Prohibition Bar at the W Hotel

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

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.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

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.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

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 and subject line “Cocktail P.I.”


  1. Russ

    I wasn’t sure if it was a matter of tongue in cheek, or writing to suit the location. While the prose was well disposed to match the time and tempo of the Prohibition Bar I think the author needs to decide if his purpose is to provide a useful review or convey his thinly repressed desire to be a published author.

  2. dave

    I for one appreciate good writing with a local slant. I believe the author wasn’t conveying a repressed desire as he is already published.

  3. geoff

    Russ is just trying to balance all the glad-handing sure to follow from the Friends of Judd Spicer Assn.

    My take: Prohibition is a godawfully confused mess of an establishment and has a greater spread between potential and reality than perhaps any bar I’ve ever visited, period. They should be guarding the door, charging cover and working on an upscale beverage program to keep out the hicks from the sticks. Instead, It’s like Maple Grove south in there on any weekend night.

    Also, WTF with the tacky pink & purple decor and the even tackier cocktail uniforms? It’s like Legally Blonde meets Lady Gaga. Unless I go on an off-peak night, I can’t tell whether I’m on top of the Foshay or at a 2-star off-the-strip hotel lobby bar in Vegas. I blame Manny’s as much as I blame W.
    They were forced too far out of their collective comfort zone.

    Not lipstick on a pig…but rather hot pink lipstick and fishnets on your elegant, timeless, and sweet-but-worldly grandmother.

  4. David

    It should be noted that this spot is popular for the Manny’s crowd, either before or after their dinner. The clientele demographics mirror the steakhouse nicely. I was very out of place when my girlfriend and I tried to check it out.

  5. Samantha

    Russ is spot on. That’s not the polish of a sophisticated style, David. That’s the glistening of lard. If you think this is good writing, then you haven’t a clue what good writing is.

    In fact there is a literary term for writing like this, writing so conspicuously extravagant, flowery, and ornate as to break up the flow and draw attention to itself. That term is “purple prose”. Published or not, I’d say the writer would do well to remove the purple lenses and discover a voice that is less affected and pretentious and more his own.

  6. KTFoley

    Hello Editors! Would you please tell your writers to pull out a dictionary and check whether a word they’ve picked is really used as they imagine? From the Prohibition article, twenty jarring examples show how you can make a difference:

    ASCENDING the Minneapolis skyline: Inside a structure, a person can ascend the staircase or perhaps the height of the building. Some acid users were convinced they could ascend a skyline, but it’s really better left to a news channel’s helicopter or perhaps Santa’s sleigh.

    an ENSUING three years: The word means “to follow in order; come afterward, esp. in immediate succession.” The prison sentence ensued from the mail fraud conviction, but the three years merely followed it.

    a mosaic MESH: It’s either a mosaic or a mesh.

    sightseers will no doubt DEBATE the view: They might discuss the view or debate some aspect of it, but it would take a whiteout to debate the view itself.

    beer is MUTED: Should the beer list get more attention, or should its flavors be more noticeable?

    INCIPIENT patrons: The word means “beginning to exist or appear,” not “newly-arrived.” As written, those patrons materialize slowly through a faulty electron transporter.

    IN our sojourn: During, not in.

    transience is surely BUOYED: The image is of an active rise in something that can float up or down, such as a mood or a market. Either the servers encourage more transience — vaguely seedy-sounding — or they alleviate some condition associated with transient hotel stays.

    TO BE a comely server is ordinary and slightly entertaining: Customers can say what it’s like to be waited upon by a comely server. Only the waitperson herself can say whether it’s entertaining to BE one.

    ENGENDER a downtown establishment: The word means “to produce, cause or give rise to,” not “enter.” If we know what’s good for us, the founder’s haircut is just fine.

    cig-smoked hand or garlicky breath that easily extends a smoky scent to glassware: Here’s a great example of why syntax matters. If the server is exhaling all over the dishware, that’s a whole new set of problems.

    or floats an EGREGIOUS aroma: The word means “extraordinary in some bad way; glaring; flagrant.” The dictionary examples use nouns that convey that bad way on their own: egregious liar, egregious mistake. Many dish & drink aromas are downright wonderful — where’s the bad?

    CAVERNOUS kitchen corner: If the size of the kitchen affects how much odor a server picks up, that’s news.

    Our IDs were APTLY checked at arrival … rather an APPROPRIATE opportunity for a bar to increase sales: If the writer had switched the terms, all would be well. Checking IDs is appropriate given the fines. In contrast, the appropriate opportunity for a bar to increase sales is before last call, if the over-21 customer is sober enough to manage one more and the credit card still works. A free tasting drink shows the finesse that makes the business opportunity apt.

    FAMILIARITY breeds the proverbial contempt for the outsider: The mangled adage implies that once the outsider becomes better-known, his or her treatment goes downhill. The rest of the paragraph says exactly the opposite. It’s provincialism that lets us get away with ignoring people we don’t know.

    INTERLOPERS sit before an empty glass and crane necks for their server: Per the more fitting second definition, the word means “one that intrudes in a place, situation, or activity.” Strangers are not necessarily interlopers. Those that are, probably shouldn’t be served.

    At 10:56pm, after our party had long grown to three: The hour has some degree of lateness or duration, but three people is pretty finite. It looks as though the mistyped phrase was “long after our party had grown to three.”

    UNCOUTHLY: The word means “awkward, clumsy, or unmannerly.” It is used twice in the article, first for a free drink and later for a billed drink. One of those situations might have lacked grace and the other might have lacked civility, but who can tell?

    Upon arrival, look for the lass in the fishnets, and promptly sit in her section: Prohibition’s food and drink selections got one paragraph apiece. Given the other missteps, who trusts a critic who spends so much column space leering at the server?

    the earnestness of pals: This makes no sense, given the rest of the sentence. The lurching earnestness of fellow drunkbuddies would fit pretty nicely, though.

  7. Andrew

    geoff – wow, that was funny.

    Does anyone else get the feeling that KTFoley was an English major, and may have been a TA?

    I do like some points that were made. I know it is called Cocktail PI, but I would like to read more about additional food items.

  8. thatgrrl

    @KTFoley: Do you guest lecture on usage? If so, can I lure you into lecturing my class at the U of M?

  9. Anna

    Dear god, this has to be one of the most pretentious and creepily masturbatory bar reviews I’ve ever read, and that’s saying something. Please, Heavy Table, tell me you didn’t actually pay this silly man for this stuff.

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