DJ Jake Rudh has a message for anyone who thinks the Twin Cities' grand-daddy museum -- the Minneapolis Institute of Arts -- is too stuffy.

"They need to check themselves," Rudh told me last Thursday night.

Consider myself checked. Instead of spending the night playing any old bar gig, the in-demand DJ was in the lobby of the MIA, mixing the soundtrack for the museum's monthly art party -- the aptly titled Third Thursday, where art, music and cocktails collide.

It was a good night to be partying among Van Goghs and Monets. The premiere of "Foot in the Door 4," a once-in-a-decade exhibit featuring the work of normal Minnesotans, drew more than 7,000 people to the museum. Like all Third Thursdays, it was free.

"It was insane, but insane in a great way," said Alex Bortolot, who took over programming for Third Thursday in November. Attendance usually hovers around 1,000 to 2,000 for the monthly party, but it can spike up for special events.

In the past few years, the addition of drinks and music has become a regular thing at museums as they try to attract a new generation of art lovers. The Walker Art Center's Target Free Thursday Nights are still going strong (and, once a month, go head-to-head with the MIA's shindig). On Friday, the Walker throws one of its occasional late-night opening parties from 9 p.m. to midnight, with music by Kill the Vultures and Soviet Panda. On April 3, the Weisman Art Museum's new late-night series, WAMplified!, presents Har Mar Superstar.

Last year, the MIA used grant money to research its changing demographics. Through surveys and focus groups, they found that more than half the people attending Third Thursday are between 21 and 45, and many are single. Bortolot, 32, said young people don't want the museum to simply educate them about art -- they want to hang out, have a drink and participate.

He's right. That said, here are five reasons to skip the bar on a Thursday night and check out the "stuffy" old MIA:

1. The music is seriously good. Last week, Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles rocked the third floor, while Jake Rudh held down the main lobby. Rudh said this isn't necessarily a down-and-dirty dance crowd, because "they feel like they need to be a little more proper, but if they hear their favorite tune you'll see a little head-tilt action." Next month, there will be a hip-hop DJ. In April, rocker Mark Mallman performs. In May, it's Hüsker Dü's Grant Hart.

2. There are drinks! Several cash bars are stationed throughout the museum, usually basking in a club-like neon glow. Each month, the bartenders serve up a signature cocktail, such as last week's Blue Suede Shoes martini (vodka, blue curaçao, Triple Sec and pineapple juice, with a cherry garnish). They also serve local beer, such as Summit.

3. It's singles heaven. While no one's calling it a meat market, Third Thursday attracts its share of well-dressed hotties (young and old). The museum is taking advantage of this: In June, it's bringing back "Romantic Rendezvous," in which people are encouraged to find their match through art.

4. Interactive shenanigans. In March, Tina Flewellyn and Hype Dance Troupe will perform and lead a hip-hop dance class. In July, the wildly popular Bike Night returns (more than 3,000 people attended in 2009), letting museum-goers explore our local bike subculture. In April, the MIA will start taking submissions for a T-shirt contest.

5. Don't forget the art. This is still a museum, after all. The much-hyped Louvre exhibition just ended (Michelangelo! Leonardo! Vermeer!). The Asian arts wing is one of the best in the country (check out the 17th-century Samurai armor, recently purchased for a record $602,500). Did I mention they have a Van Gogh? • 612-673-7909