The Southwest neighborhoods are definitely an epicure's destination, and also boast impressive wine and beer selections in their restaurants and stores (think and . But to be frank, the cocktail scene is scarce in these parts.
Though there is word that will soon add hard liquor to their license, there is only one true beacon of proper bartending in our neck of the woods — .
The bar program there is run impeccably by Pip Hanson, a protege of La Belle Vie's Johnny Michaels. At just 30, he's one of a small group of highly respected cocktail experts who is responsible for changing the potable palate of the Twin Cities.
"I worked a real job in a real office, wearing a tie, for about four months and hated every second of it," Hanson said about his brief foray into a bar-less profession.
That Japanese trading company's loss was our gain. Hanson spent about a year and a half in the old country and added much to the drink knowledge he had previously gained from working in town at places like the Dakota, 20.21 and La Belle Vie. After a month in Japan, he found himself tending bar and seeking out cocktail masters in the famed Ginza area of Tokyo.
"I think I learned how to make a martini my second night working. And I woke up the next day and I felt every sinew tingle. It was almost like Tai Chi," he said of learning at the hands of Japanese masters. "It was a mind-expanding experience."
Japan is known for it's über-precise cocktail culture, wherein the classics are rendered perfectly. In their "analog" bartending style, individuals can spend the first year of training learning nothing but how to clean up.
While Hanson gleaned serious technique during his stay in Asia, he certainly did not follow the slow schedule of an analog education. After just five years of measuring and mixing, he's renowned in the cities. In addition to running the bar at Maude, he also co-owns Proof, a cocktail consulting company, and writes about cocktails and cocktail culture for Metro Magazine.
But the proof of his skills is most clearly visible (and taste-able) at Cafe Maude. Nothing is left to chance when he and his staff create a drink. For example, they make and hand chip their own ice to fit each type of glass, helping to adjust the temperature and dilution on a drink by drink basis.
"A martini or an old fashioned are my two favorite drinks to make or drink," Hanson explained. "There's a reason they've been around for a hundred years."
He also has a full list of specialty drinks that he's invented. One of his drinks, called Bitter Branch, a concoction of rye, cynar, nocello and sea salt, will be featured in an upcoming cocktail book by Imbibe magazine. It's one of his personal favorites of the Maude drinks, along with Now You Know (aged rum, Cynar, fino sherry, Licor 43) and Stockholm Syndrome (Aalborg Aquavit, fino sherry, lemon, lingonberry).
Hanson calls himself as a minimalist, plying a rustic trade that has only come back after about 70 years of darkness. In a way, he's evangelizing (his word) to his customers about how these cocktails can be made and treated with respect. He sees the bar program as a part of the culinary arts, and not an adjunct to it, and strives to bring back a sense of the "golden age" of cocktails — the early 1900's — to the craft.
"We're slowly winning people over," Hanson said, which seems like an understatement. Then he admits that guests come from across town to sit at his bar and try the libations. And yet, there are still stalwarts who want their dry vodka martini and aren't ready to taste the complexity of gin and vermouth in a wetter blend.
Despite those folks, bartending is in Hanson's blood for good. He's tried what he called a real job, taught and played in a band, but this is what makes him happiest.
"I find this as compelling as music. It's diving into flavor... I mean you could spend a lifetime studying just scotch," Hanson rhapsodized.
And for us that's fantastic, as it means we can get a proper Manhattan, all the other classics and a choice of 18 specialty drinks, without leaving Southwest Minneapolis. Plus, here's a cocktailers tip: If you're going to Cafe Maude for the spirits, sit at the bar. You not only get to watch Pip Hanson and his team make your palliative, but you'll also get the freshest possible ingredients and ice.
Just getting into the craft cocktail scene? Here are Pip Hanson's suggestions on the drinks to try the next time you are out at a good bar.
Eight Basic Drinks
3. Old Fashioned
- 5411 Penn Ave. S./612.822.5411