Happy Hideaways

Escape the stress of the season with a good book, a good friend, or just some good light.

WORDS BY TAYLOR CARIK, KATIE DOHMAN, AND SAMANTHA SENCER-MURA

Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo perhaps never sang truer words than anyone’s ever sung when they recorded the Cheers theme song: “Making your way in the world today/Takes everything you’ve got/Taking a break from all your worries/ Sure would help a lot/Wouldn’t you like to get away?” Yeah. Yeah, we would. For a blessed relief from naughty-or-nice lists, holiday seating-chart minefields, inboxes overflowing with requests to squeeze in one more task or order one more gift, we present the humble bar: The place where you can go where everybody knows your name—or not. Pick your poison and drink it down, crack the spine of a book, hear a great local band, flirt with a bartender or a seatmate. A great cocktail menu or tap list, small plate snack, eavesdropping or gripping plot can turn the holiday season from hell to handle-able. It’s our Rx to escape from the everyday and refuel for your return. Here are a few of our favorite such hidey-holes. 

*White Squirrel 

We’re going to let you in on a little secret—Jarret and Dani Oulman made one of the best little bars in Minnesota on West 7th: The White Squirrel Bar is a fantastic neighborhood joint that draws actual neighborhood regulars alongside people from across the river, who mercifully realize they should leave passport jokes at home. I’ve noticed from my own favorite secret little perches on the patio and in the bar, where I frequently, blissfully tap away on my laptop (from which I have truly broken word-count speed records here and gotten this very publication out under the wire) that everyone always steps through the door, then looks around, with the clear expectation they might run into someone they know. That’s because the atmosphere is 100 percent like a special secret hideout, without being cliquey. Free music every night from a solid lineup of local bands feels like true arts community. We’re only telling you all this in good faith that you won’t steal our spot. Thanks.  —KD

Mort’s 
Live music is as strong as ever, thanks in large part to the clubside bar at Mort’s. Through a side door off the hardcore dive main bar and up some stairs, the cozy corner feels like a private party no matter which band is on the schedule. But don’t let the stained glass and posh chairs mislead you—there’s still a lot of whiskey and rock’n’roll. —TC

Constantine

What do you do in the shadows? The vampiric basement of Constantine makes for the perfect setting to embrace both the darkness (weather-wise or personality-wise) and a top shelf cocktail. A perfect place to hide out—and to also discover the area’s up-and-coming sound selectors at its well-programmed DJ nights. —TC

Spot Bar

It’s a wood-paneled bar that also surprises with the big fancy ice cube for whiskey pours. It’s supposedly the oldest bar in Minnesota, so we know if the walls could talk there’d be some STORIES. Instead you can slide into a booth or pony up to the bar and let darts players and TouchTunes fade into a magical white noise as you get lost in the pages. Never change. —KD

*W.A. Frost 

Fancy but not snooty, W.A. Frost delivers big time on stylish ambiance in a turn-of-the-century building in charming Cathedral Hill. In the summer: Perhaps consider a Pimm’s Cup under string lights on the best patio in town with your beachy paperback; in the winter, pros in the know head downstairs to the darkly lit basement to devour Frost fries with pineapple ketchup and sri racha mayo and one of the best Manhattans in town. Score a spot near the crackling fireplace to complement a big, heavy pageturner. Just don’t drift off to sleep, even if it feels like your own personal fancy library at home, and you’re all set.  —KD

*Bull’s Horn

Oh Bull’s Horn! How do we love thee? Let us count the ways. We love that when acclaimed chef Doug Flicker and his wife took over the Sunrise Inn, they transformed one of the Cities’ absolute worst bars into one of the best. The execution of their vision for a WI-style townie bar has been a bullseye from the wood panels to meat raffles Wednesdays to square tables to pull tabs to fish-fry Fridays. But it’s the details that elevate Bulls Horn to beloved status—the fried chicken bucket can fit on any best-of food lists, the décor includes a framed picture of Prince prominently behind the bar, some of the best service in the TC, Flicker himself running out a flattop burger with his homemade American cheese. We love its lack of pretense, we love its uniqueness as a run-of-the-mill dive bar, we love that it’s a destination for neighbors as much as suburban sports fans. We just love it. —TC

*Gluek’s

Whenever there’s a discussion on the status of downtown Minneapolis —if it’s alive or not, how its longtime leadership continues to fail us—there are arguments to be made for the urban core, including Gluek’s. The long-standing barn was one of the city’s first and remains one of the Twin Cities’ most reliable. Brewer Gottlieb Gluek arrived in Minneapolis from his native Germany and by 1857, he established the Mississippi Brewery in NE, later changed the name to the Gluek Brewing Company, and moved downtown by 1905. Vegan friendly? Not at all, but nothing goes better with a yard of beer and beer-hall taxidermy than a schnitzel with a little flag. It’s big enough that you can almost always get a table, even on busy game days, and on days that it’s not packed it seems like almost a secret spot hideout. —TC

Monte Carlo

Just saying you’re going to the Monte Carlo feels glamorous, sort of like the place your parents’ most fancy friend with her mink and beaded cigarette case would show up. And then you step inside the 1906 supper club: A shotgun featuring a mirrored wall of elixirs, a copper-topped bar, snuggly burgundy booths, tables with white tablecloths. Next stop the cocktail menu, which is a who’s-who of classic-cool cocktails that make you feel like an actual grown-up, not an imposter, when you order: Sazerac, French 75, Aperol Spritz, or even a Pink Squirrel.  —KD


Dark Horse 

Like its namesake, this underrated St. Paul 7th Street bar and restaurant has gotten better with time without dangerous over-hype: A solid menu with fancy pizza, burgers, or wings, a whiskey selection that’ll put you under the table, sexy light that improves your self-esteem, live music, great eavesdropping potential, no attitude of shame around your bar-reading habit: Could one truly ask for more? Not really. —KD

Bungalow Club 

Stop on a Sunday for this Longfellow “pasta n’ trap” night and sneak into the corner spot at the bar with a good book. You might be too distracted by the trap music to read, but the cacio e pepe and a seasonal cocktail are worth it. Bungalow Club opened in 2018 and has been a consistent neighborhood favorite, if a bit underrated. The menu is rotating, the bartenders are friendly, and the vibes are classy, but not intimidating. The patio in the summer is perfection, and dinner goes best with a dip cone from DQ down the street for dessert. —SS-M

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