum

Except for major touring exhibits, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is always free. 2400 3rd Ave. S., Mpls., 612-870-3131, artsmia.org

Kids Free-for-All

At Bar Abilene in Uptown, kids under 10 get free dinner Sunday–Thursday with the purchase of an adult entree. 1300 Lagoon Ave., Mpls., 612-825-2525, barabilene.com

Indoor Nature Getaway

From noon to 5 pm on Sundays, admission to the Bell Museum of Natural History is free to all. 10 SE Church St., Mpls., 612-624-7083, bellmuseum.org

Tiger Watching

The polite thing to do is donate a few bucks at the gate, but the Como Zoo is free all day, all year ’round. And trust us, you’ll get a lot closer to the tigers at Como than you will the beasts hidden in the shrubs at the Minnesota Zoo. 1225 Estabrook Dr., St. Paul, 651- 487-8200, comozooconservatory.org

Ice Skating

People in other parts of the country dream of scenes like this: ice skating in St. Paul’s Rice Park, surrounded by the Landmark Center, the Ordway, and an entire park festooned in twinkle lights. It’s the quintessential winter experience, magical and free to all.

Book Nook

Head to the children’s book section of the Central Library downtown and you’ll understand why the city fathers hired architect Cesar Pelli to build it. If this place can’t inspire your kids to pick up a book, nothing can. 300 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-630- 6000, hclib.org

Walker Art Bargain

Admission to the Walker Art Center is free every Thursday night from 5-9 pm, and on the first Saturday of every month. 1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-375-7600, walkerart.org

Surly Beer Tour

Surly Brewing Co., the Brooklyn Center microbrewery, gives free tours of its facilities every Friday night from 6–8 pm. This is a great way to kick off a Friday evening, but reservations are necessary and tours fill up fast, so think a month or so ahead. 4811 Dusharme Dr., Brooklyn Center, 763-535-3330, surlybrewing.com

Bargain Meditation

Dharma Field Zen Center leads free meditation sessions every day but Saturday. 3118 W. 49th St., Mpls., 612-928-4868, dharmafield.org

Your Best Day Ever!

What's better than a "best"? Multiple bests in one day, of course.

Family Day

For Starters: Good Day Café—because you deserve a good day every once in a while, don’t you?
Wander: The Bell Museum in winter or, if the sun’s out, Como Zoo.
Investigate: The kid’s book section at Minneapolis’s Central Library.
Dinner: Take advantage of the kids-eat-free clause at Bar Abilene. Or, if the troops must have pizza, try a Black Sheep pie.
Nightcap: Ice skating at Rice Park, or a kid (and wallet)-friendly movie at Riverview Theater.

Empty Nesters

For Starters: Patrick’s Bakery and Café—for eggs florentine and a mimosa (or two).
Wander: See Minnesota’s Greatest Generation at the Minnesota History Center, or visit the always-free Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Investigate: The toys, lotion, and unmentionables at Smitten Kitten.
Dinner: La Belle Vie, because you can really appreciate it now.
Nightcap: A designer cocktail at Bradstreet Craftshouse.

Date Night (or Day)

For Starters: The Strip Club brunch—because you don’t want to start too early.
Wander: Tour Summit Brewing Co. or head to Chateau St. Croix for wine tasting.
Investigate: A Sunday matinee at the Guthrie.
Dinner: Barrio, where cozy tables and plates to share are perfect for two.
Nightcap: Stay where you are and really impress your date with a $95 shot of premium tequila.

Girls Night Out

For Starters: Sleep till noon in that nightie you got at Flirt.
Wander: Pretty much anywhere around 50th & France.
Investigate: The hot new shopping corner at Selby & Snelling in St. Paul.
Dinner: Head to D’Amico Kitchen for some adventurous Italian, or go for French at Meritage.
Nightcap: Seven Sushi Ultralounge. It’s sleek, the drinks are good, and the guys are on the prowl. Or if you just want to talk, Riverview Wine Bar is classy and low-key.

Guys Night Out

For Starters: Get an old-fashioned razor shave at Heimie’s Haberdashery.
Wander: Stock the fridge for game day with microbrews from The Four Firkins.
Investigate: The Triple Rock’s Gastro Non Grata, where you’ll find local microbrews, free food, good music, and the occasional female willing to talk to you.
Dinner: Fogo de Chão’s all-you-can-eat meat-fest is perfect for guys who embrace their inner carnivore.
Nightcap: Donny Dirk’s . . . it’s a Zombie Den . . . like Shaun of the Dead come to life. Enough said.