More often than not, we choose a restaurant based on a craving. But a good restaurateur knows food is only half the battle.
Restaurants, the good ones anyway, are stages, arenas to escape the dodgy clatter of real life, if only for two hours.
Here are five local restaurants that serve as mini-vacations, for little more than the price of a plate.
France exists in all of our imaginations, even if we’ve never been. It’s the same way you know New York should have guys shouting out of brownstone windows, dirty water hot dog stands, and subway screech.
With little more than a carved, ivory-esque bar, patina-edged mirrors, and soft light, St. Genevieve screams “Paris!” They’ve done it with the smallest touches, and exactly zero treacle. You won’t find a single Eiffel Tower.
The menu follows suit with French omelets, Champagne flutes, and escargots exactly the way the French might do them: with understatement and confidence.
(Also see sister restaurant Tilia, which evokes an old-timey American train car, even if you’ve never ridden in one.)
5003 Bryant Ave. S., Minneapolis
If you were handed some lumber and paint and asked to visually recreate Minnesota (or Scandinavia) in wintertime, it might look a little like Upton 43.
All ice blue and angles, this dining room is like none other. It does not welcome warmly, or echo noisily. It seems to ask that you observe it like a museum goer, and sit up straight in your chair as other artistic articles pass across your table.
Sharp, slender lamps jut down like icicles, and it all comes together as a somewhat austere, yet captivating homage to the great white north.
4312 Upton Ave., S. Minneapois
How many hallowed 110-year-old rooms can you relax in for the cost of a lowball?
So very many of our most historic bars and restaurants have gone the way of the dinosaur these past few years. Monte Carlo seems to exist as an untouchable exception, where the servers pad around in orthopedic shoes and smart black dresses from the uniform store, and not Forever 21.
The windowless room is a dark crucible of copper bar, reds and golds, and a wall of booze that inspires you to order something neat, not craft. If you’re looking for something gluten free, your options are Filet Mignon or New York Strip.
219 3rd Ave. N., Minneapolis
We ardently follow chefs for their talents on the plate, so why is it that so few dining rooms seem to accommodate for their creativity?
The Travailians are so unlike other chefs, they’ve got their own pet name for their legions of followers. So it would only do to have a room that speaks to their freaky humor, the somewhat disturbing, cacophonous inner mind of a chef.
What does that look like? A booming sound system, lots of wide open space punctuated by an over-abundance of stuffed animals, shag carpet, chalkboards, guys dressed in chicken suits.
The line between kitchen and dining room blurs in a foggy mashup of carnival and your stoner brother’s basement bedroom. It works. It’s fun. Prepare to be pleasantly overwhelmed.
4124 W. Broadway Ave., Robbinsdale
If you can get in (and it’s easier to get in now that the hype has subsided) Volstead’s Emporium is worth the extra trouble of hiking through a sketchy alley, beyond a steely door with a peep-hole, and past a burly bouncer (he’s actually more sugar than brawn).
In the bowels of the street level S&M store (is this starting to sound like we live in a real city, or what?) a murky speakeasy awaits, with privacy booths where velvet curtains can drop, and you and your date can do what inspires you. Don’t worry-- servers pop out of windows at other side, Jambi The Genie style, at your service with Sazerac in hand.
While prohibition-era drinking culture has had its day, threatening to curdle like some old milk, Volstead’s still manages to charm. The utter showmanship in the detail seems designed by nothing short of a stage designer, down to the fringes on the lampshades. A dreamy, reclining sliver of a moon on the wall behind the band smiles in langor, encouraging the night to never end.
711 W. Lake St., Minneapolis