All wine enthusiasts have their favorite retail outlets, along with their own reasons for favoring them. Their views generally extend to the stores whose doors they never would darken, along with their reasons for avoiding them.
“That place [or neighborhood] doesn’t have anything for me” would be a typical assessment.
Well, these folks are missing out. Quite a few unassuming-on-the-outside spots actually have vinous offerings worth checking out. Turns out you can’t judge a store by its facade.
I recently checked out a bunch of locales that were modest in appearance and/or in off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods, but had plenty of offer even the dorkiest of cork dorks. I eliminated strong contenders that had “Wine” in the store name (sorry, BrightWines!).
The surprises were not only on the inside. Two such stores now boast spiffy, snazzy new exteriors, one in a semi-new locale.
Broadway Liquor Outlet (2220 W. Broadway, Mpls.) is across the street from the site where the May 2011 north Minneapolis tornado landed, leaving little but rubble in its wake. Owner Dean Rose decided to build a multipurpose facility across the street, which has the advantage of being on the right side of the street for afternoon commuters headed to Robbinsdale and Plymouth.
Dean not only designed the striking interior, with a Monte Carlo-like tower of liquor behind the counter; he also hand-picked every bottle in the ample fine-wine section. The offerings include not only a “5 for $35” section but terrific selected wines at higher price points.
Hum’s (2126 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.) also got a recent makeover in its Wedge location, now sporting a sleek, 21st-century look inside and out. That’s in stark contrast to the nearby Franklin Nicollet (2012 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.), which proudly wears its midcentury sign and structure. Both outlets are taking advantage of the broad spectrum of local importers/wholesalers, and both have handwritten “shelf talkers.”
Two other Mill City shops provide epiphanies of sorts behind humble exteriors. Falls Liquor (4604 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls.) is stocked with premium values in several price ranges and has an especially impressive selection of canned wines. Sentyrz Market (1612 NE. 2nd St., Mpls.) doesn’t even look like a wine/spirits emporium with good reason: It’s a grocery store, the only one in the state selling wine in aisles adjacent to the peanut butter and TP, thanks to being “grandfathered in” after Prohibition. The inventory delves deeply and deftly into smaller wineries, both domestic and overseas.
There’s also virtually nothing on the face of Yarmo (2489 W. 7th St., St. Paul) to indicate that a wine aficionado should head inside. The word “Liquors” is about three times bigger than “Yarmo,” and the windows are festooned with beer ads, save for a small sign reading, “We proudly carry Minnesota wines: Cannon River.” But dandy wine options fill the right side of the store, from well beyond the Gopher State.
An even better inventory awaits at the unassuming Scott’s (1464 St. Clair Av., St. Paul), where the phrase “Liquor Store” is about 10 times larger than the namesake. The array of sparkling wines inside is particularly worth celebrating.
It will be fascinating to see what the St. Paul Big Top can do to make its upcoming home look less like the Perkins restaurant it is replacing in the Midway Shopping Center (1544 W. University Av., St. Paul). But it’s a safe bet that the stockpile of wines in the relocated space forced by the new soccer stadium will remain the chain’s best and broadest.
Finally, no Twin Cities area merchant belies its frontage more than the plain-Jane suburban Liquor Barn (2067 Wayzata Blvd West, Long Lake). The “regular” section alone would make this a hidden gem, but it’s the humidor, packed with Bordeaux, Barolo, Burgundy and other coveted wines that seals the deal. Go west, young wine lover, go west. You will not be disappointed.