The Twin Cities' best places to renounce those foolish New Year's vows

It's time to rethink the wisdom of depriving ourselves come January

Let's face it: The party's over and the hangover has begun. In these dire times, as incomes become less stable while gloomy, frigid days continue to brutalize us post-holidays, it's important not to be too hard on ourselves. In a festive New Year's Eve mood, you might have found a shred of optimism, spontaneously declared a desire for personal betterment, and, in your enthusiasm, overreached. "I think, after tonight, I'll quit drinking for a while," such madness often begins. "Till summer, maybe, or at least for a month...."

But it's time to rethink the wisdom of depriving ourselves of one of life's few current joys. As the frequently sloshed Lord Byron put it: "Man, being reasonable, must get drunk; the best of life is but intoxication." Fits of artificial virtue miss this point, so how about we let ourselves off the hook?

Keeping in mind both our honorable intentions and their inevitable failure, following are a few suggestions for places to break resolutions but not the bank, to enjoy without going overboard (and that includes food; renounce those strict-diet vows now!).

Resistance is futile: The Bulldog's Humpty Dumpty burger
Fred Petters
Resistance is futile: The Bulldog's Humpty Dumpty burger

The financial outlook may be bleak, but hey, the party's not completely over. There'll be an inauguration to celebrate soon, the days are slowly getting longer, and, well, presumably you can think of another reason to lift a glass. Bottoms up—just don't go making more big promises anytime soon.

BULLDOG LOWERTOWN
237 Sixth St. E., St. Paul
651.221.0750

The scene: The third and latest in the popular Bulldog chain, following south and northeast Minneapolis locations, this 'Dog is the nicest yet, with big, roomy booths, a large center bar, and views of lovely Mears Park across the street. The bar has been packing in a mixed crowd of downtown workers, couples, partiers, and sports fans since opening in late October, providing something that's been sadly rare: a downtown St. Paul bar that's regularly full even when the Xcel is dark.

Recommended resolution-breakers (intoxicating): The Bulldog's emphasis on craft beer continues at this new outpost. Beer flights provide great value for those just exiting the wagon: Sampling five different beers for about the price of one not only multiplies that first-sip pleasure but adds an aura of class and education to your drinking. There are flights tailored to connoisseurs and to those just getting started with this "beer" stuff (one flight includes PBR). Or go the locavore route with the well-rounded Midwest Flight, including beers from Surly, Flat Earth, Rush River, and more for only five bucks.

Recommended resolution-breakers (edible): The Lowertown burger, made from grass-fed beef, stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes and basil, and served on a ciabatta bun, is reminiscent of the nearby farmers' market in summer. Its piquant seasoning plays nicely against the accompanying peppery, skin-on fries, making for an immensely satisfying meal. Or eat cheaper, with several appetizers for five bucks or less (and half-price during happy hour, 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday). And you can't go wrong with the Bulldog's original signature menu item, the hot dog. There are nine varieties on offer in Lowertown, including the Stinky Dog with blue cheese and roasted garlic.

ELI'S
1225 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
612.332.9997

The scene: The vibe is low-key at this longstanding edge-of-downtown watering hole, housed in a sturdy old stone building and providing a welcoming, relaxed atmosphere. It's nice, but the decor—soft lighting, abstract art, paper napkins—could never be accused of stuffiness.

Recommended resolution-breakers (intoxicating): Specialty cocktails at Eli's are priced low for downtown, and from 3 to 7 p.m. everything's a dollar off. The Peach2 and Raspberry2 combine Stoli and a fruit-puree of their respective flavors, plus club soda, making for a vibrant, wistfully summer-evoking beverage. Don't worry if that sounds way too tame for you; bartenders here know how to pour a classic stiff drink, too.

Recommended resolution-breakers (edible): Check the creative specials, which rotate weekly. Pastas are pretty solid (and the very affordable half-sizes are plenty big for most appetites), such as the Eli's Pasta with peppers, garlic, and white-wine sauce and a recent special with pork, onion, mushroom, basil, and Parmesan that was salty, sweet, meaty, gratifying goodness.

CHATTERBOX PUB
800 Cleveland Ave. S., St. Paul
651.699.1154

The scene: College students, young professionals, and neighborhood families brought together by their shared love for old video games enjoy retro decor and tasty bar food at the second Chatterbox. The menu here includes selections for Atari 2600, Sega Genesis, and classic Nintendo—and even board games for those so old that their nostalgic childhood memories don't include electronics. Two large rooms with old stuffed furniture, retro lamps, and soft blue walls displaying garage-sale art provide plenty of space to stretch out, and all the game-playing makes for an upbeat mood. It's bigger and less cozy, though almost as comfortable, as the original location on East 35th Street in Minneapolis. A third Chatterbox just opened in Linden Hills.

Recommended resolution-breakers (intoxicating): Ease back into the imbibing lifestyle at the Chatterbox, where there is no hard liquor but the bar goes to the trouble of making specialty drinks anyway. There's a sake bloody Mary, or on the (much) sweeter side, the strawberry-lemonade mimosa. The wine list is affordable, and house-brewed beers, like the malty Chatterbox lager, are pretty good.

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