If Carrie Bradshaw taught us anything, it's that women aren't just drinking white wine anymore. It's not just cosmopolitans, either.
On a Friday night at the Loop in the Warehouse District, you'd be hard-pressed to find a booth full of ladies without a table full of martinis. Shelly Fern, a 40-year-old physical therapist from St. Paul, was sipping a grape martini there, flanked by a half-dozen girlfriends holding colorful cocktails.
"I think we have more of a refined taste," she said. "Beer just really doesn't taste all that good. With liquor, you don't feel bloated. And with the top-shelf stuff, you don't get a bad hangover."
Hard-liquor sales are on the rise, and women are a large part of the mix. Thirty percent of women drink cocktails primarily, compared with just 14 percent of men, according to a consumer survey. And yes, bar owners do credit "Sex and the City" for the shift in tastes, along with the ascendance of more sophisticated drinks.
The Twin Cities is home to a plethora of restaurants recognized for their extensive cocktail menus -- and women are their biggest fans. At Solera, drinks get the gourmet treatment. Take the Chupacabra ("goat sucker"), a mix of black cherry vodka, white cranberry juice, dried cherries, black pepper and goat cheese. Yes, goat cheese.
On a recent night at Solera, a table full of women had martinis lined up in front of them -- including a Chupacabra that Leah Hood, 24, of Minneapolis, was just finishing off. Two goat cheese balls floated in the bottom of her glass.
"I thought it was neat, but there were a couple other people at the table that thought it was a little gross," she said.
At the Town Talk Diner, the south Minneapolis spot that has led the "creative drink" movement, co-owner Aaron Johnson recognizes that for many women, "it's more about the flavor and experiencing something."
Barbara Gates Schaben, 34, sat at the bar looking over the cocktail list. This night, she chose the Cranberry Manhattan. "I'm crazy about cranberries," she said. "And this tastes just like real cranberries."
But while flavor may be the draw for many women, for some it's the buzz. On a Saturday night at Solera, Loraine Navales, 23, and her friend Channy So were getting started on a night of clubbing. In the clubs, they said, it's all about mixed drinks. (Their favorite: cranberry juice spiked with vodka.) "You get drunk faster," said Navales.
That attitude worries Jay Jaffee, chemical health coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Health. Traditionally, men have drunk more than women, but now "equity is coming into play, and maybe that's not a good thing," Jaffee said -- especially since women generally have a lower threshold for intoxication.
Solera recently added a list of cocktails that contain less alcohol, but still pop with the same flavor. These "soft drinks," as they've been dubbed, were introduced by mixologist Johnny Michaels at La Belle Vie, an upscale restaurant run by Solera's owners. "It's for people who want the fun and pleasure of trying new drinks, but at the same time might not have a high tolerance," he said.
At Town Talk, two women sat down and began inspecting the list of "adult malts" -- dessert drinks mixed with booze. The duo, Madison McCalley and Ona Keller, both 21, said they were just starting out in the bar scene. McCalley said she can get a normal malt anywhere, but they came to Town Talk this night for a special treat -- one with a kick.
"It's an added bonus," Keller said.