Photo by Katherine Harris
Because I am a serious and intellectual person, I recently decided to conduct a dedicated inquiry into our fair metropolis’ happy hours. What I found delighted me, astounded me, and convinced me I need to get out more often. And so I decided that the fall of 2013 will be hereby known as Happy Fall, in which I will have a series of happy hour posts, rounding up the best of downtown Minneapolis, downtown St. Paul, and then also the neighborhoods (because of my core intellectual and serious belief that no one travels much to a happy hour; you go to whatever is closest to you and your pals, at the moment you want a cheap drink).
Speaking of cheap drinks: That’s the point of happy hour, right? Though for my purposes, great happy hours have to have more than cheap drinks; they also have to have really fantastic food, and drinks that are either destination-worthy on their own merit, or at least good enough that you can tweet about them (yes, I drink and tweet @deardara).
But what are the best of the best? Without further ado, here are The Best Happy Hours of Downtown Minneapolis:
Chef Landon Schoenefeld—who is all but single-handedly responsible for bringing hot dishes into the modern culinary era and one of the greatest of the up-and-coming generation of chefs—has taken it upon himself to dominate happy hour. And what a happy thing it is. From 4-6 p.m. every day, you can get one of the significant craft beers, such as West Side Belgian IPA from Harriet Brewing, which are ordinarily $6, and a Flavor Country burger—one of the best in the city and recent winner of our own Burger Madness contest—all for $10! So, that’s one of the best burgers in the country—yes, I’ll stand by that—and a real craft beer, for $10! And starting soon they’re going to be offering one of the sensations of the year, the vegetarian smoked carrot hot-dog (you have to see and taste it to believe it’s a carrot) and a beer for $10. That’s a significant foodie dinner and a significant beer—for 10 bucks! But that’s not all. You can also get the homemade buttery pretzel rolls with gooey jalapeño cheese dip for $4, hot-and-fresh paper-thin potato chips with an intensely rich onion dip for $4, and a slightly pared-down version of Haute Dish’s important charcuterie plate with a big pile of house-made flat-bread crackers and bread for $10. Schoenefeld tells me he’s also going to soon debut his own version of Roy Choi’s furikake kettle corn. Cheap plus cool plus foodie vanguard bragging rights? That’s why Haute Dish is the top downtown Minneapolis Happy Hour. 119 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-338-8484, haute-dish.com
2). The Oceanaire
I’ve sung the praises of The Oceanaire's happy hour before, but if you haven’t heard me mention it lately: What a good one. It goes from 4-7 p.m. but in the bar only, and my pro tip: Send a friend to snag a table early; they fill up. Now that you have your table, the $6 Oysters Rockefeller are sublime, salty and rich; the $5 fish and chips some of the best in the state, crisp and fresh; and the $7 creamy shrimp and grits is a true comfort food. Pair one of those dishes with a $4 Summit or Surly, and it's a downtown Minneapolis office-worker’s dream come to life: Expense account living on a temp worker’s lunch money! 50 S. 6th St., Mpls., 612-333-2277, theoceanaire.com
The $5 pork paté I recently had at the Dakota nearly had my head spinning off my shoulders with surprise and joy: A perfect little puck of spicy meat frosted with sweet fat, paired with house pickles and a buttery English muffin. It was the finest of fine dining—for the price of a Big Mac. I had it with a $5 Prairie organic cucumber lemonade: Refreshing! And it made me remember: What’s the most underrated restaurant in Minnesota? It’s gotta be the Dakota. Everyone knows the Nicollet jazz-and-dining venue for its world-class music, but does anyone pay attention to the world-class food being produced by young co-chefs Kristin Tyborski and Derik Moran? We should be paying attention, because this is good stuff. From 4-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, the happy hour happens in the bar or out on the patio, with $3 beers and glasses of wine, and truly glorious food. Moran is something of a genius with the product of local farms. Check it in dishes like a $5 duck confit salad with soft egg and pickled beans as big as quail eggs. My favorite thing might be the $10 steak frites dinner: hangar steak served on a sort of poutine with thick fries, melty cheese curds, and superb classic brown gravy. If you’re a penny-pinching food snob, this is the most filling and thrilling cheap dinner downtown. The one downside: You have to stay on top of the Dakota’s calendar; if they have a 5:30 show, they put an early end to their happy hour. Oh well. Most nights don’t have early shows, and if you want a good secret of the city this is one: Figure out when the Dakota’s schedule and yours align, and you’ll be one happy happy-hour goer. 1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-332-1010, dakotacooks.com
Is there any greater human urge than to procure top-quality sushi at a bargain-basement price? Don’t answer that. Minnesota is no place to talk about great human urges, but really, do check out Nami if you’re a sushi-snob on a budget: $3.95 for two pieces of yellowtail nigiri, $5.95 for a salmon skin roll, and, my favorite, $3 for a Stella Artois. And this isn’t grocery-store sushi—this is the good stuff. Even better, the sexy downtown loft that is Nami makes you feel like you’re splashing out big money among the beautiful people—but these are some of the smarter, beautiful people, who may just know how to satisfy great urges on time and under budget. 251 1st Ave. N., Mpls., 612-333-1999, namimpls.com
Do you kind of forget about Bradstreet Craftshouse sometimes, that beautiful nightclub buried deep inside the Graves 601 hotel that birthed the local cocktail scene? Don’t forget about it! Because if you do you’ll miss this phenomenal menu of drinks and snacks priced at $6.01, like chicken and waffles, or a version of a Philly cheese-steak made with short ribs, not to mention fancy cocktails such as the Honeysuckle, made with fancy Brugal Anejo tequila, lemon, and a honey syrup. Graves 601 Hotel, 601 1st Ave., Mpls., 612-312-1821, bradstreetcraftshouse.com