Bradstreet Crafthouse recreates cocktail culture

Sample signature drinks from the '20s made with original ingredients

The first thing you'll probably wonder about the drinks at Bradstreet Craftshouse is why they're taking so long to make. On busy nights, the wait can be lengthy enough that someone in your party will start speculating as to why they haven't yet arrived. What are they doing? Adding ingredients with eyedroppers? Actually, yes.

Bradstreet's bartenders treat each drink as a work of art. The Dark and Stormy's brooding layers of light and dark rums bleed together so beautifully that the drink looks like a Rothko painting poured into a glass. In the Negroni Tredici cocktail, a large, whimsical ice orb spins and sparkles like a drunken disco ball. And when the server grates nutmeg on top of the Minneapolis Flip, a boozy nog made with a whole raw egg, we lean in to inhale its woodsy scent—intoxicated already.

Bradstreet Craftshouse, the new retro lounge in the Graves Hotel, is raising the bar for Twin Cities cocktail culture. Expanding on the craft developed at places like Strip Club, Town Talk Diner, Prohibition, and La Belle Vie—pairing scratch-made juices, syrups, bitters, and tonics with top-quality liquors—hotel owner Ben Graves brought in New York-based Alchemy Consulting to shake things up even more.

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An old-fashioned with a newfangled ice cube
Jana Freiband
An old-fashioned with a newfangled ice cube

Alchemy partner Toby Maloney has agitated so many cocktails that he says he can tell how many ice cubes are in a shaker just by ear. Having tended bar at New York hotspots Milk & Honey and Pegu Club, Maloney is something of a cocktail obsessive. Not only does he co-own the renowned Violet Hour bar in Chicago, but he also consults for Diageo, the world's largest liquor conglomerate. "If you're not making cocktails, you're researching cocktails, or you're drinking someone else's cocktails, or you're dreaming about cocktails," he says. "It takes over your life—in a good way."

Bradstreet Craftshouse, in the former home of Infinity nightclub, has been designed to match Maloney's retro minimalist bartending approach of taking classic drinks and tweaking them a bit. It's named after the Minneapolis Craftshouse, a showroom and museum for the decorative arts that was opened in 1904 by the city's most influential tastemaker of the time, a designer named John Scott Bradstreet. While several recent high-profile architecture projects have drawn national attention to the Twin Cities' rich arts and culture scene, Bradstreet's "striking" and "go-ahead" establishment, as one reviewer described it, was perhaps what initially put Minneapolis on the map as a creative hotbed.

Bradstreet was fond of a Japanese wood-finishing technique that emphasizes the decorative patterns of the grain, and that look is echoed in the striking silhouettes on the restaurant's light fixtures and liquor shelves. Rust-colored walls, bamboo wallpaper, and stone tabletops make the space feel modern yet organic, and the divided seating areas—a small dining room, barstools, kitchen-side seats, and a boudoir-esque lounge—give it a pleasant intimacy. I may not have been there late enough (they're open till 2 a.m.) to encounter the nightlife crowd I expected, though one evening I did spot Azia owner Thom Pham among the contingent of hotel guests, including a middle-aged business guy with a heavy Southern accent who started demonstrating his abdominal workout routine to his companion.

Maybe he'd had a little too much to drink—which is easy to do with a beverage menu as tempting as Bradstreet's. Cocktails are sorted by spirit type and listed from most accessible to most complex, with far more based on rye whiskey than vodka, as was typical pre-Prohibition. There are drinks that seem designed to sip while having a pedicure—like the Cooper's Union, a refreshing blend of Prairie Organic vodka, elderflower liqueur, citrus juices, and orange flower water—and those more suited for smoking a cigar—the Winter Sazerac, with Wild Turkey rye whiskey, brown-sugar-coffee syrup, and absinthe. (Our dapper, mustachioed waiter described it as being "the real deal," and boy was he right.)

Bradstreet's cocktail philosophy takes every detail seriously. For instance, the bar's "ice program" consists of five types of ice used to precisely hone the drink's temperature and dilution. "Just saying the word 'ice program' is the most pretentious thing in the world," Maloney admits, but he explains that bartenders need different techniques for cooling drinks just as chefs do for heating foods. Bradstreet invested in several specialized machines to freeze and shape ice: The Kold-Draft makes purer, denser (and therefore colder) cubes, and the Japanese-made Taisin melts large ice squares into spheres. The custom-made ice makes the drinks not only more elegant but more consistent.

Since taste relies heavily on smell, many of Bradstreet's cocktails emphasize aromatics. For some, the server applies bitters with an eyedropper just before the drink is sipped. Bradstreet takes its bitters so seriously, in fact, that they stock three types of orange bitters, all with slightly different flavor profiles. Maloney plans to make new bitters with each season, so wintry clove-nutmeg-allspice notes will be replaced with those of blackberry and cherry blossoms this spring.

The mere concept of extra-cold ice or seasonal bitters is likely new to most Twin Cities drinkers. ("Often people won't know one single ingredient in the drink," Maloney says.) Fortunately, Bradstreet's extensive staff training, which involves tasting each drink and its individual elements, seems to have paid off. The staff members I encountered were well versed in describing flavors, defining unusual liquors (such as the artichoke aperitif cynar, or a Douglas fir eau de vie), and explaining the process by which the bar makes its own grenadine syrup.

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