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BEST BLOODY MARY Minneapolis 2004 - Al's Bar

By now everyone knows that the Twin Cities is a bloody mary haven. From the St. Paul Grill's spicy concoction to the Uptown Bar and Cafe's liquid breakfast of champions, at least half of the urban watering holes in these parts offer some fine variation on the potent combination of vodka and tomato juice. But it turns out there's some fine suburban fare out there as well. The best comes from Al's Bar, a comfortably dingy little place that brings a taste of Nordeast to the strip mall confines just west of Lake Calhoun. A sign on a wood-paneled wall implores you: "Try the Twin Cities Best Bloody Mary, $3.25, Proudly Served with a Leinenkugel's Snit." So you do, and immediately you're struck by the elegant simplicity: A slender glass (not a jock-bar mug), a lemon wedge (not a stinky old pickle), and a rose-colored hue (not a too-dark maroon). Turns out the mix, "The Bloody Mary Maker," is made and marketed by J.C Baker Co. in Inver Grove Heights. It comes as sludge in a two-quart jug that the bartender tells you "looks a little like diarrhea," but you try a bit on the tip of your cocktail straw anyway. Despite its visual shortcomings, the Maker tastes a little like a light, tangy steak sauce. It's full of pickles, cucumbers, garlic, horseradish, celery salt, and Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Add a lot of water and a little tomato juice, mix with the clear liquor, and the confection blooms into a fine cocktail.

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