The voyage through the hidden entrance of Can Can Wonderland is Wonka-like and full of anticipation. Glossy red arrows are painted on the walls, and with a bit of trial and error, it’s hard not to smile while hoping to arrive at the correct door. Stepping into the carnival makes the illusion instantly real — it’s not just your imagination, you’re having fun. This place is a grown-up carnival where everything and nothing seems out of place.
Can Can Wonderland, which opened last month off of University Avenue in St. Paul, is a singular concept, despite the recent trend of games-plus-drinks seen at the outrageously popular Up-Down in LynLake and West End’s Punch Bowl Social. There is a decidedly homegrown personality to Can Can’s mini-golf Xanadu. Its energy bounces from the bar, to the row of vintage pinball machines, and throughout the putting green. It feels the way a carnival should feel: quirky with an emphasis on whimsy.
The drinks are no exception. Nick Kosevich (above) and the team at Bittercube have been consulted to bring quality cocktails to two different bars inside the place, and the team took inspiration from their surroundings, rather than riffing on the worn-out classic-cocktail-with-a-twist concept.
On the more restrained end of things is the Subtle Beast ($9), made with blanco tequila, mezcal, grapefruit-lime elixir, cappelletti aperitivo, Jamaica #2 bitters, and rimmed with Sal de Gusana. The sheer number of ingredients is in clear contrast to most other menus curated by Kosevich, but surprisingly, each component stands up in the mix. The mezcal brings subtle smoke, while the citrus adds both sweet and tart. The pleasant tequila backdrop is not boozy, but aromatics from the cappelletti aperitivo (an aromatized wine) create a bold punch. Sal de Gusana, a salt-like powder made from dried agave worms, is mixed with kosher salt for a spicy rim.
For an even more spirit-forward option, go with the sparkling Neon Love ($10). House tonic is mixed with a healthy dose of Bombay Sapphire East gin and lime. Crushed ice creates a bed for butterfly pea flower, a flavorless blue powder that slowly bleeds into the liquid, leaving a purple tie-dye look streaking towards the bottom of the glass. Gin is the star, but the tonic is close behind, with beautiful anise and clove notes. A silver flocked lime slice creates an image that’s pure intergalactic chic.
Even more adventurous are the semi-frozen drinks served out of a slushie machine. The texture of the three choices is more Slurpee than ICEE, and they range from sweet to sloshed.
For those who like their alcohol hidden, opt for the fruit-heavy Boone & Crockett ($8), a mix of the lowbrow wine, rum, lime and Bolivar bitters. A mild, floral finish adds depth to what otherwise might as well be rum and Kool-Aid. The middle of the road option is the pleasant Humu Humu Nuku Nuku Apua’a ($11). This one is tiki up front, but it leaves the palate with a pop of alcoholic heat. A mix of rum, pineapple, cherry and vanilla bean is perhaps most notable for what it lacks — there is no coconut to push it into island territory.
Finally, the refreshing High Plains Grifter ($9) was voted the most refined slush cocktail by our team. Whiskey anchors the combination, while a beautiful lemon-tangerine aroma and flavor hits the palate without much sweetness. This is due to the addition of lemon oleo, a gravity-filtered form of citrus juice and essential oil, plus orange bitters. A splash of Fulton Lonely Blonde creates ideal balance.
In the over-the-top department comes the final adventure, a dessert drink called Monkey Business ($14) which is at once a milkshake and wallop of bourbon. It’s a lollapalooza-sized shake made with bananas, peanut butter, ice cream, bourbon, and chocolate. A thoughtful topping of dried bananas adds texture. Thankfully, it is not as thick as the typical milkshake, but it is large and rich enough to serve more than two people.
Can Can Wonderland may feel at once vintage and trendy, but the drinks are unlike any other program in recent exploration. It feels like the alchemists at Eat Street Social got inspired by the Minnesota State Fair. The entertainment provides appropriate pacing between drinks and they have created a foolproof system for moving about the attractions as food and drink tabs can be opened and closed anywhere without hassle.
This attention to detail makes the visit even more effortless, as do the knowledgeable bartenders who are genuine in their interest in explaining the many obscurities on the menu.
Can Can Wonderland, 755 Prior Ave N, Suite #004, Saint Paul, MN 55104, 651.925.2261. Mon–Wed closed, Thu 10 a.m.–11p.m., Fri-Sat 10a.m.–12a.m., Sun 10a.m.–10p.m.