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BEST BARTENDER Minneapolis 1998 -

Before the theater crowd invades downtown for drinks and dinner, restaurant managers and their wait staffs have a tendency to crowd Eli's long, polished bar for a pre-rush bump. Ed Nagle, who's owned the establishment for five years, says vet bartender Wrayge is their favorite. It's no wonder. Professionals know how hard it is to be both amiable and efficient, straight-faced but not aloof. And they know Wrayge, who's got nine years at Eli's under his belt, will be on the lookout for them Tuesday through Friday: making sure the drafts never run dry, the vermouth never drowns the gin, and the appetizers always arrive piping hot (we're especially fond of the many-flavored chicken wings). Most importantly, he makes sure everyone's happy hour is happy. If an overserved loner needs everyone to know his name, Wrayge will indulge. But if he turns from loud to loutish, Wrayge will take him out of play without breaking a sweat or breaking stride. "There's a reason he knows literally thousands of people," Nagle beams. "He takes care of his customers." Wrayge is also responsible for that tasteful mix of music playing on the sound system--often acoustic, sometimes quiet, always hip.

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