“It fills up all that emptiness in your soul,” said photographer Kat Peterson slurping up a spiked chocolate milkshake inside Parlour’s diner. Stop 1 1⁄2 on a bar crawl along one of Saint Paul’s most interesting thoroughfares and we were already sporting the first blush of buzzed happiness.
In recent years, Saint Paul has become a booming restaurant scene, but it’s the West 7th neighborhood that might be at the verge of being the next big thing in the Twin Cities food scene. Parlour just opened near downtown, Keg & Case will open next month in the old Schmidt Brewery and intermittently along the street there are already established, long standing neighborhood bars and restaurants.
Taking up the challenge to drink them all is a fool’s mission, so we decided to limit our stretch of street from the new Parlour location at 267 West 7th, down to the weirdly angled Pajarito and Keenan’s Bar stop at 620 West 7th. What we found along the way were German breweries, industry after-hours stops, clarified milk punch and at least one gassy bulldog.
Kara Smith was bartending and the hour was in the happy range. We bellied up to the dark slip of a bar at the very end of the new building marked with so many possible front doors. Start at the blue-painted doorway next to the wedding shop and then aim straight back to the dark room with the delightful squirrel taxidermy.
Parlour Bar made a name as a subterranean bar in the North Loop with top shelf riffs on classic drinks. It seems only appropriate to start with their signature Old Fashioned, despite the prevailing logic that an almost entirely booze filled drink with an iceberg of a cube is where the fun should end, not begin.
Smith mixed a smooth take on the classic with just a wisp of bitter orange and a smack of Old Grandad 114 and rye. It’s here that we learn that finally the diner side of Parlour has gotten its milkshake machine up and running. The great return of the boozy milkshake has been heralded. Since they’re only served on the diner side, we ambled over to spot one and a half.
Bar manager Tim Kingstan tells us we’re getting the exclusive first sip on one of the three new spiked malts at the diner. We tuck into the Jack Rabbit Slim, stopping only to quote Pulp Fiction and nurse an ice cream headache. Vincent Vega would approve. Spiked with bourbon, fernet and malt powder, it’s the chocolate milkshake that had Peterson, our photographer on this mission, swooning over. Another milkshake is named Lilu Dallas. This could be fun.
We eavesdrop on the staff. It seems the guy at the end of the bar has ordered his second Parlour burger and an Old Fashioned. He’s out to beat his record of eating four of the beefy decadent dishes. It seems someone else once ate five. “I can’t even finish one,” someone moans. As much as we want to see how this plays out, it’s time to move on.
Inside the maroon brick and black awnings is a neighborhood bar with worn grooves on the edge of the wood bar. We’re greeted by two snarfing bulldogs who amble over to say hello. Bar staff is quick to greet and everyone is exceedingly friendly, even though there are just a handful of folks inside.
We begin chatting with a couple of restaurant industry folks who are also keepers of the bulldogs. One settles between us and suddenly there is a noxious order drifting up from this smiling little fur face. “Uh, yeah, he’s pretty gassy.” First he’s sweet and then, sour.
Beers are incredibly affordable and the people we’re chatting with live in the neighborhood, but work at the newly opened Meyvn in Minneapolis. “It’s fast becoming an industry bar.” We snag a Meyvn bagel for the walk to our next destination.
Across the street and another couple of blocks down West 7th is the warehouse turned brewery for Bad Weather. The company moved into the renovated space in 2015 and has since become a popular hangout. Outside there are more smiling dog faces (these ones don’t hit us with the Silent But Deadlies), kids playing bean bag toss, a food truck and doors rolled back. There’s a nitro mild dark brew on tap and a mix of hefeweizen with their cranberry soda that’s a kicky-tart summer sipper. There are stacks of board games to play and Braveheart playing on the television. The camera zooms in on Mel Gibson’s face. How did this movie ever win Best Picture?
Our bartender is fresh, It’s his first night, but he is quick with a pour and a smile. The chill vibes make it an ideal late summer hangout and it feels like half the neighborhood is already here.
Walking just a few steps off West 7th, we had to check out the new beer garden at this historic building turned brewery/restaurant. Part of the charm of West 7th is the eclectic mix of historic homes. There are ancient brick dwellings that date back far into the city’s history. Waldemann’s building was built in 1857 and the interior has been painstakingly restored to hold onto all that history.
The new beer garden has long tables that afford views of the neighborhood. The beer is all German-style and the food includes several house-made sausages. They are also closed on Monday which is when we went. Don’t try to go here on Monday.
The bar at Mancini’s is one of the glittering gems of West 7th. Giant maroon banquettes are bedazzled with lights and the room really swings on nights there’s a live band. Most of the folks have been coming here for years (and years.)
It’s best to order domestic beer or simple mixed drinks here. It’s a gin and tonic kind of place with a limited menu available. It’s best to stick to the garlic bread that’s charred on the same grills as its famous steaks or go for lowbrow appetizers. An order of fried ravioli arrived cold and with dirty forks. When I plucked a dead fly out of my freshly delivered water glass, we agreed it was time to move on.
Still a relative newcomer, this mid-scale Mexican restaurant is run by two former fine dining chefs. It’s a mix of fresh-made salsas and riffs on traditional Mexican dishes. The bar has several wide and comfortable nailed leather stools and a nice selection of mescals. The clarified milk punch that was featured that day was a watermelon flavored sip of summer with a nice fresh basil finish. The salty-sugar rims on the mescal cocktails smoothed out the deeply smokey edges. Paired with a Hot Tennessee dry rub fried chicken taco, faith in life was once again restored.