Since when does it take an hour to get a seat at a neighborhood bar?
Such was the case the first two times I visited the Town Hall Tap. As the name suggests, the Tap is an offshoot of the Town Hall Brewery, which after 13 years in business at Seven Corners has earned its status as one of the top brewpubs in the Twin Cities.
A few months after opening, the Tap has cooled off ever so slightly. Still, the place is beckoning beer fans of all ages like some sudsy monolith in south Minneapolis (now it's just a 45-minute wait on weekends). After finally cramming my way into the bar, I'm impressed. Here are nine things to love about this instant classic at 48th and Chicago, plus one to hate, which I'll get out of the way right now -- the wait!
1. The century-old bar
If owner Pete Rifakes made a TV show, it would be called "Antiques Roadshow: The Bar Edition." This guy loves antiques more than your grandma. After deciding he wanted a vintage bar for the Tap he went to the best place for dusty old collectibles: the Internet. The 23-foot bar, which came from Bloomington, Ill., dates to the 1890s. Its dramatic arch and hand-carved columns give the whole place an old-school charm.2. Vintage beer signs
Using Craigslist and eBay, Rifakes has amassed a museum's worth of original beer signs that cover the walls. There's even a Grain Belt sign from the Prohibition Era. The most expensive is a Schmidt's neon that cost more than $2,000. "That wall turned out to be a lot more expensive than I anticipated," Rifakes said. "But now I'm addicted." Several of them, such as an oversized Leinenkugel's sign, are riddled with bullet holes. Manager Shelly Larson explained, "They're from Wisconsin."3. Beer flights
Head brewer Mike Hoops drives new kegs over from the brewery on a weekly basis. The best way to experience the brewery's full repertoire is to order a flight, which comes out on a nifty platter. Hoops has created a few beers especially for the Tap, including Marmalade Sky Pale Ale and Parkway Java Porter. Another flight option showcases the seasonals, including the honey-drenched Eye of the Storm (9 percent alcohol!).4. Bearded bartenders
On most nights you'll find the tag team of Josh George and Rolf Bruhn behind the bar. Or as I like to call them: The bearded bartenders. They're funny, gregarious and a bit loony. Everything you want from neighborhood beer slingers.5. The hidden treasures
Bet you didn't know a visit to the Tap was like going on a visual scavenger hunt, now did you? Behold: Take a close look at the vintage stained-glass partition next to the bar. Hidden in the design are outlines of Belgian beer glasses -- big selling points for Rifakes when he bought the turn-of-the-century pieces last year. Also: There are two 100-year-old "saloon gaming tables" in the dining room. They feature small hand-carved shelves that hang beneath each table -- good for holding your beer during a card game (or maybe during a Wild West shootout!).6. Two words: brie curds
When these upscale cheese curds (made with brie and priced at $8.50) arrive at your table your initial reaction will be: "Where's the rest of them?" While each order comes with only six curds, they are worth every gooey bite. More good news on the fried front: The pickles ($6.50 ) are stuffed with cream cheese, deep-fried and served with the same amazing blackberry jalapeño chutney that comes with the curds.7. Two more words: garage doors
OK, not a lot to say about the sidewalk patio yet (this week being Snowmageddon Part II and all). But with two big garage doors facing the street, the Tap will be a hot seat for drinking al fresco this summer.8. Burgers
With Matt's Bar and the 5-8 Club nearby (and don't forget Adrian's next door), the burger game on the South Side is rife with competition. With its juicy hand-pattied Angus, the Tap holds its own. It also isn't afraid of getting a bit esoteric (coming soon is the Cabin Burger, stuffed with wild rice, mushrooms and blue cheese).9. Masala Mama IPA
Twin Cities beer fans need no introduction to this beer. It's been the original brewpub's bestseller since time immemorial, and for good reason. But this is a new neighborhood, so let's gush a little, shall we? Masala Mama pours a golden brown amber color, like a fall sunset engulfing the sky. Light citrus notes prick your tongue, which leads to a piney freshness -- the hops are in effect. But it goes down smooth, dissipating beautifully. Your mouth sighs, awaiting another gulp. There isn't a finer introduction to the Town Hall Tap.
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