Doom and gloom is the status du jour of the Twin Cities nightlife scene, where once-mighty hot spots are dropping like flies. (Bellanotte bit the dust last week.)
But new joints are opening as quickly as others close.
This past weekend, I checked out three of the scene's newest additions.
Their market niches couldn't be more different. One is a raging cowboy bar with very few cowboys. Another is a Minneapolis ultra lounge with a mind for mixology. The third is a big-name restaurant pegged as the latest savior of downtown St. Paul.
Let's see what all the fuss is about.
BARRIO ST. PAUL
The spot: The sequel to one of Minneapolis' busiest bars has landed in downtown St. Paul (right next to the Bulldog). The room is a stunner, with a giant bull sculpture, a wall of luchador masks and a lot of tequila.
We liked: Unlike its skinny predecessor, this Barrio doesn't feel like a sardine can on busy nights. The layout is open and there's even a dance floor (a rarity in St. Paul).
Needs work: No fault of Barrio, but this St. Paul crowd could use some dance lessons. Or maybe we'll just blame the bad booty dancing on the tequila.
Drink this: There are 100-plus high-end tequila shots to choose from. If you're scared of shots, try one of cocktail consultant Johnny Michaels' concoctions, such as the "Enter the Dragon" (passion-fruit margarita with muddled pepper and cava).
Eat this: The Mexican street food pairs nicely with the drinks. Start with the guacamole.
Pedigree: Both Barrios are owned by Ryan Burnet, Tim Rooney, Tim McKee and Josh Thoma. The latter two also own Solera, La Belle Vie and Smalley's.
Impact: If downtown St. Paul ever sheds its sleepy stigma for good, the opening of Barrio (and the Bulldog) will be remembered as the turning point.
235 E. 6th St., St. Paul. 651-222-3250. www.barriotequila.com.
The spot: Downtown Minneapolis' newest bar wants to bring mixology to the masses. During the week you'll find the earthy ultra lounge in chill-out mode, but it turns clubby on the weekend.
We liked: The attempt to move away from the rowdy nightclubs that populate 1st Avenue and strive for a little sophistication.
Needs work: It can still feel like a loud nightclub on weekends, which might hinder your ability to have a cocktail conversation. Still, you have to commend the place for setting its sights beyond the vodka Red Bull.
Drink this: The "Dragon's Kiss" is a berry rum cocktail mixed with fresh watermelon.
Eat this: The big small plates include tasty Argentine empanadas and vegetarian flatbread.
Pedigree: Brothers Jado and Steve Hark own Aqua, a prominent downtown nightclub. Co-owner Brett Pederson is one of the scene's more popular bartenders.
Impact: If it sticks to its mixology game plan, Elixir could show downtown that a refined lounge can live harmoniously on the 1st Avenue strip.
322 1st Av. N., Mpls. $5 cover after 10 p.m. Fri.-Sat. 612-746-4004. www.elixirmpls.com.
The spot: Uptown's latest hot spot transformed the old Campiello space into a balls-to-the-wall Wild West tavern, complete with wagon wheels and whiskey barrels.
We liked: The owners spared no expense with the Western makeover. Even if you're not a cowboy, it's easy to appreciate the bar's attention to detail. I'll dine on a whiskey barrel any day.
Needs work: If you usually avoid the drunken mobs that herd around Drink and Stella's, this might not be the place for you (at least on weekend nights when people stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the patio).
Drink this: Try the Buckskin Frank -- a pineapple martini rimmed with Pop Rocks. "We go through a lot of Pop Rocks," one of the owners said.
Eat this: Hefty portions of Tater Tot hot dish and country meatloaf do the job while being unlikely to win any culinary prizes.
Pedigree: Owners Chris Diebold and Brian Asmus also run Cowboy Jack's, Mad Jack's and the Cabooze. Diebold also owns Maxwell's and Sally's.
Impact: Uptown party animals were clamoring for a new late-night destination. They've found it.
1312 W. Lake St., Mpls. 612-353-5156. www.cowboyslims.com
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