Good news for those who have been awaiting the latest project from former Eastside chef Remy Pettus: Bardo has now opened in the former Rachel’s space. Pettus has made significant updates to the petite space at the busy corner of East Hennepin and University Avenues including charming signage and a semi-covered terrace.
Drinks at Bardo are no afterthought. The cocktails on offer are thoughtfully composed, and the seasonality of the list is on point. Even the most summery choice on the menu features a smoke reminiscent of fall bonfires: It Was All a Seed, made with San Andrés Alipús mezcal, yellow bell pepper, passion fruit, lime, and fennel, had a gorgeous mustard-mimosa color with a potent smoke aroma and the promise of heat. Each sip was pleasantly smoky and tart. Unfortunately, the fennel was missing from the flavor, with its only presence being the feathery garnish, but the yellow pepper added a vegetal note that tied the flavors together. At $12, this cocktail felt like the best value on the menu, whether due to its volume or the glassware.
For more understated notes, try the Practice What You Peach ($12). It’s a delicate balance of New Richmond rye, Colorado peaches, lemon, Cardamaro, thyme, and frothy egg white. The peach was nearly lost, rendering this a thyme- and rye-forward take on a whiskey sour that was botanically striking. There was a distinct spice component that spoke to fall but was more savory than pielike. More peach would be appropriate, especially given the name, but the sustained creaminess of the egg white was delightful.
Twists on the Old Fashioned aren’t always successful, but The Opportunist ($13) was an exception. It was spirit-forward with a powerful orange-oil aroma thanks to bourbon; the potent liqueurs Amaro Sfumato and Luxardo maraschino; plus Americano, the classic aperitif made with vermouth and bitter orange. In contrast to our first round, this cocktail was warming, just to the point of hot in the back of the throat. Its potent blend of aromatics included a nutty, chicory undertone and faint sarsaparilla.
Full dinner service starts at 5 p.m., but from 4 to 5 p.m., a bar menu offers several perfectly fulfilling options. The Aligot Potato with chevre and chive ($8) is rich but not overly indulgent. Funky chevre cuts the heavy potato texture, and the portion is adequate for splitting as a snack or side when combined with another vegetable.
Even more substantial was the Crispy Shrimp with white beans, black garlic, and mustard greens ($16). A rich, earthy beurre blanc was enhanced by black garlic’s complexity and a melange of fresh herbs. The white beans held their texture nicely, while two oversized shrimp had a hearty texture that was meaty rather than rubbery.
Finally, we tasted an upcoming fall cocktail inspired by Mexican hot chocolate. Bar manager Sara Ann Timmer is responsible for the creative combination of Får North Ålander spiced rum, orgeat, lime, habanero bitters, cacao syrup, and reposado. Despite its garnish of minuscule graham and cacao sprinkles, it didn’t scream “dessert.” Instead, it had a nice heat that built steadily and unexpectedly. The acidity could be toned down as the weather cools, but it was truly a unique take on a chocolate-based libation. A warm version would be nice, too.
Bardo seems to have hit on an undertapped market in a neighborhood that continues to grow and has nothing similar, aside from Cafe Alma. Many of the details that could have been overlooked but predict a successful experience, such as lighting and music, are attended to — the excellent musical playlist bounced comfortably from Prince to Harry Nilsson to Lou Reed. Service, too, was well-executed.
Prices were about as expected when compared to quality, but note that all prices include an 18 percent gratuity no matter the party size. The entire experience was, for the most part, chic and effortless, leading us to crave another visit.
Bardo, 222 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis; 612.886.8404