What do you get when you throw together a bunch of cheap drinks, loud music and people scouting for a good time? It all depends on which door you choose.
Behind Door Number One: A laid-back place to hang out, drink, talk with friends and sing along to old school '80s tunes - i.e., The Lone Tree Bar.
Behind Door Number Two: A semi-trendy, yet sweaty, dance party in the bowels of a Hennepin Avenue building - i.e., The Annex.
Want to drink for free? Well, almost free?
If your timing is right, you can cash in on both bars' serious weekend drink specials - a hard thing to find Downtown. Friday and Saturday nights it's Power Hour 9-10 p.m. That means $1 beers and $2 drinks at The Lone Tree, or $1 martinis at The Annex.
And they don't even skimp on the good stuff. Want Absolut in that vodka tonic? No problem. Same goes for the $1 martinis, complete with Bailey's Irish Cream or Godiva liqueur (in the chocolate martini), if you so choose.
"You can come here and get wasted before the night gets expensive," Margaret Schupp, a server, explained.
The Lone Tree Bar's happy hour might also be the best in town. Enormous and delicious appetizers go for $4 apiece, including the piled-high nachos and mega-bowl of artichoke dip. Drinks are $2 off as well, making most beers $2 and mixed drinks $3. Happy hour runs Monday-Friday, 4-7 p.m., and sometimes Saturday if there's a big Target Center event.
Score one for The Lone Tree and The Annex: there's no obnoxious dress code or pretentious clubbers here checking to see if your shoelaces match the piping on your purse. Most patrons seem pretty happy, and complaints are hard to find.
However, the bars might be just a little too nondescript and laid-back to make your night out a memorable event.
"It's fun, but I wouldn't say this is my favorite bar," said Anna, 24. "There's just nothing too special about it, nothing unique."
Despite the ridiculously great drink specials, things get started late here, especially in The Annex.
In the first part of the evening, The Lone Tree dance floor is mostly monopolized by groups of girls; guys watch from nearby tables. Things pick up later, though, when such '80s favorites as "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me" get the crowd going.
Down in The Annex, today's Top 40 tunes please the patrons. The Annex also mixes it up with live rock, hip-hop or jam music Wednesdays and Thursdays, beginning at 9 p.m.
Regulars rule The Lone Tree while The Annex's crowd rotates with whatever live music is on tap that night. In general, it's mainly a 25-to-31-year-old hangout, although a broader 21-41 group would feel right at home, said General Manager Jill Kraus.
While The Annex is a bit trendier with its hip-hop music and dance-party style, Kraus said both bars promote a laid-back vibe.
"It's a place to feel comfortable and have a good time," she said. "It's a home-away-from-home."
Customers Shane and Scott said it's the Power Hour that draws them in (Shane says it's "the best deal in town"), but they stay for the attractive women.
Drinks and food
Cashing in on the drink specials is key; otherwise, it's just another moderate- to high-priced night out Downtown.
Besides the Power Hour and the regular happy hour, The Lone Tree offers specials the rest of the week as well. Tuesdays, 9 p.m.-midnight, there's a $1 cover charge but all mixed drinks and beers are $2. Wednesdays, 9 p.m.-2 a.m., are even better: mixed drinks and tap beers are $2, and there's no cover charge.