Judd Spicer has an eye educated by seven years in the Twin Cities’ liquor industry and four years’ experience as a local private investigator specializing in food and beverage quality evaluations. Herein, he tours and types about his experiences at establishments across Minnesota. Please join us with an open mind, and a full glass.
“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
At approximately 7:25pm on a Friday eve of not-so-distant yore, two respectably dressed gentlemen walk into a hotel in downtown Minneapolis. Muted attire is the order for the eve: no striped, patterned, or loud shirts; no hats. Appear to be Everybody; Nobody; Anyman; Everyman. The less one is observed himself, the better to be an observer.
Passing through the lobby and its posh, adjoining “Living Room” bar, my colleague and I proceed onward, then upward, ascending the Minneapolis skyline until reaching the 27th floor of the still newly minted W Hotel Foshay. The elevator doors open; Prohibition appears.
Built in 1929 for $3.7 million, the Foshay Tower was, for more than 40 years, the zenith of our MinnyApple. The 27th floor was initially designed as a part of the personal living and work space for the successful, driven, eccentric, and ultimately doomed Wilbur Foshay, who eventually fell victim to the market crash and spent an ensuing three years in Leavenworth for mail fraud.
Symbols of Foshay’s once-awesome vision remain here; but what does the namesake’s ultimate ruin portend for the modern-day establishment?
My associate and I — having just missed the 5-7 happy hour – are unable to corral seats at the undersized bar; observation of barkeeps will therefore be replaced this eve by appraisal of service staff. We find comfort in a pair of Prohibition’s curiously mismatched leather chairs (which range from gaudy white to handsome library browns and blacks), but the intimate setting feels more apt for cooing couples than unshaven pals. Relaxed jazz, blues, and soul sounds play perfectly here, making the occasional foray into hip hop seem misplaced and somewhat comical. Televisions are aptly absent.
The space nudges visitors away from seating at the bar itself (with its fewer than 10 chairs) toward semi-private nooks and corners situated about the circumference of the space (and one unique mini-lounge above the bar itself). Outside the ample windows, downtown poses in a mosaic mesh of Minneapolis past and present; sightseers will no doubt debate the view.
The menu complements the positives here: sleek and succinct, well-matched for both a new millenium mindset and the W’s recent establishment. The carpaccio is excellent; thin and well-textured, and the three-cheese plate is also quite tasty. Furthermore, our party was informed that the fine dining menu from Manny’s downstairs was also available.
Cocktails dominate the selections here; beer is muted, wine spans the varietals then stops; cordials, champagnes, and cognacs are offered in pithy, top-shelf presentation. While I’m never one to ignore a stiff drink, I’ve seen too many young barkeeps over-pour because of ego or ignorance. Cocktails here, however, were the proper marriage of liquor and mixer. The M&M — mixed with the increasingly popular Jeremiah Weed sweet tea vodka, mint, and mango puree — is soundly recommended; just be certain your date has a some floss in her handbag. In addition, the Behind The Green Door (one of about 10 martini options) will turn enough heads with its dry ice presentation that few will entirely care what it actually tastes like.
And the heads do indeed swivel at Prohibition, in part because the place is still merely a year young and incipient patrons released from the elevator doors are visibly uncertain where to sit, stand, or stroll. And furthermore because, in brief: This is a hotel. Many visitors to Prohibition are also guests in our fair city and — much like Foshay in this space himself — they arrive, stay a short while, and then are gone, forevermore.
However, such transience is surely buoyed at Prohibition by a staff member that — in our sojourn — provided laughs to match her legs. Pretentions are not limited to the coasts alone, and it’s not uncommon to engender a downtown establishment and be made to feel your haircut isn’t right.
But then there are women like Sarah. To be a comely server is ordinary and slightly entertaining. To be attractive, interesting, and outgoing is exceptional. Quality service — especially at your higher-end establishments — is truly an extension of the product itself. I’ve reported on too many a server or barkeep over the years offering a cig-smoked hand or garlicky breath that easily extends a smoky scent to glassware, or floats an egregious aroma over plated food after the employee has “grazed” in a cavernous kitchen corner.
Our IDs were aptly checked at arrival (a bruised ego for the sensitive surely outweighs the $500 fine for a first-time server offense; $3,000 for a third), we were provided with a measured, ¼-ounce complimentary sample of a liquor that stirred our curiosities (not an uncouthly passed free drink, rather an appropriate opportunity for a bar to increase sales), and, upon completion of our stay, our tab was properly itemized and accurately tabled in the middle of our party.
Furthermore, all tables in our immediate area readily appeared to be given the same treatment: no favoritism, cronyism, or inversely — avoidance of service responsibility. There’s no shortage of establishments in this town where familiarity breeds the proverbial contempt for the outsider, where a free drink for one is obviously and uncouthly billed for another, where regulars enjoy the fruits of service while interlopers sit before an empty glass and crane necks for their server. Not the case in our experience or for those seated about us, who appeared to be properly served and billed in a most timely fashion. Sarah elevated our “night out” into an “evening out.” There is a difference. Upon arrival, look for the lass in the fishnets, and promptly sit in her section.
At 10:56pm, after our party had long grown to three, we addressed our tab, rose from our white leather, and descended back toward the lobby. En route, it was remarked with the earnestness of pals that we would indeed return to this attractive place, albeit with a lady friend — a fairer companion than a group of unshaven men.
Readers: Is there an establishment that you think warrants a visit? We readily welcome your insights. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and subject line “Cocktail P.I.”