My favorite cocktail-bar experiences often start with an adventurous bartender willing to create a brand new drink on the spot. While this can sometimes be a recipe for disaster, nothing tastes better when it works -- and you're left with a spontaneous masterpiece.
Marvel Bar is trying to bottle that experience by turning Sunday nights into a menu-less playground for its staff. Owners Andrew and Eric Dayton are unofficially calling it "improv night." This is a chance for Marvel's bartenders to give customers a more personal experience (something lacking during uber-packed Friday and Saturday nights). Start by chatting with your bartender about your flavor profile. Do you want something sweet? Sour? Hate gin? Love vodka? They'll come up with something in the $10 range, risk-free (they'll make you another if you absolutely hate it). Of course, you can still get a menu if you really want one.
This isn't the only new amusement happening at the North Loop bar, which opened nine months ago. Bartender Pip Hanson has started a punch program that's available on weekdays. Stop right there if the word "punch" brings you back to your boozy college days when you got drunk off a vat of cheap rum and soggy fruit. Punch actually has a storied history in cocktail culture and is enjoying a comeback in the bar scenes of New York and Chicago.
A lot more goes into brewing "craft" punch. For instance, Hanson might start one of his punch recipes with an oleo-saccharum (sugared oil that comes from zesting and mashing lemons, and some boiling). The special ingredient in this week's punch was dark rose tea from China's Hunan province. His team debuts a new concoction each Monday until it runs out. You can order a $5 glass or a $40 bowl for the whole table, which comes with frozen glasses and your own ladle.
One more Hanson revelation: The bartender has created "day drinks" to accompany the brunch menu upstairs at the Bachelor Farmer. Highlights include the Breakfast Whiskey (bourbon, smoked maple syrup and bitter), Caraway Shandy (a beer/lemonade concoction made with aquavit) and a bourbon coffee flip cocktail simply called Coffee Flip (made with espresso and a whole egg). Now if Bachelor Farmer could only do the reverse and offer some food down in Marvel Bar ...GET SCHOOLED IN BEER
How would you rate your beer IQ? If you're still drinking at a grade-school level (but hopefully not actually in grade school), the Better Beer Society is here to help. These beer educators are holding their second Brown Bag Blind Tasting event on Saturday. The theme is "Summer Session: Backyard BBQ Beers." The crew couldn't have picked a better place to hold the party: Butcher & the Boar. Held in the restaurant's huge beer garden, the tasting fest aims to showcase beer pairing techniques that can be applied at home.
The $45 ticket includes several things. First, it gets you a hand-cured, beer-inspired sausage created by chef Jack Riebel, a side dish and a pint of a special beer. Throughout the day, you'll also be given 4-ounce blind pours (10 total). You'll be encouraged to take notes and guess the beer styles. The person with the most correct answers will receive a prize package (the winner of January's blind tasting event won free beer for a year).
11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. 1121 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. $45. 612-238-8888. www.betterbeersociety.com.LITTLE T'S GETS A LIQUOR LICENSE
Everyone's favorite late-night Tex-Mex fix is inching closer to reopening. Little Tijuana in south Minneapolis received city approval last week for a full liquor license. While the greasy spoon menu is expected to stay the same, the owners are renovating the interior to include a new bar. No word yet on an opening date.
17 E. 26th St., Mpls. www.littletjs.com.