Minneapolis' best bars to wet one's whistle during the cold winter months...
By Matt Rydeen
A true Minneapolitan could wax poetically about the bars in this beautiful city all night long. Minneapolis is home to the most unique places to wet your whistle in all of the United States.
Taking in gorgeous views of the downtown skyline reflected casually along the Mississippi River’s surface, one could easily lose track of time altogether. Even in the autumn, with the trees burning brightly red and yellow and a slight chill in the air, St. Anthony Main captures romantics at heart with its endless charm.
When old man winter settles in over the city, it is as if time has slowed almost to a complete stop. A few brave souls embrace the snow-covered landscape with a variety of activities to keep the blood flowing, from ice skating to snow shoeing to snowboarding and skiing.
But really, what does one do when the streets have yet to be plowed and the cars are buried beneath impossibly heavy blankets of snow? Retreat to one of any number of the city’s wonderful dive bars, of course!
The camaraderie and warmth of the locals coupled with the sinfully amazing spirits is the perfect combination with which to survive even the fiercest snowpocalypse.
Here's my top five favorite winter haunts in Minneapolis...
1900 Marshall Street NE
In 2003, the original location for this tiki-themed paradise was in a converted A&W Drive-In restaurant. Hipsters, business folk, and suburban housewives alike gathered beneath straw thatched umbrellas next to giant wooden totems with jeweled eyes, sipping knock-you-on-your-ass cocktails like the Leilani’s Fire Bowl, “48 ounces of liquor-on-fire nonsense,” or, for the less adventurous, wine in a box in a bag with a straw -reminiscent of kids’ juice boxes with a touch of homeless-chic.
Suzi, in her raging psychosis, quickly outgrew the space, and in 2010, she moved into flashier digs right along the river’s edge. The eclectic patrons are decidedly similar, and you can still count on your service staff to be heavily tattooed and pierced. Psycho Suzi’s boasts three indoor bars — the Shrunken Head, the Forbidden Cove, and Ports of Pleasure — with the house band, Exotik-A-Go-Go, playing wonderfully ethereal tunes every Friday and Saturday nights.
And what’s the best part about the new location, you might ask? The enormous Polynesian-themed riverfront patio, of course! One of the best outdoor patios in the city (as well as dog-friendly).
Parking can be a bit of a challenge. It is best to take a cab (yay, more tiki drinks for you!) or, at the very least, spring for the valet.
A bit of foreshadowing: Psycho Suzi’s alleged sister, Betty Danger, will be opening a Country Club “for the other 99 percent,” featuring a taco and beer hut, mini-golf, and a 60-foot, slow-moving Ferris wheel, with gondolas designed to accommodate eating, drinking, and view-taking. You can join her at the “country club on crack” sometime in November of 2014.
617 Central Avenue SE
Remember those tacky velvet paintings of dogs sitting around playing poker while drinking and smoking cigarettes? No? Well the giant mural on the outside of the Otter’s Saloon might refresh your memory: well-dressed otters socialize at the bar while sipping cocktails beneath a sign that reads “U Otter Stop Inn.”
The space itself is quaint yet inviting, with a long bar, friendly bartenders, and a few tables tucked inside the triangularly shaped building. Don’t miss happy hour from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day, or spin the wheel anytime and “let the Otter choose your shot!”
The Otter also boasts karaoke 7 days a week, 365 days a year, with an enormous catalogue of songs to choose from − also available to browse online.
2021 Hennepin Avenue
When isn’t it happy hour at Liquor Lyle’s?
During their self-proclaimed “World Famous Happy Hour,” which seems to be almost any hour I’ve ever been at Lyle’s, any cocktail is 2 for 1. Rail and top-shelf pours alike.
Lyle’s is a classic, seedy dive bar, with a great juke box, darts and pool in the back room, and a fantastic menu of greasy, mouth-watering bar food. Saddle up at the large, rectangular bar, or choose from the numerous red vinyl booths throughout – you will feel right at home in this friendly, large-ish space.
Donnie Dirk's Zombie Den
2027 N 2nd Street
The unnatural neon green sign above the bar reads “Undead Frank Lives.”
In 2009, one of Minneapolis’s most notorious bars, Stand Up Frank’s, closed for good. The former bar was a sketchy, narrow space allegedly frequented by drug dealers and prostitutes.
The transformation to Donnie Dirk’s was something straight out of the kitschy pages of old-school Las Vegas. Reputed to be one of the best zombie den’s in the world, Donnie Dirk’s is definitely one of my all-time favorite winter haunts.
Cozy up, order one of the many delicious specialty cocktails, a.k.a. “Zombie Poisons”, and watch a zombie flick while the snow flies outside the heavily black-curtained windows.
There is a “Bat Phone” to order delicious morsels delivered straight from its sister bar, Psycho Suzi’s, if you find you can’t bear to face the outside world – and zombie killing kits in the bathrooms, just in case.
The Vegas Lounge
965 Central Avenue NE
Every great night of bar-hopping should end at the Vegas Lounge.
From the moment you step inside this unassuming space, you will feel as though you have entered a small-town, northern Minnesota bar. The friendly staff and patrons, meat raffles, bar bingo, and cheap strong drinks make the Vegas Lounge a great place to show up half in the bag expecting to have an amazing time making new best friends and then forgetting them all in the morning.
Voted best karaoke bar in the Twin Cities by the well-respected local offbeat newspaper the City Pages, you can sing your heart out 7 days a week from 9 p.m. to close. Get there early if you intend to sing, as the requests start piling up before you know it – although it’s more likely that all of your friends will have already sang without your noticing while you’ve been “busy” making out with that hipster in the corner.
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