While drinking never gets old, where we do it changed a bit in 2007.

When you look at this year's best new bars, nightclubs didn't dominate as they have in the past. While two newbies stayed busy, the club scene as a whole sagged, according to some club owners. Oversaturation, anyone?

But that's where the year's surprises come in -- and there were several. First off, the gay bar scene, which had seen several closings in the past couple years, was rejuvenated with three new spots. In south Minneapolis, several busy bistros did a good job of keeping the neighborhoods awake on weekends. And in downtown Minneapolis, we saw a new wave of party bars -- those big, beer-swilling joints that run in opposition to VIP nightclubs.

Before we get to this year's crop of great rookies, let's toast two downtown spots for hitting milestones. The Loon Cafe and the Fine Line, both central to the entertainment district's creation, turned 25 and 20, respectively. And since we're getting all nostalgic, how can I fail to mention that a new heavy hitter, Epic, is emerging where the now-defunct Quest once ruled. But with no concert schedule released yet, its impact on downtown remains to be seen.

The following places, however, spent their debut year staking a claim on the Twin Cities nightlife scene.

10 new bars that matter:

AQUA

It played nicely to the scene's mainstream tastes with a big dance floor, lots of VIP room and Top 40 club music. Celebs dig it, too: Timbaland and Fabolous partied there recently and celeb-dater DJ AM was a hit in November.

400 1st Av. N., Mpls. 612-232-3232. www.aquampls.com

ENVY

This slick nightclub was the next step for owner Deepak Nath, who already had a popular club with Fahrenheit. He closed that place, moved down a block and upped his game with a spot that's bigger, sexier and has better bathrooms.

400 1st Av. N., Mpls. 612-338-2222. www.envympls.com

The Loop

No one expected nightclub-like lines to be snaking out of this casual bar in the condo-heavy North Loop. Now its owners want more. Come February, their version of a party bar/restaurant will open in the vacated Old Chicago space on 1st Avenue.

606 Washington Av. N., Suite 100, Mpls. 612-340-0010. www.theloopmpls.com

CAFE MAUDE

Neighborhood nightlife heated up in south Minneapolis this summer when this bistro opened with a mix of boho-artiness and fine dining (plus drinks by guru Johnny Michaels). Six months later, you still need a reservation at dinnertime. Late nights are good, too, with jazz and world music on weekends. To accommodate larger groups, the owner plans a sister space across the street called "Maude Too" for April.

5411 Penn Av. S., Mpls. 612-822-5411. www.cafemaude.com

PI BAR AND RESTAURANT

This lesbian bar filled a void left by the closing of two like-minded hangouts. The space in Minneapolis' Seward neighborhood houses a restaurant, nightclub and art gallery.

2532 25th Av. S., Mpls. 612-877-4368. www.pibarandrestaurant.com

CAMP

St. Paul got new blood when two gay bars opened downtown. While Innuendo is nice, Camp is beautiful. It recently expanded into the space next door and outfitted a mezzanine for its coming VIP bottle service.

490 N. Robert St., St. Paul. 651-292-1844. www.camp-bar.com

SOUNDBAR

Club maestro Johann Sfaellos returned with an intimate nightclub that features an Omnitheater-like dance room, a roving violinist and house music. It's a bit different, but worth a look.

414 3rd Av. N., Mpls. 612-333-0363. www.414soundbar.com

Restaurant Miami

What a ride it's been for this '80s haven, where "Scarface" ridiculousness meets "Miami Vice" cheese. After opening with a bang, business tapered off during Lake Street reconstruction. Now, with a 2 a.m. license (it used to close at midnight), the place is making a comeback.

913 W. Lake St., Mpls. 612-823-1985. www.restaurantmiami.us

BANK

Yep, it's a hotel bar. But with its sweeping 34-foot ceilings, you can get dizzy even without one of its fine cocktails.

88 S. 6th St., Mpls. 612-656-3255. www.bankmpls.com

Sneaky Pete's

Downtown loves party bars, and this rookie knows how to do it. Ain't nothing wrong with ladies dancing on the bar, pouring shots, right?

14 N. 5th St., Mpls. 612-333-8820.


These two debuted in late '06 but ruled in '07: BOOTLEGGERS

The concept is simple: cover band, no glitz, lots of beer. Now its owners want to make it a chain. A second Bootleggers is expected to open next summer in Milwaukee.

323 1st Av. N., Mpls. 612-338-4555. www.bootleggersmpls.com

THE BULLDOG N.E.

What a year it's been for this beer pub -- and let's not even talk about the chef-squirting-mustard incident. The second Bulldog helped make East Hennepin a destination for beer geeks. Now its owners want to open another.

401 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls. 612-378-2855. www.thebulldogmpls.com

Gone but not forgotten:

These notable clubs bowed out this year: Escape, Nochee, Trikkx, the Rush and downtown's Old Chicago. Rest in peace, y'all.

thorgen@startribune.com • 612-673-7909