By Liz Scholz
As craft beer continues to grow in the Twin Cities, so does its presence at our favorite bars, but what about at our favorite music venues? For the musically discerning craft beer aficionado, many Twin Cities evening excursions entail a compromise between jams and suds: Do you pick a destination based on the band and settle for the beer, or follow the lure of the lengthiest tap list and hope the music doesn’t blunt your buzz? But, with a large number of metro area venues supplementing live music with a strong craft beer list and knowledgeable bartenders and staff, it’s a choice you need not make. We dug a little deeper to find the gems of the Twin Cities, music venues with the perfect balance of beer and live music to create the best all around experience—one perfect pint at a time.
The Uptown/Eat Street area is pretty barren when it comes to music venues with extensive beer lists. What was once the “punk rock ghetto,” the Lyn-Lake area can no longer be described as such, with living landmark CC Club no longer offering live music, which is too bad since they offer a great craft beer selection on tap and cheap monthly craft beer pitcher specials ($12 for a pitcher of Bells Two-Hearted? Yes, please.) Down the street, Bryant Lake Bowl is going strong with great live music and special events paired with a dynamic beer list, highlighting a variety of local and regional seasonal brews. The foil to Bryant Lake Bowl, Cause, has one too many smoke machines and really the only thing worth getting on the beer list is a PBR tallboy. A newcomer to Eat Street, Icehouse, is unlike any of the venues in Uptown; a great place with a different kind of live music each day of the week, it has a lengthy tap list, a variety of bottles and cans, and an even better cocktail list. A “live music restaurant,” it hits the spot for whatever you’re seeking, be it Rush River Bubblejack (which is as delicious as it is rare to find on tap) for $6 or a “sipping shot” for $5. If you really want to, you can enjoy a Miller in a can for $4, but you would definitely be missing out. For that kind of fare, go to Famous Dave’s, where craft beer = “imported” and is limited to the most popular standard craft beers including Sam Adams, Leinenkugel’s, and Summit EPA.
The music venues with the best beer lists can be found in Cedar Riverside, the home of the most notable music bar, Acadia. They aren’t lying when they say they have “no crap on tap”; every time you go there’s something new to try, so even if you’re going to see the same old band you know and love, you can find a new beer, maybe even one from a cask. The Nomad is a good music venue with a great beer selection. They have a constantly rotating tap list as well as special beer-focused events, and if you tire of all of that, you can order yourself a “prix fixe”: a shot of their choice (usually a liqueur), a PBR tall boy and a cigarette for $5. Across the street, The Cedar Cultural Center has a solid beer list with classics such as Summit and Surly, even if it is more expensive than you’d like and takes longer than you’d expect to order from the typically one-man bar. And, of course, The Triple Rock never disappoints, with an equally solid beer list and live music. Toward Seward on the other side of 94, other music venue bars like the Cabooze and The Joint have slightly thinner beer lists, but not so sparse that you wouldn’t even want to see a show there. Walk a few blocks down and you’ll hit another great music venue with an acclaimed beer list, the Blue Nile. The Blue Nile sports a lengthy list of bottles both domestic and import and focuses on local beers like Midnight Ryder from the newly-opened Indeed Brewing Co. and specialty beers like imported sours.
Dinkytown’s music bar scene is somewhat less developed than its more sophisticated brother to the west but only because the area is significantly smaller with fewer bars. The Kitty Kat Club has some craft beer on tap and in bottles but is more suited to cocktails. The Varsity Theater and its sister venue, the Loring Pasta Bar, both have pretty good beer lists, with all the usual suspects and then some, including Tallgrass, a Kansas brewing company that is soon becoming a mainstay of Twin Cities craft beer lists.
Downtown is a hodgepodge of bars that have live music and music venues that have lively bars, but the push for a better beer list is starting to grow there too. The Depot Tavern, has a slightly longer tap list than its mother company, First Ave, or 7th Street Entry, both of which are not bad at all, with a few of your favorite craft beers and standard domestics. Restaurant bars like Hell’s Kitchen and Dakota have simple beer lists, but their focus on cocktails pairs well with their emphasis on classy jazz and food. Bunker’s has a slightly larger list, carrying a variety of local and imported beers including Newcastle and Stella. Although more famous for their Wednesday night swing dancing, Lee’s Liquor Lounge, has thirty different beers for the thirsty patron. And, most recently, you can find the venue previously known as The Brick under its new name: Mill City Nights. After receiving negative feedback in its previous state about its sub-par beer list, Mill City Nights is seeking to remedy this, offering a small variety of bottled beers.
Second to Cedar Riverside for music venues with superior beer lists, Northeast has a range of locales with tasty libations, which can also be seen in the number of breweries popping up all over the area. The 331 Club has an extensive beer list, and you never have to pay a cover to enjoy the more intimate venue while sipping your favorite craft beer. Not unlike the 331, Grumpy’s NE also has a good tap list to go with the tunes. With events like Rocktoberfest (combining the forces of PBR, Surly and good music) as well as Minnesota Mondays (half price local beers) and the Minnesota music listening party, it is a hip-shaking-craft-beer-lover’s heaven. Mayslack’s has a lot of domestic bottles available and a standard list of beers on tap, nothing too fancy or crafty, but it will do. And then there are the more niche venues: Psycho Suzi’s has a good list of self-proclaimed “crap on tap”—for the record, not crap at all—and an additional list of beer in cans, several of which are craft. On Friday and Saturday nights it becomes three bars, but if you love beer, go straight to the Shrunken Head, you’ll find your paradise there. Down by the old Grain Belt sign, Nye’s, the much loved piano bar and polka lounge, focuses more on cocktails, in addition to its cheap daytime happy hour.
We cannot forget about St. Paul, with classics such as the Turf Club, which boasts a solid tap list and avid support of local music. And the best part: if you need a change of scenery you can go to the basement bar where there is the same selection of beer but with the tasteful addition of wood paneling, cabin décor, and a free jukebox. Amsterdam has a good beer list that includes classic imports like Delirium Tremens at reasonable prices. But the most exciting thing on the menu? Boilermakers! The love of craft beer lives at Station 4, where you can join their Mug Club, earning your own glass after you try each of their tap beers and a discount on future cold ones. There are also more music-focused venues like the Minnesota Music Café, which offers 16 beers on tap and caters to an older and more sophisticated crowd, with live music seven days a week. Recently, the Bedlam Theater announced it will be opening a Lowertown St. Paul location—now serving craft beer! As a non-profit “social performance venue” partially-funded by art grants, it will undoubtedly become another beer-lover’s music hotspot.