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The Volstead House: Fried pickles and craft cocktails in Eagan

The lovely backlit wall of liquor bottles adds to the ambience at Volstead House.

The lovely backlit wall of liquor bottles adds to the ambience at Volstead House.

Volstead House, which bills itself as a whiskey bar and speakeasy, has been drawing crowds since it opened a few weeks ago, as Eaganites gather to soak in the swank décor and soak up classic cocktails.

When you pull up to the address for Volstead House, in the middle of a strip mall in this southern suburb, you may think Google maps has led you astray. There are no signs for the bar. What you see is Burgers and Bottles, which you have to walk through to get to the speakeasy.

Head to the back of the brightly lit, casual burger joint, pass through the black curtain behind  the red door, and you’re transported to an altogether different atmosphere.

Volstead House is all dark wood and tufted upholstery, evoking the secret drinking dens of the Prohibition era. The room is small, adding to the clubby and exclusive vibe. The space was formerly a mechanic’s garage, and you can see the bones of that previous incarnation in the exposed brick walls and glass garage doors that open onto the patio in better weather.

The place is so new you can still smell the varnish when you enter, yet there was a queue of eager patrons waiting for the curtain to part so they could make a dash for one of the cushy booths at the appointed opening hour of 4 p.m. on a recent Thursday afternoon. By 4:30 the place was standing room only, filled with an animated crowd.

The focus is on whiskey and classic cocktails. Whiskey fans have over 80 bottles to choose from. Work your way through the list on your own or try one of the seven flights like the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, the Irish Pride, or the World Tour. 

The first rule of a speakeasy is that it doesn't look like a speakeasy.

The first rule of a speakeasy is that it doesn't look like a speakeasy.

If you like your booze in a cocktail, there are a lot of choices for you as well. The cocktail menu is divided into classics, revival and (re)volution. Classics includes standbys like the Old Fashioned.

The drinks on the revival menu are what you might call neglected classics, drinks that enjoyed popularity at one point but have fallen out of favor, like the Bijou, a combination of gin, green chartreuse, sweet vermouth, and bitters.

The (re)volution list is comprised of in-house inventions like Last Night in Cabo, a concoction of tequila, sweet vermouth, liquor 43, orange sour, bitters, and mescal.

The drink menu makes for interesting reading, providing a history of each of the cocktails. For example, did you know that the Old Fashioned is considered by many to be the original cocktail? Although they don’t rival the cocktail pyrotechnics of the fancier Uptown and North Loop temples of mixology, the drinks are strong and mixed with care. After a couple you might begin to see the ghost of Andrew Volstead, namesake of the bar and the Minnesota legislator who championed Prohibition.

Now, about those fried pickles. While the drinks and the service are befitting of the atmosphere at the speakeasy, the food is, unfortunately, another story.

The restaurant shares a kitchen and a menu with the adjoining burger bar, so food choices are limited and, frankly, kind of odd for an establishment focusing on high-end libations. Appetizer choices are reminiscent of TGI Friday’s, most straight from the deep fryer, including Minnesota State Fair fried dill pickles, jalapeno poppers, and cheese curds.

Your main course choices include a variety of burger options, a couple of salads and a selection of flatbreads. The burgers are nicely cooked and well seasoned, and topping options abound. The flatbread, although not shaped like a frozen pizza, sure did taste like one. While all the grease will help soak up the alcohol, it certainly doesn’t enhance the flavors of the cocktails. Or the overall experience.

Volstead House Whiskey Bar and Speakeasy

1278 Lone Oak Rd., Eagan

651-340-7175

Monday - Thursday and Sunday, 4 p.m. - midnight

Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. - 1 a.m.

Happy hour Sunday - Thursday, 4 p.m. - 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. - close