No, it's not just Muddy Waters with beer.
The relocated version of this grungy south Minneapolis coffee shop -- now near Lake and Lyndale, five blocks from its old haunt -- is something else entirely.
Don't get me wrong, it's still the punk-rock version of "Cheers." Everyone still knows your name (if you have the right number of tattoos and piercings). But I spotted enough Uptown yuppies and even some septuagenarian theater-goers (on their way to the nearby Jungle Theater) to realize that the buzz surrounding this place is spreading like spilled coffee.
And for good reason. While it's probably too early to make grandiose statements about a spot that's been open for only three weeks, I'll just go ahead and do it. Muddy Waters -- or rather, Muddy Waters Bar & Eatery -- is one of the year's best new bars.
For owners Sarah Schrantz and Danielle DePietto, the move came out of necessity. Last August, Schrantz said, their landlord at 24th and Lyndale said rent would rise 66 percent. So they packed up with plans to relocate and tweak the concept. Only problem: The regulars at Muddy Waters want their Muddy Waters.
"We painted the walls once at the old place, and people freaked out," Schrantz said.
Chances are the new place will have you freaking out in a good way. Whether you're a 7 a.m. black coffee drinker or a late-night craft-beer nerd, here are five things you should know about the reinvented Muddy Waters.
1. The owners' new partner has a beer belly.
"They found me under a bridge, drinking out of a paper bag," joked Paddy Whelan. To manage this new undertaking, Schrantz and DePietto needed a bar-business veteran. They found it in Whelan, who had been a Turf Club bartender and a longtime delivery man for Surly Brewing. A more appropriate title for him might be "ecstatic beer ambassador." In fact, he still wears his navy Surly work shirt at the bar.
Whelan has outfitted the joint with a smart list of 30 tap beers -- seven of which are dedicated to Surly. He had a beer-release party with Deschutes this week and is planning more. (And don't overlook the scotch and whiskey selection.) Whelan said his family sometimes asks him if he thinks he'll be a bartender all his life. His answer: "I sure hope so."
2. Mussels, anyone?
"We did everything at the old Muddy Waters with a microwave and a toaster oven," Schrantz said of her previous food options. The new kitchen is being overseen by Scott Hurlbut, formerly of the Uptown Bar. I'd call his menu American gastropub; he preferred "weird and laid-back."
One thing's for sure, it will surprise you, both for its variety and affordability. On the high end there is a Surly Bender braised pot roast ($16), while steamed mussels are $11. On the low end, you'll want to check out the killer fennel-kraut hot dogs (two for $5.25!). The Brooklyn lager battered fish tacos ($7) are another good late-night snack. A must: the yucca fries ($4.50), which come with avocado and chimichurri.
3. Reclaimed barn wood goes a long way.
The space was basically a big garage used to store fancy furniture from the Jon English salon. A complete build-out produced a beautiful interior with a long bar and snug booths carved from recycled barn wood. A cozy patio is nestled between the building and the neighboring Lyndale Tap House. It's prime real estate this summer, but if you're not a smoker the intimate setting can sometimes feel like a smoke chamber.
4. A who's who of Twin Cities musicians, here to serve you.
The old Muddy Waters was a magnet for musicians, and that hasn't changed. At the new spot, Billy Morrisette (Dillinger Four) manages, Kat Naden (God Damn Doo Wop Band) controls the coffee counter, while Christy Hunt (Pink Mink), Kyle Smith (Cecil Otter from Doomtree) and Lori Barbero (Babes in Toyland) dish out food and drinks. Makes me wonder: When are we going to hear "Muddy Waters: The Album"?
5. Have no fear, this is still a coffee shop.
Muddy Waters already has cultivated a late-night bar crowd (it serves food till 2 a.m.). But the small coffee bar (across from the real bar) isn't just for looks. The in-house bakery churns out a wide assortment of morning snacks, including a devastatingly sweet maple muffin with bacon baked into the middle. The java, sourced from B&W Specialty Coffee, tastes a little different, too. They ditched the old coffee machine (which might have been 20 years old) for the "race car of espresso makers." The new one, Schrantz said, "has a lot less built-in flavor."
The rest of Muddy Waters seems just as fresh. But don't worry -- its built-in flavor isn't going anywhere.
- Twitter: @tomhorgen