Marvel Bar: A peek behind the purple door

Mixologist Pip Hanson creates truly original drinks at Minneapolis's new hot spot

Mixologist Pip Hanson creates truly original drinks at Minneapolis's new hot spot

The Marvel Bar is open, and it's already making a name for itself. Eric and Andrew Dayton spent the last couple of years renovating the building that Marvel shares with the Bachelor Farmer restaurant. When they needed someone to run the bar program for the restaurant and the speakeasy-style bar in the cellar, they tapped Pip Hanson, a mixologist whose credentials often precede him. Here is the condensed version:


Hanson worked as a bar back at the Dakota Jazz Club for about six months before he was given his first job bartending at 20:21 by Johnny Michaels. He spent a year at 20:21 before deciding to move to Japan, where he had been a foreign exchange student in high school. Within a month he was bartending in Japan and seeking out the best cocktail bars in Tokyo. He became fascinated with Japanese cocktail technique and philosophy and was inspired by the discipline of the Ginza bartenders, and particularly by Kazuo Uyeda. Uyeda offered to teach him his way of making drinks, and Hanson spent the next several months studying under him. When he got back to Minneapolis, he was offered a job at the Town Talk Diner by Nick Kosevich and started working there a few nights a week, also working at La Belle Vie with Johnny Michaels. Soon he was working another two nights a week at Café Maude, where Michaels was overseeing the cocktail program. After working both jobs for six months or so, Hanson put his full attention into Maude and became its bar manager.

Hanson got to know Eric Dayton well at Café Maude, and the two found they had similar ideas of the way service should be executed. Now, with Marvel Bar, the support from the Daytons has allowed Hanson to assemble a bar program that has really never been seen in Minneapolis.

When you first step through Marvel's purple door, you enter a psychedelic world of colors, textures, design, and flavor. There are wild patterns and colors all over the walls and floor, yet it's still very comfortable and inviting. The back wall has intimate half-circle booths with glass walls that peek into the wine cellar for both the bar and the restaurant.

The drinks at Marvel start with the ice. It is ice sculptor's ice that is prepped each day and shaped to order for drinks. Marvel also has Kold-Draft ice machines that create perfect cubes of clear ice. Then there are the drinks themselves. The cocktail list is two sided: one list of classic libations, the other is a list of original cocktails. The classic side lists the ingredients of each drink instead of assuming you already know. The original side has each drink's base spirit written in capital letters to help you judge which might be the one you would enjoy the most. Here is a sample of some of Marvel's most noteworthy creations:

Olivetto is a truly unique cocktail--an emulsified olive oil sour. "It's definitely the first one I've ever heard of," Hanson says. "There's nothing new under the sun ... but this might actually be new under the sun."

Pip Hanson

Pip Hanson

Oakenshield is based on a drink Hanson contributed to Imbibe magazine and will be featured in a book due out this fall. It is salty, nutty Scotch-based cocktail with Cynar; an Italian herbal liqueur.

Sauvage is a nice, clean, simple drink. Pretty straightforward, it's like a Tom Collins with maraschino and fresh oregano. Hanson calls it the "perfect patio sipper."

The Golden Age is a smooth, clean rum cocktail with several unique flavors leading into each other without ever overpowering one another. It comes off like an old-fashioned with a rum base.

Deuce Deuce is a nice, bitter rye whiskey drink. It's given its name because it is made with two bitters and two vermouths. It reminded me of a Negroni mashed up with a Manhattan; very cool.

Silverado is a complex but smooth tequila-sour-style drink. Don't be put off when you read horseradish in the description: It's very subtle and provides more of an earthy quality rather than spice. Coconut, grapefruit, and Chartreuse round out the flavors on this tasty number.

Morricone is a drink Hanson started working on at home when all he had was Campari, Don Julio Anejo, and a block of ice. He added orange bitters and cacao nib-infused mescal, creating a beautiful bitter-chocolate-smoke combination

Ever After is a drink that plays with the relationship between your senses of smell and taste. As you sip this light but balanced cocktail, you take in the aroma of the dried herbs stuck to the outside of the glass. It tells your nose one thing and your tongue another.

Angophile is a drink made with a whole ounce of Angostura bitters. You know those little bottles with the huge white label that you've only seen a bartender carefully dash a drop or two of into a cocktail? Well, this one uses a mouthful of the stuff and a whole egg. The result? It's like a beautifully bitter adult milkshake.

"We're trying to hit all of the palates here." Hanson says. "Some people like a sweeter drink. We've got one or two of those. Some people like a more bitter drink. We've got several of those"