As the Twin Cities’ culinary scene has seen unprecedented growth in recent years, so too has its cocktail scene. In 2009, the cocktail-centric bar Bradstreet Crafthouse was born on the ground floor of the Graves 601 Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. This weekend, it celebrates its fifth anniversary.
The brainchild of Ben Graves, part of the family who owns the hotel, the inspiration behind the bar’s decor and name came after Graves visited Duluth’s Glensheen Mansion, which was designed by John Scott Bradstreet, a prominent local arts figure of the early 20th century. The bar’s menu was conceived through Graves’ frequent trips to New York, where the craft cocktail boom was just taking off, in collaboration with New York-based mixology consultants Toby Maloney and Jason Cott.
Locally, the pre-Prohibition cocktail trend was starting to trickle out at places like Strip Club, Town Talk Diner, Prohibition and La Belle Vie, but Bradstreet was a game changer as the Twin Cities’ first classic cocktail-centric establishment. The retro-styled lounge specializes in cocktails made from artisan ingredients, hand-pressed juices and house-made bitters. Its menu is a mix of classics and contemporary, about half of which change seasonally. The other half have been on the menu since the beginning, like house favorite “Juliet & Romeo,” a refreshing blend of Plymouth gin, lime, mint, cucumber and rose water.
“We do have new cocktails, but we stick to our core concept of the East Coast style of bartending, keeping it relatively more simple,” said Bradstreet bar manager Jennifer Boutell. “We try to stick to the classic idea of cocktails, using fresh-squeezed juices and ingredients we have on hand.”
Former Bradstreet bar manager Robb Jones counts his time at Bradstreet as formative to his career. He was a culinary school-trained chef for years, first joining the Bradstreet staff as a cook for its opening before eventually moving into the position of bar manager under the mentorship of Maloney. He now works as bar manager of downtown restaurant Saffron. “I was excited about what they were doing,” he recalled, “treating cocktails like food, making things from scratch. It felt more like a kitchen than a bar.”
Boutell also drew on her background as a pastry chef when she started bartending. “I think that’s part of the reason Robb (Jones) hired me, because Robb also had a culinary background,” she said. “It’s kind of like being a chef — working on the lines, being able to follow the recipe, knowing what ingredients are going to work well together.”
Sunday’s birthday party will gather Bradstreet’s devotees as well as some of its staff alumni, including Maloney, Robb Jones, Shawn Jones of Coup D’état, Jon Olson of Tradition Wine & Spirits and Jourdán Gomez, who’ll join in for the festivities as guest bartenders for the night. The party will double as a launch for three new house-aged spirits — a tequila, vodka and apricot eau de vie — which have been maturing in oak barrels over the past year. It will also serve as the debut for Graves 601 Hotel's new rum punch patio, Bimini Road by Bradstreet, with live music and complimentary small bites by chef Andy Vyskocil rounding out the night.
Bradstreet manager Andrew Campbell points to this time-honored consistency as one of the reasons for the bar’s continue success. “We’ve had a very consistent philosophy for five years, and that’s why people keep coming back. The Juliet & Romeo, the Daiquiri, the Gimlet, the Old-Fashioned — those cocktails that you had five years ago on the first day we opened are the same as what you’ll get today.”
(7-10 p.m. Sunday, April 27: Tickets for the party are $40 and extremely limited. 21-plus. Bradstreet at Graves 601 Hotel, 612-312-1821, www.bradstreetcraftshouse.com)
Bradstreet isn’t the only downtown bar that specializes in craft cocktails. Here is a guide to eight other craft cocktail bars downtown and what they have in store for spring.
La Belle Vie
Background: Though longtime bar manager Johnny Michaels exited the restaurant earlier this year, the cocktail list created by Michaels will remain intact. The Iron Bartender 2012 award-winning crew are holding down the bar as Eat Street Social’s Adam Gorski recently has been added as the staff’s only full-time bartender.
Menu: “La Belle Vie has been most noted for fun, light-hearted cocktails that are very accessible,” said Gorski. “The focus (in the spring menu) will definitely be on light, fresh flavors, effervescence and aromatics -- general reminders of the new life spring brings, and that winter is gone, forever.”
Location: 510 Groveland Ave., Mpls. 612-874-6440. www.labellevie.us
Background: Marvel Bar is a basement speakeasy located in the same North Loop building that houses Nordic-inspired restaurant the Bachelor Farmer and men’s clothing shop Askov Finlayson. Owners Eric and Andrew Dayton opened the unmarked, cocktail-centric bar in August 2011 with esteemed mixologist Pip Hanson at the helm as beverage director.
Menu: “Marvel's cocktail program strives to combine classic Japanese cocktail technique with American cocktail bars' innovation and experimentation,” said Hanson. “We focus on simplicity, minimalism, and originality. The newest, most seasonal original cocktail on our list is the Superdry. Whereas most pre-Prohibition cocktails use sugar to balance alcohol, the Superdry focuses on vinegars, salts and acids. It is made with Japanese shochu (think single-distilled vodka), dry vermouth, pink Himalayan salt, chive-tarragon-thyme-infused vinegar, lime and seltzer. It is fresh, bright, tart and effevescent. It's also unlike anything else out there in terms of flavor, since it contains no syrups or liqueurs.”
Location: 50 N. 2nd Ave., Mpls. 612-206-3929. marvelbar.com
Background: Located beneath the chef-driven restaurant Borough in the North Loop, craft cocktail bar Parlour was co-founded by Jacob Toledo, the owner of decidedly more traditional bars the Pourhouse and Cowboy Slim's.
Menu: Headed up by lead bartender and mixologist Jesse Held of Town Talk and Eat Street Social fame, the bar focuses on house-made syrups, tinctures, bitters and liqueurs. Last month, they introduced a new, expanded cocktail menu; new offerings include Noe Way, Noe How (bacon washed bourbon, sweet corn liqueur, pineapple, lemon, egg white and habanero tincture), Red Skies at Night (beet infused cachaca, Smith and Cross, falernum, house ginger beer, and lemon foam) and Held Captive (tequila, rum, Gran Classic bitter, lime, smoked pineapple, vanilla, and blackstrap rum).
Location: 730 N. Washington Ave., Mpls. 612-354-3135. www.boroughmpls.com
Background: Founded in 2007 with a menu of mediterranean cuisine inspired by Moroccan, Spanish and French flavors, Saffron made headlines when its chef and co-owner Samed Wadi appeared on “Iron Chef America” in 2012. But their secret weapon is bar manager Robb Jones, a mixology whiz who made it to the top ten in the national finals of the prestigious Bombay Sapphire Gin and GQ sponsored Most Inspired Bartender competition in Las Vegas last year.
Menu: “I approached it from a culinary standpoint,” said the culinary schooled chef. “It’s experimental, but always based on the classics, and we use fresh, seasonal ingredients.” For their spring menu, look for an as-yet-unnamed vodka-based drink with a rhubarb, strawberry and balsamic “shrub” (reduction).
Location: 123 N. 3rd St., Mpls. 612-746-5533. www.saffronmpls.com
Union / Marquee
Background: The latest offering from the Crave restaurant group, Union is best known for its retractable glass rooftop. The multi-level restaurant housed in the former Shinder’s also features a slightly smaller main dining room and the basement bar/nightclub, Marquee. Master mixologist Johnny Michaels of La Belle Vie fame crafted the cocktail menus for both.
Menu: The cocktail menu is limited to a dozen options, but they're inspired choices. The Ms. Mn. -- a mix of preserved lemon gin, vanilla, black cardamom and an egg white olive oil emulsion is a new riff on the classic Oliveto.
Location: 731 Hennepin Av., Mpls. 612-455-6690. unionmpls.com
Butcher & the Boar
Background: Butcher & the Boar was a 2013 James Beard Award semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, noted for its charcuterie, American craft food, beer and bourbon-focused offerings.
Menu: Accordingly, the cocktail menu is heavy on the bourbon. The cocktail list by bar manager Jerald Hansen -- a Manny’s, Barrio and Bar La Grassa vet -- its Whiskey Sour is the one to beat, made from Jim Beam Choice bourbon, fresh lemon juice, Angostura bitters, simple syrup and egg white.
Location: 1121 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls. 612-238-8888. www.butcherandtheboar.com
Background: David Walters wears three hats as Haute Dish’s co-owner, general manager and bar manager. Raised by parents who owned a resort in northern Minnesota, Walters grew up in the service industry and worked as a bartender and manager throughout college.
Menu: Whereas the food menu offers modern takes on traditional Midwestern fare, its cocktail menu focuses on vintage cocktails, such as the New Orleans classic Sazerac, made with Old Overholt Rye whiskey, absinthe and bitters.
Location: 119 Washington Ave. N., Mpls. 612-338-8484. haute-dish.com
The Living Room / Prohibition
Background: The W Minneapolis features two bars, the main lobby's swanky Living Room and the 27th floor's Prohibition, a smaller, '20s-styled lounge with an expansive view of downtown.
Menu: The two bars share the same menu, which ranges from Prohibition-era classics to more exotic, West Coast-inspired offerings and house-made infusions. Pro tip: save some bucks and head down during Prohibition’s happy hour, which runs from 5-7 p.m. daily, for $5 cocktails.
Location: 821 Marquette Ave., Mpls. 612-215-3700. thelivingroom-prohibition.com