Cocktail creator Jon Olson tries to expand the liquor palate on Lake Minnetonka.
Weaning rum-loving Minnesotans off Captain Morgan is no small task. Especially at a suburban lakeside joint. But cocktail creator Jon Olson envisioned a back bar devoid of the ubiquitous cartoon captain at the new 6Smith in downtown Wayzata.
“I wanted to draw attention to things like Sailor Jerry that are using natural means for their flavoring, not extracts, artificial coloring,” said Olson, shaded under an umbrella on the steak-and-seafood restaurant’s ground-level patio.
The Wayzata native, whose bushy buccaneer’s beard puts the Captain’s to shame, has actually lifted the ban on the popular spiced rum since 6Smith opened in June. But expanding his hometown’s palate, one dash of absinthe at a time, remains Olson’s M.O.
“My goal here is to introduce things that maybe people aren’t accustomed to,” said the soon-to-be 26-year-old, who now lives in Minneapolis.
The trick is doing so without shoving it down anyone’s throat, and Olson, who honed his skills at Bradstreet Craftshouse and Icehouse before consulting on 6Smith’s menu, knows it. The new bar and restaurant in the former North Coast space doesn’t rival Minneapolis’ modern cocktail bars. But with Olson’s thoughtful approach to drinks, the restaurant’s bar program brings intriguing tipples to Lake Minnetonka, where highballs and dirty martinis reign.
“It’s been interesting as far as the clientele, finding that balance of drawing a line in the sand at a certain point, but being accommodating,” the upbeat barman said. “I don’t want to be that bartender who’s like, ‘No! You’re going to drink this, you’ll like it more,’ even though they don’t like it more.”
Olson’s expansive drinks menu is categorized by spirit with “old school” and “new school” subsections. Traditional cocktails such as a Manhattan and an astutely made Sazerac (with cognac, not rye whiskey) sit alongside less conventional drinks, including the absinthe-laced Fountain of Youth or the Hipster Tattoo made with Far North Spirits’ Ålander spiced rum, Amaro Montenegro, lemon juice, rose-petal syrup and soda. Our favorite, the Oh Dear God, is a robust tequila Old-Fashioned that finds earthy and herbal harmony between the agave spirit and a rhubarb-heavy amaro (a bittersweet Italian liqueur).
But for all Olson’s forward-thinking impulses, crowd-pleasers maligned by snootier barkeeps such as a dirty vodka martini and a country club classic Bootleg (adapted from his days working at Wayzata’s Spring Hill Golf Club) are offered guiltlessly.
“He had the opportunity to define his vision of a program and say, ‘That’s the way I want it done,’ ” said owner Randy Stanley, a former Parasole vet. “But he didn’t do that. He did what he thought was appropriate for the business first.”
In keeping with 6Smith’s artisanal angling (the name’s derived from the idea of a smith or blacksmith being an original craftsman), its menu is littered with products from small-batch distillers and bottlers, many of which Olson pushes during his full-time job as a Tradition Wine & Spirits sales rep. Even that dirty “DD” martini is made with Imbue’s Petal & Thorn — an Oregon-made boutique aperitif wine — in place of a standard dry vermouth. Elsewhere, craft gins from Leatherbee Distillers, It’s 5 Artisan Distillery and Minnesota’s Far North get the nod over big-name brands.
While Olson’s drinks still dot the menu at the Icehouse in south Minneapolis, 6Smith was his first shot at building a bar program from scratch. And he certainly wasn’t timid. The seven-week-old restaurant launched with an ambitious 36 cocktails on its menu (not counting dessert drinks) but the list has been slashed to 24. However, this week 6Smith launched a julep and punch menu available only on its lakefront rooftop bar — the restaurant’s most alluring feature. Try the sneakily poundable Sailor’s Julep, with a rich in-house orgeat.
There are some misfires (an un-aged rum gets lost in the grenadine-dominant Railway Rider), but Olson’s menu raises the bar for imbibing on Lake Minnetonka without alienating the area’s pontoon-cruising clientele.
“He’s an artist, but he understands commerce, too. It’s a rare combination,” said Stanley, pausing and glancing at Olson through his sunglasses. “We’re not going to pay you any more, though.”
Michael Rietmulder writes about bars, beer and nightlife.