Until further notice, the bar of the summer of 2012 has been declared: Eat Street Social! I just love this place.
Here’s why: The drinks, the drinks, the drinks. Owners Joe Wagner and Sam Bonin had the good sense to hire Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz, who are sort of bartenders with benefits—they have deep roots in the Twin Cities, as Kosevich used to bartend at the late lamented Town Talk Diner (and Koplowitz used to work at Chicago’s legendary Violet Hour). The two went on to found the artisanal bitters company Bittercube in Madison, Wisc., and they also work as bar-consultants, developing restaurants’ bar programs, consulting on bar design, and so forth. Because of this relationship, Bittercube helped Wagner and Bonin design the bar-of-their-dreams, with a super-charged soda-water dispenser and a basement kitchen for machinations such as breaking down enormous blocks of ice and cooking things such as house tonic, as in gin-and-tonic. (Eat Street’s tonic starts with real cinchona bark, the natural source of quinine, which in its whole state adds other elements to mere tonic water.)
What does this mean to the average drinker? Something fantastic. The Queen Charlotte is something like a lemon-drop, yet something much more delicate and wonderful—it’s layered with fresh lemon and lemon liqueur, perked with house-made grapefruit decoctions, and given a subtle perfume with violets. Each sip is like something in a flower garden in Italy maybe a hundred years ago. Their variation on the Old Fashioned, called Of the Older Fashion, is even better, made with Old Weller Antique Bourbon, Bittercube’s own bitters, and Muscovado syrup. It’s intense and robust, fragrant and deep; it’s an old fashioned super charged and bathed in black light. There aren’t better cocktails in Minneapolis right now. And their non-alcoholic, Americana-evoking fountain drinks, such as their Green River Phosphate (lime) or Raspberry Rickey, are historic.
But that’s not all. In addition to the drinks, Eat Street Social has the ambience, the ambience, the ambience. Similar to Wagner and Bonin’s first effort, Northeast Social, they have created a space that feels exactly like it has been a classic American bar for 100 years with dark wood everywhere, high ceilings, tile, and an all over feeling of just-right urbanity.
So what about the food? Not bad! I’ve eaten widely from Eat Street’s menu, and while I never found anything that had a “You gotta try this, it’s awesome!” wonder to it, I found a menu that was pretty darn solid. Tops? Anything from the pantheon of Midwestern supper-club classics: the nicely charred burger, the grilled sirloin, the good thin fries, the beautifully crispy and salty whole pan-seared poussin (that’s a small chicken, to you and me.) Not quite there? Anything seafood: the truly generic calamari, scallops that were past-prime, and perfectly adequate mussels. I predict this will be one of those restaurants that sell mostly burgers, and in the end the owners will think, “People just want burgers,” when in truth, the dish is the sweet spot of what the kitchen pulls off well.
So now the big question: For your culinary cocktails of right this second, do you go to The Bachelor Farmer or Eat Street Social? Of course, the answer is both! Every cocktail lover should experience Pip Hanson’s magic at The Bachelor Farmer, but it has a see-and-be-seen destination quality to it. Sometimes you don’t want to see or be seen! Eat Street has a come-in-your flip-flops relaxed quality that’s hard to resist, and the Bittercube folks have engineered a bunch of systems that allow them to serve their super-fancy-deluxe-awesome drinks without your having to wait a super-fancy-deluxe-awesome amount of time. For instance, they have a day prep bartender who spends his time doing things such as making big batches of the cocktails, and then decanting them into small apothecary jars, so service isn’t particularly slower than it is at the average corner bar that only makes gin and tonics out of the soda gun.
18 W. 26th St., Mpls., 612-767-6850, eatstreetsocial.com