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Top 10 craft cocktail bars in the Twin Cities

The best spots to quaff a cocktail
The best spots to quaff a cocktail

There's never been a better time to be a drinker. It's become almost mandatory for every new restaurant of a certain price point to employ a master mixologist behind the bar. These days you can't swing a shaker without smacking over a few bottles of handmade bitters. While the craft cocktail movement has swept the nation, we are lucky to have in our midst a long list of talented leaders in the field. While we could easily rattle off 50 great places for drinks in the Twin Cities, we have narrowed the field to these top 10.

See also: Top 10 sandwiches in the Twin Cities Top 10 dive bars in the Twin Cities Top 10 romantic restaurants in the Twin Cities

10. The Lowry Uptown The Blue Plate Restaurant Company has made a name for itself opening restaurants that perfectly reflect the corners of the city where they live. Three Squares is great for brunch, lunch, and family dinners, just as the Groveland Tap is great for college kids looking for a beer and some waffle fries. Stephanie Shimp and David Burley knew they wanted a killer bar in their first foray into Uptown. What they built is a place that was instantly packed with both the families and hipsters that call this place home. The drinks are sophisticated, but the flavors take them a step beyond expectations. The old-fashioned Sazerac is just as pleasing as the Creepin on My Thai Bo. (2112 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis; 612.341.2112. Lowry Uptown website)

9. Butcher & the Boar

The Butcher & the Boar & the Bourbon
The Butcher & the Boar & the Bourbon

There is no scurrilous boss, or scumbag client, or rancid traffic situation -- no insufferably bad day -- that can't be conquered by an afternoon sip of bourbon at Butcher & the Boar's bar. Drinking a proper mint julep this summer, I would swear the cocktail actually lowered the scorching temperature of the day to a perfectly manageable afternoon -- hand to God, it conjured a breeze. That's how good these drinks are: They can change the very nature of a day. The amount of work that went into every item on the food menu was matched by the work that went into the bar. This is just one of many reasons we continue to love this new spot. (1121 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis; 612.238.8888. Butcher & the Boar website)

8. Meritage

It's hard to imagine a time when the bar side of Meritage wasn't there, the addition fits so seamlessly with the easy elegance of this French restaurant. One major difference is perception. It was hard to believe before that incredible cocktails could come out of that tiny bar, which closely resembled a modest shelf in the back of the room. That will never happen again. The new bar is a shimmering corner jewel, with stacks of wine bottles, rows of top-shelf liquor, and beautiful absinthe container proudly proclaiming that this is a great spot for drinks. The talent of those mixing the drinks does not disappoint. The entire list of champagne cocktails is refined, with just a bit of a naughty edge, that we expect from our French friends. Try the Singing Violet, sparkling wine mixed with a bit of Farigoule, a slightly sweet thyme liqueur, and a bit of herbal creme de violette. It's like sipping a dew-soaked, sun-kissed field of wildflowers. (410 St. Peter St., St. Paul; 651.222.5670.  Meritage website)

7. Cafe Maude

Top 10 craft cocktail bars in the Twin Cities
Rachelle Carlson

Their original location, the near-suburban Minneapolis spot, wasn't exactly ground zero for hipster gatherings, and yet the bar would draw them out of their Nordeast, downtown, and Uptown enclaves. The easy elegance and self-assurance of these drinks would woo anyone over. Even those who don't imbibe the hard stuff can find an expertly crafted drink to enhance their day or evening.  With the addition of the new Loring Park location and a few more hugely talented bartenders, Cafe Maude will continue to set the bar high. Try the Fruited Pig at Loring Park: Pierre Ferrand 1840, Pig's Nose Scotch, grapefruit juice, spiced syrup, and hopped grapefruit bitters, a clever play on smoke and light, with the dark and bright flavors blending harmoniously. (5411 Penn Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.822.5411. Cafe Maude website)

6. Icehouse

Bloody Mary Icehouse Style
Bloody Mary Icehouse Style
Ben Lansky

These guys had us at cocktail Popsicle. The proliferation of Johnny Michaels's genius continues at this new hot spot on Eat Street. The drink menu goes on for days, with every sort of classy cocktail, from frilly girly drinks to the Robert Mitchum whiskey collection. With great food, great bands, and some seriously sensational cocktails, Icehouse has burst onto the scene and is racing up the great-drink charts. We place them at No. 6, with a Bulleit. (2526 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis; 612.276.6523. Icehouse website)

 

5. Bradstreet Craftshouse

Top 10 craft cocktail bars in the Twin Cities

What the Town Talk once was for fostering talent, Bradstreet has become. Many of the best mixers in town have passed behind this bar. They foster major talent here while constantly striving to make a better, more perfect beverage.This was one of the first bars to show patrons the importance of a perfect ice cube (or globe, depending on the drink).  This pre-Prohibition-style spot continues to inspire sippers and tastemakers alike. You can't say you've sailed the sea of fine cocktails without tasting their take on a Dark and Stormy: Matsusalem rum, lime, and Cruzan Black Strap with a bit of ginger syrup. It's a swirling, dark taste of the tropics. Plus there's lime, so no scurvy! (601 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.312.1821. Bradstreet Craftshouse website)

4. Eat Street Social

Top 10 craft cocktail bars in the Twin Cities
Emily Utne

This restaurant was built around the bar. It's run by Nick Kosevich of Bittercube Bitters fame. (And before that, Nick was dazzling crowds at the Town Talk). They hired the best bartenders available to build a drinker's dream team. From the specially built coolers to the prevalence of old-fashioned cocktail glassware, this place creates perfect drinks. The menus change seasonally but is always stacked with winners. Take a taste of the Open Robe: Bulleit Rye, Black Bottle Scotch, lapsang souchang honey syrup, with tobacco tincture. It's so good it's dirty.(18 W. 26th St., Minneapolis; 612.767.6850Eat Street Social website)

3. La Belle Vie

There is no question that Johnny Michaels is the man. With that effortless cool that rock stars affect, he shakes out cleverly named cocktails without so much as a smirk. The man literally wrote the book (Northstar Cocktails) on craft cocktails.  These drinks are every bit as elegant as the James Beard Award-winning restaurant's surroundings demand. Like a work of art in a glass, Michaels and his staff elegantly riff of known cocktails just as well as they create new flavors. Take The Most Interesting Man in the World (forget those dumb commercials). This is a margarita turned on its head, with a zesty twist using blood orange and garam marsala -- most intriguing indeed.  While Michaels has become the Tim McKee of bar menus, consulting with restaurants around town, La Belle Vie continues to rank among the best. (510 Groveland Ave, Minneapolis; 612.874.6440.  La Belle Vie website)

2. Strip Club Meat & Fish

Top 10 craft cocktail bars in the Twin Cities

We imagine Dan Oskey's home to be a wild collection of beakers, odd herbs, and bubbling concoctions. Every time we sit at the bar, there's a new something that he created at home, then transported those ideas in for customers at the Strip Club Meat & Fish. Working with Tim Niver, the two create drink after drink, thoughtfully constructed for each guest based on their individual taste preferences.  Lest we forget, it was Niver and his crew at the Town Talk Diner that were among the progenitors of the Twin Cities cocktail revolution. Best of all, a cocktail ordered at the Strip Club doesn't take half an hour to appear. The flavors of every sip are carefully built, coaxed and nurtured with a master's hand, and the drinks still manage to arrive within minutes of ordering. The cocktail list changes often, but the one option that remains is Little Danny's Iconic Tonic: Mix your favorite booze with Oskey's revelatory handcrafted tonic. They make it look easy, but we know that this level of mix mastery is anything but. (378 Maria, St. Paul; 651.793.6247; Strip Club website)

1. Marvel Bar

Pip Hanson heads the bar at our No. 1 pick
Pip Hanson heads the bar at our No. 1 pick

The Dayton brothers' speakeasy changed the game when it opened. Bar manager Pip Hanson had already made a name for himself as the samurai of the local mixology scene. Chipping ice for each specific cocktail is like watching a sculptor at work. The entire bar staff carefully crafts each flavor, which acts as a building block to an entirely new drink experience. The drinks change often and sometimes challenge a drinker. This week they're working on the Gatsby, which never even touches ice; it's 14-year-old Scotch with a few dashes of apricot liqueur,  Benedictine, and salt blended with just a bit of distilled, chilled water. They accentuate the best of the craft cocktail movement, moving ever forward. (50 N. Second Ave, Minneapolis;612.206.3929. Marvel Bar website)

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