Marvel Bar, the subterranean cocktail destination below The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood, is taking a break from booze. For years, the bar has taken months-long “explorations” into different corners of the drinking world. Now, through April, the bar has made a bold choice, tucking away the alcohol and turning the same intense, cerebral focus toward creating nuanced, balanced, and bold flavors without any alcohol.
It’s a stunning choice for bar that’s received world-wide recognition for its cocktails. However, it’s something both the owner and bar lead are intimately aware of. Neither Eric Dayton, owner of Marvel, The Bachelor Farmer, and next door’s Askov Finlayson, nor Marvel’s beverage director Peder Sweigert drink alcohol. A decision Dayton called, “The most life-changing I made in the last decade.”
When the announcement of the new exploration was made, there was a stir on social media. At first, there was concern about the spiked classics normally served within (all are still available,) but the tide quickly turned to great excitement.
The idea began to percolate in Schweigert’s mind last spring, when he was at his family’s cabin near the Lost Forty in Northern Minnesota. “I enjoyed the idea of getting to play in my realm,” he said. Once he embraced the idea, “The spigot was turned on. I’m finding a lot of joy in doing this.” He plunged into beverages of other cultures from around the world. Drinks that promote vitality, health, and, at the end of the day, are just darn tasty.
Schweigert has been working at Marvel for nine years, a position that’s a culmination of an extraordinary career. He grew up in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and went to Macalester College, before realizing that it wasn’t the right academic path for him. He went from working at Cafe Latte, to interning at the original Heartland in Highland Park. That groundbreaking farm-to-table experience ignited his curiosity. From there he went to the Culinary Institute of America in New York. It was during that time that he worked with Dave Arnold, the cocktail visionary behind Booker & Dax and Existing Conditions. As school wound down, he snagged an internship at Top Chef where he crossed paths with Grant Achatz. He made the move back to the Midwest to work at the three Michelin-starred Alinea under Achatz.
Under all of that intense pressure, it was vital that Schweigert take breaks to come home and visit his family, who still live in Grand Rapids. It was during one such return, out hunting, fishing, and trapping, that he realized an important shift was happening in Minneapolis. He made the decision to come home and landed a job under Pip Hanson, in the early days of Marvel Bar.
In all of its time, Marvel has been ground-zero for a certain brand of studious bartenders. Of the original twelve people on staff, three work there to this day. Sweigert, in part, credits that longevity to the people the place attracts. Weekly, they hold meetings to discuss creative inspiration, and air grievances. Everyone is heard, and given space to explore passions. Some forage, some cultivate apples, others garden in their off hours. Each are motivated to understand the elements of making a great bar on a deeper level.
For the bar’s last exploration into brandy, they visited an orchard, tasted apples that aren’t grown for consumption, and found textural and flavor elements that blew open doors of perception. They talked about the soil that grows the trees, and the places that produce the spirits: everywhere from Wisconsin to community stills in rural Europe where each family gets an allotted time to make their own brandy. It led to a deeper understanding of the place and spirit. The same can be said of Dry.
There are so many reasons why people don’t drink, and the decision is often intensely personal. Creating this safe space, with the shift off alcohol, but elevating non-drinking to a new level, opens the doors to people who may not have felt comfortable, or as invited into an alcohol-steeped space.
For this exploration, the staff gathered elements all through the growing season to develop and build flavors. There’s a delicate shrub made from milkweed blossoms, mixed with a gentle vinegar. Conifer blossoms were steeped in honey for months that gives off a perfume like a Northwoods pine stand after a spring rain.
The kombucha they brew is stopped in fermenting before it begins to produce alcohol, when it’s still a bit sweet. The team then balances out the flavors to keep the funk, but temper the sugar.
Which isn’t to say it’s all flowers, rainbows, and deep thoughts. A fiery shot burns in just about every way imaginable with ginger, habaneros, horseradish, and cider vinegar — a mix that will basically murder any linger colds or clogged sinuses one might be harboring.
Mushroom stems discarded from the upstairs kitchen were dried, and made into a version of tea that’s believed to optimize brain health. The resulting drink, the Agatha, is a contemplative sipper suited for whiskey drinkers, but so much kinder to the system.
Creating the drink menu is only part of the process. The back bar, usually stocked with bottles, got the Marie Kondo treatment and now sports a floral installation from Hyssop. The winter harvested florals were taken from a site personal to florist Ann Elizabeth Mekala, who shared her own appreciation of a sober family member.
Schweigert noted that there’s something about this exploration that has moved people to share intimate stories of the complicated relationship some have held with alcohol.
Like what the bar team does in those weekly meetings, creating space for personal growth and contemplation, Dry aims to do for the customers visiting Marvel Bar now through April.