Sure, you can impress your friends by pontificating about what distinguishes an English-style IPA from an American-style IPA, but can you discern the nuances between Minneapolis and St. Paul tap water? You’ll soon have a chance to find out. Welcome to Water Bar, which will offer free and unlimited servings of local and regional tap waters, including tasting flights, in (where else?) northeast Minneapolis.
Before you launch into a “now I’ve seen it all” rant, there is actually a serious purpose behind this endeavor. Sure, at first glance it seems like fodder for a Saturday Night Live sketch. But Water Bar is a public art project aimed at spawning conversations about the importance of local water to individuals and communities.
The project was conceived by Shanai Matteson and her husband Colin Kloecker of Works Progress Studio in Minneapolis. Works Progress Studio specializes in collaborative projects that focus on relationships between people, place, and environment. Since 2014, they have taken the Water Bar across the state as well as to Arkansas, Illinois, and North Carolina as a series of pop-up bars, serving local tap waters to more than 30,000 people. Now they are settling down on Central Avenue.
Water issues have been important to the couple for a long time, and one day Kloecker said they wondered "what if we could just actually drink the Mississippi River?" A scientist friend at the University of Minnesota pointed out that they already did — the Mississippi is the source for both the Minneapolis and St. Paul water supply. That sparked an interest in comparing water from different sources in the area, so they drove around and did taste tests. And there's plenty to compare. Kloecker says that there are eight to 10 different water sources within an hour-and-a-half drive of Minneapolis.
From there, they came up with the idea for Water Bar as an innovative way to talk about water systems. And while the Water Bar concept pokes a bit of gentle fun at the craft, artisan drink culture, the bar premise is one people are familiar with, even while the specifics subtly subvert their expectations.
The Water Bar is staffed by environmental scientists, activists, artists, and even actual bartenders who volunteer to be "watertenders." While they pour samples of tap water from various municipalities, the experts orchestrate discussions on complex issues like water pollution and scarcity, land use and urban development, climate change, and environmental injustice.
Kloecker and Matteson collect the water that they serve from public buildings and house taps if they don't have a relationship with the utilities in some areas. And what is Kloecker's favorite water? He says people tend to favor the taste of the water they grew up with or are used to, so as a long-time Minneapolis resident, he is partial to what comes out of his faucet. The couple is excited that the Water Bar is located in the Holland neighborhood, which is where they live, and appreciative of the support they've received from the neighborhood association.
There isn’t a definite opening date yet for Water Bar, although they're hoping for a soft opening as early as April, and a grand opening during Art-a-Whirl weekend, May 20-22. If you just can’t wait to experience it for yourself, head to the next pop-up at Anoka Ramsey Community College on March 23. In the meantime, you can support the continued existence of the project by donating at the Water Bar SIP (studio-in-progress) GoFundMe page.