Monthly Archives: February 2012

Gin flight night

Forget beer or wine flights. Tried my first gin flight last night at Amsterdam in St. Paul and immensely enjoyed it. I was wise to order a “control” gin I was already familiar with to measure up how the others tasted. So the control was Bombay Sapphire, a gin I thought was reasonably good considering it’s top shelf at bars.

It’s not top shelf tasting. Compared to Bols Genever, Wisconsin’s own Death’s Door gin, and the exquisite, raspberry aromas of Nolet, the Sapphire tasted like gasoline. Also funny: Whoever wrote the gin descriptions (which are wonderfully helpful in the same way Bulldog and other pubs describe beers) for Amsterdam’s gin menu clearly holds disdain for Sapphire. Rather than focusing on what it tastes or smells like, the Sapphire description says “it comes in a pretty bottle.” Sounds like criticism similar to what tequila purists dish out on Patron and it’s masterful (nefarious?) marketing techniques.

There’s 20 or so other gins at the bar I hadn’t heard of before. Each gin on a flight costs $4 no matter if its bar pour is $5 or $10. Where else can you find a bona fide gin list in St. Paul? Scotch go to St. Paul Grill. Beer go to Bulldog LoTo. Vodka? Moscow on the Hill. Now Amsterdam steps up and gives us a nice gin list. I like it.

Anyway it all couldn’t have happened without the wonderful Nancy Ngo inviting me to a music/fashion show that evening at the bar. The space served well for such a production. Cool tunes, costumes and clothes.

Amsterdam does a fashion show


Quiz night at Brit’s

Had a great time at the Asian American Journalists Association’s inaugural pub quiz at Brit’s Pub last Thursday. My team’s ringer was Tom Lee of the Star Tribune. A bright one, that guy. Also, shout out to Brendan Peterson, who somehow sounded out Gloria Vanderbilt as the mother of Anderson Cooper.

Kieran Folliard hosted a round of questions!

We were first out of 21 teams… after one round. Ended in third, which I felt was a nice accomplishment. However, no prize in the winner-take-all competition.

Probably heading out with my friend Laura tonight for a beer. Should be a nice catch-up session. She’s great. She teaches and always has good stories. Thinking about taking the skyway to Amsterdam, then stopping by Wild Tymes after to catch the end of those Wolf Boys. Wild Tymes had a nice ad in City Pages for happy hours, and it appears it has $2.50 Summits, all day, every day. That’s hometown prices. Reminds me of the time my dad bought a $6 Summit at Alary’s and was amazed. Gotta find the right drink in the right bar.

Pedro Park survey

So I took the downtown Pedro Park survey. I think the options were something like traditional, contemporary, nature or recreational. A former Pi Press staffer I know who also lives downtown said he hopes it’s anything but a dog park, but isn’t that what a lot of nearby residents, especially in my building (the Rossmor) need? Our surface lot might be less smelly.

I suppose I have faith in the goodness of human nature to pick up after their pup if there’s to be a dog run at the future park, but I’m also young and naive.

Anyway, according to St. Paul’s city website, the next meeting on the park is supposed to take place late this month or early March. Let’s hope something starts shaking this spring.


LoTo weekend 2/4/12

The firetrucks and cap guns made a racket Saturday night for the Winter Carnival’s Torchlight parade. My neighbor Denis and I observed participants lining up at the starting point near Black Dog Cafe. I was going to have a coffee with Denis, but couldn’t pass up a happy hour $3 Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, the best price I’ve seen for the beer anywhere in the Twin Cities. I think Black Dog’s happy hour is 4-7 every day of the week and includes Summit EPA and discounted wine as well.

Friday night was spent at Faces, Bin Wine Bar and eventually back home at Black Sheep Pizza (don’t even think about trying to oust me as Black Sheep Foursquare mayor). Something’s to be said about the Black Sheep salads. The spinach is always pillowy, the dressings sharp and tangy. Whatever salad I’ve ordered there always seem to complement the pizza nicely. Service is friendly enough where you can ask them what salads might go best with what pizzas. The management is also big into allowing beer drinkers to sample guest taps. Don’t be shy, you can try one or two before making a decision, as long as you buy a pint. No matter how fine the keg, all taps are $5 normally and $3 at happy hour. I was drinking $3 Surly Darkness last fall while beer geeks were dropping $37 for a 750ml bottle at Surdyk’s.

Let me ramble about Black Sheep a tad more. It’s the place to grab a pint right now in LoTo. Immediate service, friendly faces and a minimalist, non-judgmental ambiance gravitates me there over some other more-discovered by the suburbs establishments.

A note about Bin on Friday: Sounds like owner Rebecca Illingworth’s planned Chilango Cantina isn’t happening anytime soon. An employee said Illingworth’s around town these days (she also keeps a house in Chicago, I believe), but didn’t mention whether she’s still working to open the cantina. It was supposed to have cheap beer and cheap tacos. The alt-Barrio?

One more thing, what’s the St. Paul equivalent of ordering a half pint of cider in a Glaswegian bar? I immediately thought of asking for a Zima at Gopher Bar, an action that, as my friend Michael observed so astutely, would likely get a man killed.

Will the Saints ever bless Lowertown?

For Tom Whaley, it’s crunch time. Whaley is executive vice president of the St. Paul Saints, which in the Saints organization, means little except he’s probably doing six or seven jobs at once.

I visited Whaley at the Saints front office this week for a feature story I finished for the Quad Community Press (Whaley lives in Lino Lakes). On his desk he has an antique hand grenade and a “Christmas Story” mini leg lamp replica. He doesn’t worry about the grenade because the pin is still in it.

Whaley is one of two point people leading the Saints efforts to land a stadium in Lowertown. In the feature story I couldn’t say how cool that would actually be for Lowertown, but I’ll say it here. It would be cool for Lowertown. How about a long, lazy summer day of baseball in 2015? Skip work on a Thursday, hop on the light rail and catch the Twins’ day game, spend some money on downtown Minneapolis happy hours and then head back home for the Saints evening tilt?

The Saints are offering to pay $10 million for their new digs up front, with about $27 million coming from the state and the rest of the roughly $50 million project coming from the city. It’s Whaley’s job to get the ear of state legislators, and every year, no matter the economic climate, the response is usually “wait until next year.”

One state legislator I asked for comment on how the project is being perceived this year said it would be very difficult to gain support and to finance “such a project.”

If the stadium ended up in LoTo, St. Paul would like it because the Saints could sell naming rights in the high visibility area of Lowertown (I-94 motorists would see the stadium from the freeway, Whaley said.) Add to that higher foot traffic volumes around the neighborhood, and Black Dog Cafe might be getting a few neighboring competitors in what I like to call “deep Lowertown,” or south of the Farmer’s Market.

So what would happen to Midway Stadium if the Saints moved? Whaley said the land would be converted back into more cost-efficient light industrial. Let’s face it, the Midway area is neither pretty nor very historical looking. It’s industrial, and for that reason Whaley said more club level sales would result from a LoTo stadium than rebuilding in the Midway.

Don’t worry tailgaters, the first thing Whaley and the Saints are requesting from the city is a large slab of concrete. A funnier moment of our conversation was when Whaley admitted that the Saints games themselves are “incidental” compared to the two or three hours fans spend with friends drinking beer in the parking lot.

Whaley compared the Saints’ impact on downtown to the Wild. He said the Saints bring in roughly 300,000 in four months. The Wild bring in 800,000 in eight months. Think of that what you will, and the effects it will have on the Lowertown portion of downtown.

Oh, and that $2 hot dog or that $6 pint of Summit won’t be any more expensive in Lowertown, Whaley said. The Saints live in the land of being affordable and fun. It feels good to leave a sporting complex with a few bucks left in your pocket. Just thought of my Halloween 2012 costume – something truly scary – a $9 bottle of Bud Lite from Xcel Energy Center.

If you’re interested, Whaley revealed two half-baked albeit typically off-kilter Saints promotional nights for this season: “Invasive Species Night” supposedly will lure fans from Wisconsin (perhaps for extermination). And “Minsecurity Blanket Night” will probably feature a blanket giveaway in honor of Charles Schulz’ Linus character.