It doesn’t have to be about diamonds and cufflinks. The gift of a stolen moment toasted with a great cocktail could be the best Valentine’s Day present of all. Remember, it’s all about the experience. Slip into any of these cozy, under-the-radar spots for a libation—it doesn’t even have to be the 14th.
The Aster Café
The Aster Café’s Scarborough Affair
Vibe: During summer, strollers on St. Anthony Main jam the Aster’s patio, but during winter it’s a quieter scene at this near-north favorite. The twinkly lit bar inside calls to those looking for a warm and welcoming sojourn. There’s an affable buzz, and often low-key live music in the later hours, plus a section of the menu called Romantic Small Plates, in case you linger long enough for a nibble.
Drink: Try the Scarborough Affair for a bright lifter in the cold months. Sage liqueur mixes with other herbal influences, orange bitters, and the like, before being topped with a kick of ginger beer.
Pro Tip: If you don’t leave the building, you can stroll down the hall to the St. Anthony Main Theatre with your cocktail and catch a show. 125 Mainstreet SE, Mpls., 612-379-3138, astercafe.com
Alibi Lounge’s Old Fashion Pistolero
Vibe: Carved out of the limestone basement of the Lumber Exchange Building, the Alibi has great cocktails to be enjoyed in various nooks and crannies that seem to reveal themselves the farther you seek. Modern and sophisticated high-back chairs, comfortable couches, and elegant trappings round out the scene.
Drink: The Old Fashion Pistolero plays serious rye whiskey with chocolate bitters, tamarind syrup, and fruit liqueurs for a dark and rich take on everyone’s new favorite old drink.
Pro Tip: For a quieter night, come on Tuesday or Wednesday when the neighboring Exchange Nightclub is closed. 10 S. 5th St., Mpls., 612-886-2233, theexchangempls.com/alibi
Italian Eatery’s Pepe Limone
Vibe: Stealing a moment out of a busy life can be as easy as sitting at the bar in your favorite neighborhood restaurant. If you don’t have one, try this Nokomis-area favorite that puts up friendly plates of rustic Italian food, any of which can be ordered from the bar. The place is polished enough to feel special, but humble enough to feel like it’s yours.
Drink: Start with a Pepe Limone made with local Vikre Boreal gin, a touch of Fernet, and finished with citrus and honey.
Pro Tip: After nosh, wander across the road into The Cork Dork wine shop, and continue the party at home. 4724 Cedar Ave., Mpls., 612-223-8504, italianeatery.com
Vieux Carré’s namesake drink
Vibe: The long-loved Artists’ Quarter in downtown St. Paul has been brought back to life as Vieux Carré, and it remains one of the best intimate places to grab a drink and listen to jazz. In the dark space, it feels like you could be anywhere, as you sit close at candlelit tables and sip classic drinks while the band kicks out one more set.
Drink: If you don’t choose its namesake rye whiskey cocktail, try the Sepultura, which takes blanco tequila to an elegant place with Tattersall grapefruit crema and just a spank of Malort.
Pro Tip: The kitchen is open until midnight, and the hot toddies make a great nightcap. 408 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-291-2715, vieux-carre.com