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Minneapolis' new Marquette Lounge: Or, why you should go to hotel bars in your own city

The Marquette Lounge's grilled oysters (foreground), accompanied by mint-tomato soup topped with croutons, and a steak and asparagus caesar salad (both served in bowls behind).

The Marquette Lounge's grilled oysters (foreground), accompanied by mint-tomato soup topped with croutons, and a steak and asparagus caesar salad (both served in bowls behind). Sarah Brumble

While in college, I lived with a dude who might've been a genius. I’d come home from class to find him sitting in places that made no sense. Sometimes he’d be crouched in a corner of the living room, completely content to be near (but not on) the sofa, or maybe he’d be sitting with legs stretched straight out in front of him beneath the dining room table, his back upright against the built-in buffet.

“Whatcha doing, man?” I’d ask.

“Oh, just playing ‘Sit Where I Haven’t,’” he’d respond. “The view’s totally different from here. Wanna join me?” 

…He was right.

My point is: When was the last time you dined in a hotel bar in your own city? And, what did you learn about home?

When the Marquette Hotel in downtown Minneapolis abandoned Jacques restaurant, which locals had little reason to know was there, they brought on Peter Botcher as their new executive chef. After 18 years spread across Napa Valley, Austin’s Second Bar + Kitchen, and more locally Butcher & the Boar, Botcher joined the Marquette (one of Hilton’s “Curio Collection” ventures) and established the hotel's new Marquette Lounge with “a priority to seek out local partners and source local ingredients that everyone could easily connect with, and find joy in sharing.”

It’s through this lens that visitors staying at the Marquette will first (and perhaps only) encounter the Twin Cities’ booming dining scene. This awareness is palpable in the Marquette Lounge’s cocktail and dining menus.

The Minnesota trout entree, served with frisee, fingerling potatoes, haricot vert, tomatoes, and beaucoup caper remoulade

The Minnesota trout entree, served with frisee, fingerling potatoes, haricot vert, tomatoes, and beaucoup caper remoulade Sarah Brumble

The thing is, Botcher's covered everyone’s bases and palates… safely. Each of his dishes—from a tomato-mint soup, to steak and asparagus Caesar salad, to sauteed Minnesota trout served with frisee, fingerling potatoes, haricot vert, tomatoes, and a caper remoulade (which ultimately mimicked a niçoise salad)—succeeded because of flavors imparted by sauces, drizzles, and garnishes rather than the primary ingredients themselves. Is this quibbling too much? Maybe.

The Marquette Lounge set out to represent and introduce Minnesota to everyone walking through its doors, which is a fiendishly difficult task in our contemporary dining culture. Though attentive to representing local flavors on all levels, we're reminded just how much the establishments helmed by our Bossest Ladies (though that means asking a concierge and leaving downtown) play on a level uniquely their own.

Early in the evening, the Marquette's house mixologist was brought over to answer our questions, where he quipped, “Luxury isn’t dead in Minneapolis. It’s just been taking a nap.” Catchy as that sounded, I was left wondering when we were ever known for luxury. 

Service and work ethic seem more our local hallmarks, and those details, particularly on the cocktail side, are still being ironed out in the transition from Jacques to the Marquette Lounge (which only began service September 3). The bar program's head dropped a lot of big cocktail names, but ultimately his most inventive drink—a spirit-forward double barrel bourbon and tea syrup concoction called the “North Country Girl”—arrived with a cube branded with the home state’s outline in it, which steered the final product toward kitsch in an otherwise upscale setting. Of the four-item original cocktail menu, another missed entirely—full stop.

The Marquette Lounge does, however, provide a precious position from which to see "home" with fresh eyes: streetside voyeurism. Relaxing into what we were working with, we found the perfect vantage point to reacquaint ourselves with our city through the eyes of a visitor.

At 5:35 p.m, a fellow passed by outside, seemingly unperturbed, holding one of those “I just got fired” boxes containing the entirety of his desk, leaving us to wonder what monster terminates someone on a Monday. (They're out there, folks!) Turns out there's also a roving pack of 35 bald men in khakis who'll follow a woman—rank and file—if she whistles at them like they're her puppies. Everything we witnessed from our table was magical.

The opportunity to sit still in a very quiet spot downtown, and just watch what happens cannot be oversold, and the Marquette Lounge is wonderful for this. So go sit where you haven't, take a dinner-long vacation at the new Marquette Lounge, and find out how Minnesota reads to those who prefer the "local Hilton" over an Airbnb.

When you do, order the grilled oysters and maybe stick to beer or wine. You'll leave… content.