The Monte Carlo Bar and Restaurant on the edge of the North Loop section of downtown Minneapolis offers up a rare opportunity for classic fine dining. Waitresses serve tables in classic black and white uniforms, gentlemen are asked to remove their hat while inside and it’s a no cell phone zone, too.
Inside the lighting is low, but not too low as to not be able to notice the shiny, classic, punched copper ceiling. But it’s summertime, so why sit indoors, when the Monte Carlo offers up a perfectly relaxing haven on their patio with large, shading umbrella-covered tables?
The bartenders pour well-made, if strong, classic cocktails. There are numerous classics to be had, but this outing called for both the sweet and the savory, and even a couple of appetizers that were hot and cool.
219 3rd Avenue North
Hours: Mon-Sat 11 a.m.–1 a.m.; Sun 10 a.m.-11:30 .pm.
This is a savory beverage, perhaps a little heavy for a hot summer day, but the Monte Carlo mixes it well. The Rob Roy is a scotch-based cocktail, reminiscent of a Manhattan, mixed with sweet vermouth, dash of bitters and garnished with a maraschino cherry. For those who enjoy the flavor of scotch, but aren’t in the mood to drink it straight, this is a nice option, finishing with the slightly bitter flavor of vermouth, a fortified wine flavored with various other ingredients. Vermouth has fallen out of favor and many drinkers new to the world of cocktails aren’t familiar with it. Which brings us to another savory cocktail, and some of us can be a bit finicky about the ingredients and the amounts.
Now this is a bit redundant to say — gin martini. Those of you who order a vodka martini are technically ordering something called a Kangaroo. This decade has brought about quite an identity crisis for this classic cocktail and frustration to martini purists. With horrible concoctions, like the “apple-tini” for instance, which hide behind the martini moniker, ordering a classic has become an ordeal. But perhaps it’s always been an ordeal. The constituent ingredients are gin, vermouth, orange bitters, and either garnished with a twist of lemon or an olive. But some prefer a dry martini, or others want it dirty. Some want to know what kind of vermouth the bar uses, and if it’s not up to snuff with the patron’s needs, well, then, the whole martini order is a no go. This is perfectly acceptable cocktail ordering behavior for a martini. But, it’s important to recognize which bars will be able to handle such specific requests with ease and respect. Monte Carlo can handle finicky martini orders, sans batting eyelashes
This cocktail is purportedly a Minnesota native, though some cite Provincetown, Massachusetts as the origin of this drink. This drink was a classic long before Carrie Bradshaw and her posse latched onto it. But at least Sex and the City brought it back into bar vernacular, because it would be a shame to let the Cosmopolitan fade away. The cosmo’s famously pink color comes from its main ingredient: cranberry juice. Along with that there is typically vodka, triple sec or Grand Marnier, and fresh squeezed lime juice with a lime garnish. The Monte Carlo makes one sweet cosmopolitan cocktail. It was almost as if they had put a dash or two of simple syrup in the mix. Typically, though a cosmo is on the sweeter side, the bitterness of the cranberry juice generally finishes the taste instead of its natural, initial sweetness. That and the lime balances out the sweetness of the orange liqueur. In this case, the sweetness was the victor. As it was in the next cocktail.
There is no mistaking this for a sweet drink, for it is one of those classics that is typically served with sugar around the rim of the glass. In the glass is brandy, Triple Sec, and lime juice. Sometimes Grand Marnier or Cointreau is used instead of Triple Sec — all orange liqueurs — and some people prefer lemon juice to lime, and is either garnished with a lemon or a lime. Monte Carlo garnished with an orange, which is perfectly acceptable, but instead of tasting a bittersweet lime-tinged cocktail, this was decidedly orange-y.
One good classic cocktail tends to lead to others, and soon appetites are flaring. Monte Carlo has a luscious menu full of classics to match the cocktails, such as seafood and steak, but for those who just want to nibble between cocktails, there is a selection of appetizers as well. Their side of fries is the perfect size to split with a friend, and exactly what you want from fries — hot, salty, and delicious. But when it’s hot outside, they have cooler options as well. When you’re looking for something a little more substantial than the house salad, they serve a beautiful shrimp cocktail. The pink tails hang over the edge of a pretty glass bowl filled with ice. A side of cocktail sauce comes with it and, most importantly, they include a generous slice of lemon.
The location is great as well. Monte Carlo is near the riverfront, a short walk from the Warehouse lightrail stop, and a long way from the rowdy club crowds. Because sometimes it’s nice to be able to hear your friends talk.