For the past decade, classic cocktails have ruled.
Armed with shelves of bitters and ingredient lists longer than their handlebar mustaches, bartenders have churned out Manhattans and Old-Fashioneds with the seriousness of surgeons.
Now, they’re mixing it up.
On the heels of the classics craze that gave cocktailing a snobbish reputation, bars and restaurants around the Twin Cities and beyond are shrugging off the stiffness, digging into the pre-Sazerac past and shaking up something with a little more flair.
Using fresh, new-wave ingredients and contemporary techniques, bartenders are mimicking the fun, lighthearted and flat-out wacky libations of the 1980s and ’90s.
And while we’re not giving up our Negronis just yet, it seems that brightly colored, chuckle-inducing, retro-inspired drinks have made a comeback.
“Over the years, it’s kind of been regressing back toward more fun, lighthearted cocktails,” said Birk Stefan Grudem, co-owner of Hola Arepa in south Minneapolis. “Good drinks are everywhere now. People want that same level of cocktail but they want something more fun, a tropical oasis.”
Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge, Minneapolis’ resident tiki bar, has been slinging throwback Polynesian-inspired cocktails for years. Now more restaurants are jumping on board and expanding their drink menus with all things fun and fruity.
Hola’s bar, festooned with pineapples and succulent plants, churns out drinks sporting coconut, lime, mango and mole, but with a thoroughly modern twist: The coconut and mango take the form of bitters; mole is made into a syrup.
Hotel Ivy’s Constantine, meanwhile, features tiki drinks — served, of course, in tiki mugs — as well as a selection of drinks it calls “Resurrections,” which offer updates on the Cosmopolitan (they’re calling it the Lumber Sexual) and Sex on the Beach.
To remain successful, cocktail bars are always trying new things and attempting to stay ahead of the curve. (There was only so long customers would be content with Sazeracs every weekend, right?)
But bartenders say this latest trend also is an attempt to broaden the cocktailing audience, taking it from niche into the mainstream.
“The fun straws, the fun glassware, the retro-style drinks, it makes our jobs so much more fun to have fun with something so silly,” said Jesse Held, the bar director for Jester Concepts, which includes Constantine, Monello, Borough and Parlour. “But mostly it’s that people still like those drinks.
“And to incorporate all of our knowledge and the skill set and some cool ingredients to remake those old drinks in a more modern way for people, I think that’s a whole new door that can open.”
At Lawless Distilling, where the cocktails resemble activities as much as beverages, the menu boasts a version of hot buttered rum and a series of sippers that come in soda bottles, and mimic the taste of a soda.
“We live in Minnesota, right? People are definitely drinking soda in their cocktails,” co-owner Kristen Karnitz said with a laugh. “It just feels comfortable. We wanted something for everybody.”
Other bars are also serving up old favorites. St. Louis Park’s newbie, Punch Bowl Social, is betting on its namesake drink. Stewart’s in St. Paul offers a piña colada as well as a daiquiri. And the remade Lexington ventures into tiki territory, whipping up libations with names like Crocus Grog and Punch du Lex.
Call them retro, call them old school, it doesn’t matter. The bartenders who make them only hope you’ll call them delicious.
“I remember making grasshoppers and stuff like that back in the day when I broke into bartending,” Held said. “So to have fun with something you cut your teeth on 25 years ago and do it in your own way is kind of full circle.
“I started out making fuzzy navels and I’m going to finish making fuzzy navels.”