MSP Wine Bar Personalities
My birthday is sneaking up on me, and when my husband asked what I wanted to do, I had to think about it. We had just been to Chicago visiting friends, and while I don't have a strong desire to live in a megalopolis like that, I really envy their copious food and beverage choices. You can just pick one of a hundred thorough fares and find yourself a new and unique place or few dozen places on that street. My friend and I ended up at a bar that wasn't quite our vibe, so we walked down the block and found this awesome wine bar and fancy small plates place. It had a simple atmosphere, with some couches and long benches, and the best little snack plates- popcorn cooked in duck fat, fresh carved cured meat, cheeses, etc. I know the company was the most important of my successful evening, but it was so much fun to try something a little different.
So I actually haven't been to any wine bars in MSP. We usually buy good wine at a liquor store and consume at home- it's cheaper and no driving necessary. I did stop in to Lucia's once to get to-go food, but have not sat and experienced. I am looking for help trying to capture the type of food/small plates offered, any interesting wines offered and the general ambience of the place. Some of the places I am interested in hearing about are: Lucia's, Toast Wine Bar & Cafe, Spill the Wine, Riverview Wine Bar, and any other that I am not thinking of would be much appreciated.
The only place I've been to on your list is Riverview. It's a cute little place - lots of wines by the glass and some very fun and inventive themed flights. But the food is just ok - meh pizza, meh cheese plate, etc. It's a nice place to go drink some wine, but I usually avoid eating there.
Also springing to mind is Beaujo's near 50th and France (though I'm not a fan), and King's Wine Bar in Kingsfield. King's is ok, though in my book they don't offer enough wines by the glass to call themselves a wine bar. And again, the food is uninspired.
Constraining yourself to "wine bars," I think you'll have a hard time finding anything that stands up to those in other metros like Chicago. If I were you, I'd call for a reservation at 112 Eatery. Plenty of glass wines and amazing small plates are on offer - I'd encourage you to check their menu online.
Solera has also been a great place for tapas and Spanish wines, although I haven't been there since the ownership change.
That's all I can think of for now, but I might chime in later after some Bordeaux. Our lack of good wine bars suddenly bothers me.
Keith hit on a key point: a wine bar in name is different than a wine bar in practice. He mentioned Kings and the shortish wines by the glass list. I would agree. And there are several places billed as wine bars for whom that is true. But Kings does have the lounge-type furniture.
My favorite has been Taste, hidden in the very back of The News Room. But I haven't been there in a while, and they may be closed for the winter, if not permanently. It had its own small plates menu and many wines by the glass. And cozy furniture.
My husband and I like Lucia's quite a bit. It's really cozy, has a good selection of wine and yummy but limited plates to snack on. It doesn't have any benches or couches, all tables. But I find it totally charming.
The food at Kings has actually improved lately. It can still be hit or miss but I love the Kings burger.
A place you might want to consider is Bradstreet Crafthouse. Obviously they emphasize cocktails but they do serve wine and small plates, and the back room is definitely cool- I always feel like I'm kind of not in Minneapolis.
I am no true connoisseur, but I do like Toast. Of their on-line wine list, a dozen each of reds and whites are available by the glass, plus three sakes, three roses and two sparkling wines. The offerings range across the price spectrum, and of course the list of bottles is longer.
The food is small plates -- cheeses, charcuterie, brushcettas and the like. I wouldn't claim it's stellar, but it's not bad either. It sounds like just what you described.
Spill the Wine was not to my taste -- a little too scene-y for catching up over a leisurely conversation.
Toast Wine Bar & Cafe
415 N 1st St, Minneapolis, MN 55401
I've been to the Riverview and Spill the Wine. The Riverview has the atmosphere you're looking for and interesting wine flights, but I agree with keith - the food is totally meh. I think Spill the Wine has kind of a sterile atmosphere, good wine selection and the food is good, but really overpriced. I, too, am sad that the TC doesn't seem to have a wine bar that covers all your bases.
I like the Solera recommendation. The small plates are delicious and plenty, nice wine selection, and nice atmosphere. I think you'll have better luck exploring restaurants that have good wine selections, rather than wine bars, because I think often the food falls short at our wine bars.
I would say that Toast is probably the best in the wine bar in practice category. Kings, spill the wine, riverview are all places that serve average wines at average to high markup. Lucia's is solid 2nd best imo. What I think is probably the best bet beyond toast and lucia's are going to an actual restaurant with a good glass selection and sitting in the bar area. W.A Frost's comes to mind there, and they probably have the deepest bev program in town, with a great access to some vintage wines that most places haven't been around long enough to carry. I think monday is the 1/2 price day, which is pretty awesome, but bottle only. They also do bin reduction which can produce some really good deals, but bottle only. They have an awesome cavernous basement lounge that is couch filled and has all these little caverns...awesome. If Toast doesn't fit your bill, then that's what I would say.
W.A. Frost & Co
374 Selby Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102
I've been to Riverview, King's, Beaujo's, Lucia's, and Toast. To me, Toast has the most "Chicago" atmosphere - as in a chic, tucked-away little place with good food, great wine, and good service. Riverview is certainly cozy but the food is forgettable. King's was fine, but it's a neighborhood bar/bistro, not a wine bar, and it's very, very noisy. Beaujo's felt cold and suburban to me (a few years ago), with a very minimal menu. Lucia's has very nice food, but a lousy selection of wine - by the glass, at least, which is the point of a wine bar (in my opinion). If it were my birthday, I'd go to Toast in a heartbeat.
Maybe I agree with Keith and Drew that it is kinda sad MSP isn't totally in with the hep wine bars, but you all are the best with your comments! Totally did not know The News Room had a really interesting looking winebar in back, and did not know WA Frost had an awesome cozy basement. With half price on Mondays! I'm thinking the short list includes Toast and WA Frost. Although I'd like to find out if Taste in The News Room is still open- that could make a fun date night in winter. Almost looks like a speak-easy. Thanks guys! I still have like a week to go, I'll let you know where I end up going.
After reading these, I went to Sample Room, Toast, and then finished off at 112 Eatery. I really liked Toast and had been to 112 many times (and still liked it). Sample Room was unimpressive IMO. The pasta I had at Sample was great, but the wines were very mediocre.
Btw, I like the bar at Bachelor Farmer too. The guys at the bar knew their wine when I was there and once figuring out my taste even offered me wines by the glass that weren't on the menu. Very nice place and the pate and tarte tatin were killer.