509 1st Av. NE., Mpls. 612-767-7766.

The room: With its old warehouse-brick walls, vintage beer-can collection and deer antlers overhead -- plus crimson carpeting and paint galore -- the Red Stag feels like a cross between a cool finished basement from the '60s and a men's smoking club (without the cigars, of course). At night, candles provide most of the light, along with a small disco ball. There's ample bar and table seating for stretching out and having a conversation.

The music: Thanks to its musical sister joints Barbette and Bryant-Lake Bowl and its namesake block party, the Red Stag has drawn many well-known local buzz acts since it opened last year, from acoustic-leaning rock acts the Wars of 1812 and Romantica to rootsy folk and blues acts like Bill Geezy (playing there March 22) and Nikki & the Ruemates, to mellower incarnations of otherwise high-volume bands like Black Blondie (Thursday) and Faux Jean. Music usually starts at 10 p.m. Never a cover.

The menu: Late nights feature a lighter version of the organic and locally grown menu, with hoity-toity cheese plates or lowbrow cheese curds, plus calamari, duck terrine, something called a Meatloaf Grinder and flourless chocolate cake. The bar serves 16 tap beers and 19 wines by the glass, offered at happy-hour prices Mondays-Thursdays after 10 p.m.


5411 Penn Av. S., Mpls. 612-822-5411.

The room: Also steeped in red paint, this neighborhood bistro feels cozy both in location and size. The walls are lined with cushioned booth-seats that face into the room, and most of the tables are (tellingly) for two.

The music: Maude's bookings veer toward the two E's: experimental and eclectic. And sometimes electronic. Performers this month include improv jazz vets Fat Kid Wednesdays (today), circuit-bending noisemaker Foodteam (Saturday) and instrumentalists Spaghetti Western String Co. (March 20-21). Electronic wiz Howard W. Hamilton III (ex-Busy Signals) also performs every Tuesday and Thursday. Music usually starts at 10 p.m. Never a cover.

The menu: Its many small-plate options -- from baked escargot to various baked flatbreads to Maude's Mac N' Cheese -- are great for late-night, or go ahead and gorge on a braised beef shortrib. The drink menu is loaded with cocktail and martini options, plus 19 wines by the glass.

318 CAFE

318 Water St., Excelsior. 952-401-7902.

The room: Smaller is often better in live-music venues -- and in the cafe biz for that matter. This just-off-main-street eatery near Lake Minnetonka uses its petite size to great effect, with rows of wood tables cozily lined up toward the "stage" (really, there isn't one) and a tasteful lake-cabin decor that adds up to one warm little nightspot.

The music: The 318 is a bright spot among the burbs' drab cover-band live music offerings, attracting top acoustic acts ranging from singer/songwriters like Alison Scott (tonight), Storyhill's John Hermanson and the Dollys' Joanna Jahn (both on Saturday) and Becky Schlegel to guitar maestros such as Billy McLaughlin (April 3) and Reynold Philipsek (April 11). Showtime is usually 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, and cover typically varies from $5 to $12.

The menu: Nightly offerings include an apple, bacon and gorgonzola pizza, chorizo and potato tacos, salad Nicoise or cheese plates, with 15-plus wines by the glass and a dozen bottled microbrew beers.


329 Cedar Av. S., Mpls. 612-874-8702.

The room: Housed in the former Riverside Cafe location, catty corner from the 400 Bar, the Acadia's big windows open up on the whirring crossroads of Cedar and Riverside Avenues. Inside: yet more red paint, with a mix of booths and tables wrapped around a long bar under a decor that's part Greenwich Village bohemia, part beer pub.

The music: Essentially anything -- except cover songs (that's actually a house policy). This month's calendar includes the KFAI's Roots Saturday gig with Sawtooth Bluegrass Band (this Saturday), Americana tunesmith Erik Brandt (March 20), the DEMO emerging-songwriter series (every other Thursday) and, for the first anniversary bash, one of several Acadia employees' groups: gospel-ized rock act A Night in the Box (March 28). 8 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 9 p.m. weekends. Never a cover except for the $5 DEMO shows.

The menu: Sandwiches galore, from a variety of burgers to several vegetarian options, plus breakfast all day and five different salads. Happy-hour prices on the 27 tap beers and wine after 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday.