Spring is here! (Well, almost.) And it's here earlier than ever, meaning you'll be jostling for real estate at all the most obvious al fresco eating and drinking places. We've got a few less conspicuous spots for you to consider.
If you like: W.A. Frost You might like: Betty Danger's Utterly transporting, W.A. Frost will make you feel like you're no longer in plebeian St. Paul, but instead inside a cross between a country club pool house and a Renoir. W.A. Frost has long been the gold standard patio, but if it's a country club vibe you're after, it might be time to modernize with Betty Danger's Country Club, where mini golf, a ferris wheel, tropical drinks, and Mexican-American food all converge to make a new club for a new generation. Added value: Astroturf Betty Danger's Country Club, 2501 Marshall St. NE, Minneapolis, 612-315-4997, bettydangers.com
If you like: Butcher and the Boar You might like: Surly Dusting off the stein and rolling out a bunch of sausages with little dollops of mustard for daubin', all under God's euphoric blue skies? Yes, please. A biergarten has a great ring to it, and Butcher and the Boar has certainly had its day in the sun for patio storming. But now there's a bigger, beery-er biergarten in town, so look out, B&B. Find brewed-on-the-spot, everybody-loves-it Surly of all stripes, plus hog frites — an answer to the Butcher's German Nachos, but this time with pepper jack fondue and giardiniera. Added value: $3 Surly pours Surly Brewing, 520 Malcolm Ave. SE, Minneapolis, 763-999-4040, surlybrewing.com
If you like: Sea Salt You might like: Como Dockside Even the founders of Sea Salt had no idea how wildly popular seafood in Minnehaha Park would be. One day they just noticed an empty concession stand, called the park board, asked if they could start grilling fish on the deck, and that was that. They made zillions, the idea turned into a sensation, and now chefs and restaurateurs are snatching up concessions pavilions all over the cities. By May 1, the Como Park pavillion will be Dockside, serving classic BBQ fare — nothing too fancy, but for sure smoked meats, and probably even picnic baskets to grab and nosh lakeside. Plus the place is owned and operated by local music promoter Jon Oulman of the 331 and Amsterdam, two bars renowned for stellar live entertainment. Added value: Acoustic performers, chamber orchestra, even theater Como Dockside, 1360 Lexington Pkwy. N., St. Paul, 651-487-8200, comozooconservatory.org
If you like: Black Forest Inn You might like: Moscow on the Hill The shadowy, cloistered privacy of hanging vines and fluttering leaves climbing up trellises always inspires another round. The Eastern Europeans know this. And another round demands a good base of protein. The Eastern Europeans also know this. At Moscow on the Hill, piroshki, pelmeni, blini, and another vodka can loop-de-loop into an all-day session. In fact, bring the bottle: $58 for a bottle service of Stoli? You can't afford not to. Added value: Live accordion Moscow on the Hill, 371 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 612-291-1236
If you like: Aster Cafe You might like: Sea Change River views are best enjoyed with a beverage — just ask the people of New Orleans. But way up here on the other end of the Mississip, we do things our own way. While Aster does indeed evoke the Big Easy with its cobblestoned courtyard, consider going across the water to Sea Change, where our theater culture literally looms (enormous photos of serious playwrights stare down whilst you sip). Raise a mug to their mugs and use this George Bernard Shaw quote as a toast: "My specialty is being right when other people are wrong." Then stare wistfully at the twinkling water and order another, always the right thing to do. Added value: Oysters Sea Change, 806 S. Second St., Minneapolis, 612-225-6499, seachangempls.com
If you like: Stella's You might like: Libertine This is not a time to "go grab a beer." This is a time to make sure the sunglasses match the shorts, the lipstick matches the shoes, and that there's a shine on the handbag. Face it, Uptown rooftops are really for only one thing: ogling hotties. Libertine was once Cafeteria, and the only thing that will change about the rooftop deck is that the food is going to be better, the surroundings will be hipper, and you know, the hotties will probably be hotter. Added value: Rebel Yell beef-bone luge shots Libertine, 3001 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612-877-7263, libertinempls.com
If you like: Moto-i You might like: Tinto Cocina y Cantina Uptown's Moto-i does izakaya right and boasts a great view of downtown, but there's a spicy new kid around the block. Tinto is fast becoming an Uptown favorite for handmade tortillas and scratch margaritas. And there's more to love than the comestibles. They're adding live salsa on Saturday nights, and you'll be able to enjoy all of it from their sidewalk bar where bartenders can refill that tequila right through the window. Added value: Tres Leches Cake Tinto Cocina y Cantina, 901 W. Lake St., Minneapolis, 612-354-2130, tintompls.com
If you like: Psycho Suzi's You might like: Eat Street Social/Torpedo Room Tiki drinks are perfect for summer, but they're best when balanced and mixed by pros. Eat Street Social's much anticipated outdoor tiki bar is going to make the package complete. Usually suffering from bad booze and one-note sweetness, tiki drinks will get a much needed reputation boost from bartender Nick Kosevich and the Bittercube team (think refined quaffs with botanicals and housemade bitters). And like any good tiki-tender, these guys aren't afraid to light shit on fire. Added value: Tiki Sno-Cones 18 W. 26th St., Minneapolis, 612-767-6850, eatstreetsocial.com
If you like: Swede Hollow You might like: Grand Cafe Swede Hollow is verdant civility on the otherwise cacophonous East Seventh stretch of St. Paul, where vehicles dart noisily into the Downtowner Car Wash looking much better for it when they emerge. The community garden-tended grounds are lavish and fragrant — an enchanting escape for coffee and lunch. But when dinner and wine is in order, consider the theatrical little Parisianesque alleyway by the people of Grand Cafe. Mary Hunter has always been one of the most stylish restaurateurs in town — she doesn't miss a beat, right down to the wrought iron fencing, ferns peeking from crevices, and antique wine buckets she culled from some old aristocrat's pantry. Added value: Affogato (vanilla ice cream drenched in espresso) Grand Cafe, 3804 Grand Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612-822-8260, grandcafempls.com
If you like: Brit's You might like: Nomad World Pub Bar games can feel constructive, something to keep the body active as the mind begins to cloud. The lawn bowling greens at Brit's are stylish and dignified, but usually so overrun with leagues and after-work khaki crowds that it's difficult to find a seat. Head over to the West Bank for a little more grit, a lot more live music, and bocce courts you don't have to vie for. Also, a fire pit, a smokers' patio if you're into that sort of thing, and the only happy hour we know of where from 4 p.m. to 4:18 p.m. "almost everything" is $1. Added value: Free bacon buffet on select nights Nomad World Pub, 501 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis, 612-338-6424, nomadpub.com
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