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St. Paul's Top 10 Cocktail Bars

Never fail to impress
Never fail to impress
photo by Adrian Schramm

While St. Paul's bars have long had a focus on beer, the craft cocktail craze has recently found root in the capital city as well. A good drink can be as complex, layered, and satisfyingly delicious as a good meal, and a night out at the bar can mean new and exciting things if you go to the right place. Gone are the days when sorry gin and tonics and watery rum and cokes were the status quo; we live in an age of quality bartenders making quality drinks for the quality people of St. Paul.

The weekend calls, and usually a lot sooner than Friday. Grab a cocktail after work or before bed at any of the city's top 10 cocktail bars.

10.) Señor Wong

A place that used to feature giant fishbowl drinks, like the lethal Donkey Punch, has refined its cocktail list and now offers classy sippers like The Distinguished Gentleman, a drink worthy of Don Draper, as well as Caipirinhas, classic margaritas, and plenty of sake. The Latin-Asian fusion concept makes for sweet, spicy, and all-around memorable drinks in downtown St. Paul, and bartenders Eric and Ryan will always make them right.

9.) Amsterdam Bar and Hall

Rock n Roll and excellent cocktails go hand in hand at this downtown nightclub. The Windhound, for example, is an incredible mix of gin, grapefruit juice, basil and black pepper. Amsterdam features the largest selection of gin in the city, and many of the cocktails are gin-based. If you're not a fan of gin, however, don't fret: when the night gets rowdy and the music is playing loud, try one of the many different Boilermakers, like a Dutch Car Bomb, for a true rockstar evening.

8.) Louis Ristorante and Bar

Italian classics like the Negronis and Bellinis are joined by seasonal creations; plenty of hot drinks for cold winter days and light, refreshers for summer. The Louis bartenders also put their own spin on classics, like a Louis Cosmo, or Porto Manhattan. The beautiful bar is a great place to drink with friends, but, during warm weather months, there's no place better to kick back with a cocktail than on Louis' rooftop patio.

7.) W.A. Frost

This beautiful restaurant can be credited with Cathedral Hill's ascension into destination neighborhood. Great food? Yes. Elegant bar with excellent bartenders waiting to mix up whatever you desire? Yes and yes. Head down to the cozy, still sexy basement lounge with anything from the cocktail list and kick back for a classy night of drinking on the Hill.

6.) Saint Paul Grill

Nothing classier than sitting at the sleek wooden bar with the spirit, and portrait, of F. Scott Fitzgerald looking over you. His drink of choice was a Gin Rickey, and the veteran bartenders will mix that, and every other classic cocktail, to perfection. While more famous as a premier scotch bar (you can even join the Scotch Club), and any aficionado can attest that the scotch list is second to none, the cocktails at Saint Paul Grill deserve a place of their own in downtown's burgeoning bar scene.

5.) Moscow on the Hill

Vodka cocktails have never gotten better treatment than at Moscow on the Hill. From classic, like the Bond (vodka martini, of course), to decadent, like the Iron Curtain (house chocolate and vanilla vodkas with Creme de Cacao), Moscow has something for everyone. Happy Hour is an excellent time to try something new, when shots of the house infused vodkas (Garlic&Dill, Tiramisu, Cilantro, Ginger...) are only $3, and all of the cocktails except Signature Martinis are $5.

4.) Ward 6

Redefining the St. Paul pub, Ward 6 is the perfect blend of casual and sophisticated. The cocktails reflect the from-scratch cocktail craze while staying true to the surrounding blue collar neighborhood; no overpriced drinks here, just quality sippers like the Milagro Margarita, made with house infused habanero-lemon tequila. Various adult milkshakes add a playful touch to a night of drinking, and memorable hot cocktails promise to get us through those unbearably cold winter days.

3.) Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market

Known for being one of the best restaurants in town, the craft cocktails at Heartland reflect the same commitment to local ingredients and quality product as the food. A good night out can be defined by the drinks as much as dinner, and Heartland scores a perfect ten on both. The Beet Negroni, for example, is everything you'd want to accompany one of the fixed price menus. All of the cocktails are an even $10, and while there is no happy hour, you'll never be disappointed by the skills of the Heartland bartenders.

2.) Meritage

The elegance that defines this downtown restaurant’s ambiance and food is not lost on the drink list. The vibrant, layered flavors of Meritage's craft cocktails are merveilleux, and the presentation is worthy of Louis X1V. For a touch of 19th century Paris, a glowing glass of absinthe at the bar will put you right in the middle of Montmartre. But then you'll look out the window and see the towering Landmark Center, the beautiful St. Paul Hotel, the glittering lights of Rice Park and realize that you're still in downtown St. Paul. And that, too is merveilleux.

1.) The Strip Club

There’s simply no place better for a well-crafted cocktail. The cocktail menu is highly creative; each drink a perfect blend of flavor and texture, including the brilliant kegged cocktails you get from the tap. But honestly, you can sit at the bar and tell the bartenders what kind of mood you're in and the perfect drink will magically appear in front of you. Bartender Dan Oskey's bitters and other house made ingredients make for the most original drinks in town, and while you can get many of the ingredients from Easy and Oskey, Oskey's company, you really have to go to the Strip Club for the full experience.

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