Happy hours seem to come in two varieties. With most, the focus tends to be on getting as intoxicated as possible for the least amount of cash. Those sorts of evenings never seem to end well, like the time you locked lips with Married Mike from accounting—bumping into him in the copy room was always so awkward afterward.
But there's another kind of happy hour, made for people who have graduated from PBRs to craft brews, and who prefer margaritas that aren't dispensed from mixing machines. You already know all the best casual happy hours to hit with a friend or three—Bryant-Lake Bowl, Town Talk Diner, Azia, Common Roots, Brit's, Sweeney's, the Independent—but what you may not have on hand is this: a compilation of classy happy hours at the kind of places you might take a date.
In honor of City Pages' new Happy Hours mobile app (see box, p. 22), I created just that list for you. So clean it up. Trim that beard or throw on a pair of heels. If you want to bust out the little black dress, go right ahead—you won't look out of place at any of these bars and restaurants. And if you take advantage of their drink and appetizer discounts, you'll still have money to spend on dinner. Or brunch.
For a View
W Minneapolis, 821 Marquette Ave., Minneapolis, 612.215.3700
"Let me turn down the interrogation lights a little," our waitress said as she hit the dimmer switch. The mood lighting made the mahogany-lined alcove at Prohibition even more intimate, and enhanced the spectacular 27th-floor view. With the Foshay's bulb-lit name reflecting off an adjacent skyscraper, downtown Minneapolis has rarely looked better. The view is best experienced with a cocktail in hand—I'm a fan of the fruity Pineapple Upside Down Cake, made with honey bourbon, vanilla vodka, and pineapple juice. The appetizers don't pair so well with a drink that resembles a liquid Jelly Belly, but they're tasty nonetheless: meatballs in harissa-tomato sauce, Yucatan prawns with Thai chile-tomatillo jam, or a sushi roll "of the moment." Prohibition's hour runs Mon.-Sat. from 5-7 p.m., with $5 cocktails and small plates. The same discount is available daily in the first-floor lounge, the Living Room.
Graves 601 Hotel, 601 First Ave.N., Minneapolis, 612.312.1821, bradstreetcraftshouse.com
Feeling smart? Then you're probably drinking the Professor at Bradstreet Craftshouse, a gin-and-ginger wonder mixed by bartenders who take an almost academic approach to cocktail making. To get the drinks just right, they choose the appropriate ice—five different kinds!—and dole out house-made bitters with eyedroppers. During 601 Hour, seats at the chef's counter are just as fun as the barstools. In the kitchen staff's hands, quesadillas go global, stuffed with duck confit, raclette cheese, and apple kimchi. Sliders come pink in the middle, with aged cheddar, pickled onions, homemade ketchup, and textbook French fries. Bradstreet Craftshouse's 601 Hour takes place from 5-7 p.m. Tues.-Sat. and 10 p.m.-close Tues.-Thurs. Three cocktails and a few appetizers cost $6.01 or less.
5411 Penn Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612.822.5411, www.cafemaude.com
By day Café Maude can be an attractive spot for family brunches and ladies' lunches, but during post-dinner rush the place has all the trappings of a chic music club, including plenty of seats within a drumstick's toss of the stage and lighting so dim you'll strain to peruse the menu. Not only does Maude host some of the best local jazz you'll find outside of the downtowns, the venue also presents everything from folk guitar to traditional Indian sitar music—all without a cover charge. Drink specials include discounts on beer, wine, and a cocktail of the day, selected from Maude's stellar list—I'm always hoping it'll be my favorite, the lychee-lavender Woman of Leisure. Café Maude offers live music every Friday and Saturday, starting at 9 p.m. Late-night music leisure hour runs from 10 p.m.-midnight, with $3 pints, $5 wine, and a $5 cocktail of the day. The same discounts are offered, sans music, daily from 5-6 p.m.
1096 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651.222.5878, www.the-lexington.com
The Grande Dame of Grand and Lexington Avenues, the Lex has been a St. Paul landmark since 1935. Oil paintings in ornate gilded frames hang on the windowless, wood-paneled walls of its multiple dining rooms—they look as if they might have served as movie sets for The Sting. The Lexington's martinis are the real deal: not the pastel-colored cutesy-tinis of the modern era, but simply straight vodka or gin (not just rail, so you can ask for Reyka or Hendrick's with no extra charge) with a little vermouth and a twist of lemon rind or a couple of plump green olives threaded on a kitschy commemorative skewer. The martinis are as strong as the Lexington's survival skills: I'd recommend ordering yours on the rocks and letting the ice melt for a minute or two. The Lexington's happy hour runs every day, from 3-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri and 2-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Beers are $3, house wine and martinis are $5, and all the appetizers are half-price. There's also a beer-and-burger special for $8.
498 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651.287.2018, thehappygnome.com
You'll likely encounter a few baseball-hatted barfolk at the Happy Gnome, but it's still the classiest craft brew spot in the Twin Cities. The Gnome's bottle list is so long it comes in a three-ring binder, and the endless-seeming tap lines decorate the bar like strings of Christmas lights. The list includes cult beers such as Vermont's Magic Hat #9 and Belgium's Delirium Tremens, along with likely many beers you've never encountered: Moylan's Hopsickle Imperial, New Holland Dragon's Milk, or Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian Style IPA, for starters. One of my favorites is Leinenkugel's Big Eddy, a limited-run Russian Imperial Stout that's no longer being produced. The Happy Gnome tapped a stash they've been barrel-aging for a couple of years, and it's delightful: smooth and complex, with hints of molasses and coffee, more like port than beer. Happy hour runs Mon.-Fri. from 4-6 p.m., with $1 off any drink.
Toast Wine Bar & Cafe
415 First St. N., Minneapolis, 612.333.4305, www.toastwinebarandcafe.com
Toast has both a great wine list and a staff that loves to share its knowledge—owners Scott Davis and Erin Tomczyk are often behind the bar—and will be happy to offer a sample if you're having trouble deciding between, say, a California or Italian red. If you're tired of hit-or-miss "house" wines, simply order one of the cracker-crust pizzas—I like the one with olives, artichokes, red peppers, goat cheese, spinach, and provolone, for one—and that second glass of Oregon's Elk Cove Pinot Noir comes gratis, saving you $10. Toast's Heritage Landing location can be tricky to find, but it offers plenty of patio seating and views of both downtown and the new Target Field sign, so I'd recommend getting in before the games begin. On Tues.-Sun, glasses of wine are two-for-one with a pizza order, between 5-6 p.m.
1600 W. Lake St. Minneapolis, 612.827.5710, www.barbette.com
Before the most eligible bachelor I know recently committed himself to just one lady, Barbette was his go-to date spot. During the late-night happy hour, the lights are low, the eclectic art looks beguilingly moody, and the corner booths are perfect for a tête-à-tête. Five bucks buys eminently sharable fare, such as oysters, mussels, and skinny pommes frites with lemon-herb aioli, or one of the paté-and-Brie or fruit-and-cheese plates. The je ne sais quois is up to you. Barbette's happy hour runs from 3-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 10 p.m.-close Sun.-Thurs. Select appetizers are $5, house wine and bubbly or domestic taps are $4, and PBR (if you must...) is $3.
900 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, 612.338.0062, www.solera-restaurant.com
Never experienced a Tim McKee menu because you thought you had to shell out at least $65 at La Belle Vie? Then get down to LBV's Spanish sister, Solera, where you can sample tapas plates for as little as $2. You can have a glass of sangria and two snacks for the price of a McDonald's value meal; it's the edible equivalent of the designer dress rack at Opitz Outlet. I like the spicy chorizo slider topped with roasted pepper and remoulade and the crispy croquetas with their gooey, shrimp-flecked centers. Both of them cost roughly the equivalent of a grocery-store sample—but you'll eat with actual silverware instead of a toothpick. I'm not sure the prices can even cover the cost of washing the dishes, so make sure to tip well. Solera's happy hour runs from 5-6 p.m. on weekdays, 9 p.m.-midnight Tues.-Sun., and 10 p.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat.
Seven Sushi Ultralounge and Skybar
700 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, 612.238.7777, www.7mpls.com
The only reason I see to keep Block E around is that its flashing lights and billboards add even more energy to Seven's already pulsing upstairs dining room. Seven attracts one of downtown's most diverse and well-dressed crowds, noshing on sushi like it was going out of style—though surely it never will. During happy hour, Seven's basic California, Philly, and Spicy Tuna rolls are $4 a pop, and the pricey "specialty" rolls are discounted about 50 percent. The titular Seven roll, for example, made with shrimp tempura, cucumber, and tuna, is a steal at $7. The White Ninja costs $10, but its roundhouse of spicy tuna, asparagus, avocado, and sesame chili oil packs a more powerful kick. Plus, you can also order steakhouse selections such as oysters, calamari, and beef carpaccio. Seven's happy hour food specials are offered Mon.-Fri., from 4-6:30 p.m.
Saffron Restaurant & Lounge
123 Third St. N., Minneapolis, 612.746.5533, www.saffronmpls.com
My favorite thing on Saffron's Middle-Eastern bar-food menu is a two-bite beaut of a lamb-bacon BLT: The bacon is crisp and gamey, more like jerky than belly, and tucked between toast with a smear of smart tomato jam, arugula, and tarragon. But there are also meatballs, samosas, and French fries with feta fondue, as well as Lebanese arak, an anise-flavored liquor that transforms from cloudy to clear when the server adds a splash of water. It's interesting, but the Harissa Mary goes better with the food. Happy hour is Mon.-Fri. from 4-6 p.m. and Fri.-Sat from 11 p.m.-1 a.m., with $5 glasses of wine and specialty cocktails, $2-$3 beers, and $3.50 appetizers.
925 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 612.333.9953; 235 E. Sixth St., St. Paul, 651.222.3250, www.barriotequila.com
The margaritas at Barrio don't come in pitchers or plastic buckets, and they're guaranteed to expand the possibilities of the familiar tequila-based drink. During happy hour, one of them is offered half-price, such as the cherry-lime-absinthe Cobra Verde on Mondays or the passion-fruit pepper-Cava Enter the Dragon on Fridays. Also, the umbrella-topped Nicollet Mall sidewalk seats offer some of downtown's best people-watching. Barrio offers drink specials—$2 off tap beers and rail drinks, and one discounted margarita—Mon.-Fri. from 4-6 p.m. and 10 p.m.-midnight.
For a Neighborhood Vibe
1432 W. 31st St., Minneapolis, 612.823.7125, www.lucias.com
Lucia's is the more established Uptownian's pied-à-terre: a home-away-from-home that's as cozy as your own, but infused with a convivial urban buzz. After the dinner crowds wind down, a late-night happy hour keeps the wine bar's candlelit tables filled with neighbors sharing pints, pours, and cocktails such as Grandma's Addiction, which, true to Lucia's homegrown, farm-fresh approach, is made with local apple cider. Happy hour runs from 9 p.m. until close, Tues.-Sun, and includes $3 tap beers, $6 house wines, and $3 off cocktails.
For Quiet Conversation
Sapor Cafe and Bar
428 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis, 612.375.1971, www.saporcafe.com
Sapor is one of those spots everybody seems to forget about, but that's precisely what makes it a pleasantly din-free choice for long conversations amid drinking and snacking. To me, the dining room at Sapor has always felt a little austere, but the window seats in the bar are as pretty as they are comfortable. The discounted snacks from the global-bar menu range from gourmet quesadillas to potato pierogis, as well as what might be the most unexpected happy-hour food of all, Brussels sprouts. Sapor's happy hour is Mon.-Sat. from 5-7 p.m., with discounted wine, beer, and snacks.
For All-American Fare
Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant
1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 612.332.1010, www.dakotacooks.com
The Dakota's kitchen cooks just like its jazz: straight, no chaser, and killing it every time. The restaurant/club's happy-hour menu features little morsels conceived with the same attention to detail as the entrées: There's an awesome miniature walleye po' boy, French fries, deviled eggs, and molasses-slicked chicken wings with crackling skin. Several cocktails made with locally distilled Prairie Organic Vodka (the Prairie Flower, for example, with elderflower liqueur and cranberry juice) are also on special. Happy hour runs Mon.-Fri. from 4-6 p.m. and Fri.-Sat. from 11:30-close ($5 cover for music) with half-price Prairie Organic Vodka cocktails and discounted bar food.
New App Finds Happy Hours from Your Phone
Whether you're looking for classy but inexpensive food and drink specials or you just need a cheap way to get drunk after work, your quest has just become easier.
City Pages' parent company, Village Voice Media, has teamed with GoTime.com to create a new app for your iPhone (or similar technical marvel) called Happy Hours—the world's handiest guide to cheap drinks.
Using the Happy Hours app, you can instantly call up restaurant and bar specials happening right now in neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities, ranked by proximity. Not only does it list prices of appetizer and drink specials, you can also click through to get details such as photos, menus, and reviews. Rotating your phone calls up a map of your selection.
Forget robots and supercomputers—this may be the apotheosis of the digital age. You can download it on iTunes, or search your app store for "Happy Hours."