Despite its many charms, downtown St. Paul is often more deserted than a Canadian Target store. But this weekend an estimated bazillion people will flood our capital’s core for the St. Paul Winter Carnival and Red Bull Crashed Ice event. So if uber-packed downtown bars aren’t your style, explore these St. Paul neighborhood watering holes — several of which offer shuttles to Crashed Ice — after the downhill ice race-o-death or during the rest of the Winter Carnival.
Shamrock’s — We love the event-day energy, but consider shuttling from Shamrock’s in the heart of the West 7th neighborhood. The Irish sister pub to the Nook burger joint in Highland, it boasts live music and its beloved sibling’s menu of burgers named after St. Paul sports heroes. 995 W. 7th St.
Ward 6 — This everyday pub-and-grub led an eating/drinking surge along Payne Avenue when it opened in a former Hamm’s-owned tavern two years ago. Hamm’s (for history’s sake) is the only crap on tap among an all-local craft beer lineup. Adult milkshakes add a whimsical touch. 858 Payne Av.
Minnesota Music Cafe — This long-lived live music den is home to blues jams, metal nights and more. 499 Payne Av.
Muddy Pig — Cathedral Hill is St. Paul’s beer-bar capital, especially with the addition of craft-happy Red Cow. But the Muddy Pig planted the better-beer flag in 2002. Though the microbrew lovers’ tavern now lags in the ridiculous tap-line arms race, it maintains an impressive fleet of 48 well-curated drafts. 162 N. Dale St.
Happy Gnome — It’s one of the Twin Cities’ premier beer bars, but no apologies necessary if your eyes shift from the Happy Gnome’s 77 taps to its brag-worthy back bar. The high-end gastropub is equally whiskey-savvy, boasting 200-plus bottles satisfying bourbon hounds and single-malt fiends alike. 498 Selby Av.
Sweeney’s Saloon — We love its Summit specials year-round, but Sweeney’s calling card is its back-yard patio — one of St. Paul’s best. 96 N. Dale St.
Half Time Rec — One of St. Paul’s favorite dives got a boost when Paddy Shack (led by Jack Riebel and Josh Thoma) recently took over its kitchen. Pound Summit by the pitcher over masterful fish and chips or a game of bocce ball. 1013 Front Av.
Gabe’s by the Park — It’s green and gold during Green Bay Packers games, but on any other night, blue collars, suits and broomball teams clink glasses of Flat Earth at this homey sports bar. 991 N. Lexington Pkwy.
Billy’s on Grand — Forty-plus TVs and a litany of specials make this sports bar an astute gameday pick — especially for Packers and Creighton University hoops fans. Come for the sports, come back in July for its stellar patio. 857 Grand Av.
Wild Onion — This college-crowd favorite is known for dancing, a bloody Mary bar and birthday specials. 788 Grand Av.
Dubliner Pub — St. Paul can’t have too many Irish bars, especially ones as inviting as the Dubliner. Weekly Irish folk dancing nights (with lessons for newbies) and live music keep spirits high at this shot-and-a-beer bar. Though the whiskey doesn’t hurt. 2162 W. University Av.
Turf Club — St. Paul’s bastion rock club became more pub-friendly under First Avenue ownership, which added a kitchen, expanded hours and fancy (i.e. not gross) new bathrooms. 1601 W. University Av.
Town House Bar — This LGBT hangout has all the makings of a great neighborhood dive — karaoke, requisite bar games and irrationally inexpensive drink specials. But drag shows, DJs and dancing spice up St. Paul’s oldest gay bar. 1415 W. University Av.
Blue Door Pub — Its acclaimed cheese-stuffed Blucies result in a line out the small pub’s door. But a just-right number of thoughtfully selected taps has earned beer geeks’ respect. 1811 Selby Av.
O’Gara’s Bar & Grill — This institutional Irish bar has poured cold ones for 74 years. O’Gara’s is time-worn but not divey. It features DJs and live band karaoke in its Shanty room. 164 N. Snelling Av.
Plums — Locals unwind with a bottle of Grain Belt before coeds wild out at this 32-year-old, no-frills bar. 480 S. Snelling Av.
Groveland Tap — This neighborhood fixture run by the Blue Plate Restaurant Co. (also behind the Scusi restaurant down the block) features 40 taps. 1834 St. Clair Av.
Tiffany Sports Lounge — Depending on the time, this sports-bar-for-everyone could be filled with Packer backers, Kansas Jayhawks fans, neighborhood dwellers or college students. However, Thursday nights are Tommie time, with shuttles running to and from the University of St. Thomas campus, shot specials and a DJ. 2051 Ford Pkwy., St. Paul
Chatterbox Pub — This is a casual date and game bar where Yahtzee and Mario Bros. break the ice. 800 S. Cleveland Av.
Michael Rietmulder, of Minneapolis, writes about nightlife.