Southwestern Comfort

 Bar Abilene
1300 Lagoon Ave., Mpls.; 825-2525

Are your walls whirling? Head pounding? Is every particle of light a veritable ham hock lodged in your cerebellum? Is your breath stinky? Then you, my lucky friend, are a full-fledged participant in the Great American Hangover Week, and you've got no one to blame but yourself. Well, no one but your brain and its ingenious chemistry. Curious as to what's going on? Want to know how to make it stop? Then speed your eyes to Roger Highfield's The Physics of Christmas, a book that puts nearly all of the holiday season's mysteries--from the quantum mechanics that Santa uses to deliver all the presents, to the dreaded New Year's hangover--into plain English.

Highfield, the eloquent science editor for the London Daily Telegraph, first points out that drunkenness is mostly about inept communication. Alcohol by-products cause surges of activity in different parts of the brain, while simultaneously preventing the release of neurotransmitters that would allow those areas to communicate with each other. (Lots of noise and activity, little useful communication--as with the party, so with the brain.) Of the next morning, he writes: "One of the most disturbing feelings experienced by many revelers is 'whirling-pit syndrome'.... The disorientation and dizziness are caused by alcohol's disrupting a balance sensor in the inner ear. The sensor consists of a sac and three semicircular canals containing fluid. As we move, the corresponding fluid motion is detected by tiny hairs lining the organ. The hairs translate the movement into electrical impulses. The brain uses this information to help calculate balance. To do this it assumes a certain density of the fluid. But as alcohol diffuses into the fluid, this assumption breaks down, causing dizzying shifts in the sense of balance, even if there is no actual motion. This also explains why the 'hair of the dog' actually works. It is not the absolute density of the balancing fluid that causes disorientation, but changes in its density. During the period of sobering up, when alcohol diffuses out of the balancing fluid, the density changes may be too rapid for comfort, producing a distinctly unsteady feeling. A little alcohol may cut the rate of density change, restoring balance and removing the feeling of fragility."

Location Info

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Bar Abilene

1300 Lagoon Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55408

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

Aha! As for what causes headaches, Highfield tells us that while the brain itself has no pain receptors, the blood vessels in the membranes between the brain and the skull do, and they're probably sensitive to some of the compounds, called congeners, which are formed during the fermentation of alcohol. "Brandy, cheap dark rum, and bad red wine produce the worst hangovers, being high in congeners," the author writes. "By contrast, pure alcohol, gin, and vodka are relatively low in congeners, producing less severe hangovers." And again, the 'hair of the dog' steps in: Fresh alcohol prevents one congener, methanol, from turning into headache-causing formaldehyde and formic acid--at least temporarily.

Which brings us to Bar Abilene. After all, what better way to fend off a headache than a panoply of restorative fresh-squeezed citrus juices mixed with high-quality tequilas? Add tasty snacks and the option to duck down the block to any one of three movie theaters when life's pit gets too whirly, and you've got the best hangover remedy in Uptown.

Bar Abilene is the zippy kid sister of Edina's Tejas--the two share head chefs, managers, and a couple of key recipes--but Tejas is in the wine-and-beer-only Siberia of Edina, while Bar Abilene has 72 100 percent blue agave tequilas and a much more casual and affordable menu. Those tequilas range from bar pours from the Sauza line--which other restaurants use as their premium tequila--to very, very rare tequilas made from the first spring sap of mature agaves and aged like brandy in charred oak casks. (Got money to burn? Order a shot of Porfidio Barrique for $75, or Herradura Suprema for $55.) Don't feel like you know enough about tequila to tell the difference? Fear not: Not only are the bartenders terrifically knowledgeable about the world's finest beverage to come out of a fleshy green succulent (not a cactus!), but Abilene also offers "flights" of tequila--essentially, do-it-yourself tequila classes consisting of three half-shots you get to choose from a list.

The margaritas are just as varied: 25 different ones, made with freshly squeezed citrus juices. My favorites: the Sunburnt Señorita ($6.95), Sauza Blanco and Chambord raspberry liqueur with fresh lime and orange juices; and the Baja Breeze ($4.95), crafted from Sauza Blanco, Triple Sec, cranberry juice, and fresh grapefruit juice. The standard margarita ($4.95), made basic and right, is also very nice. But if you do opt for one of the juicier margaritas, consider ordering it without the salted rim; without the dominance of lime, the excess salt tends to clash with the fruitier taste.

Once you're cozy with cocktails, Bar Abilene surprises further with some wonderful food options. The jewel of the lot is the iron-skillet-steamed mussels ($5.95), a dozen or so mussels served in a wonderfully tasty spicy sauce of smoked tomatoes, tamarind, tequila, and serrano chiles. At $5.95, potato-chipotle-Gouda flautas (deep-fried stuffed tortillas) were absolutely addictive, their rich mashed-potato centers nicely contrasting with a smoky tomatillo salsa, a fresh, mild tomato salsa crown, and a dab of smoked tomato aioli. Guacamole (market price), made tableside, is another pleasure. Your server simply mashes both halves of an avocado with some fresh housemade salsa and lime juice. Close your eyes and you're nearly on a beach.

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