When news arrived late in 2019 that a new effort from the folks at Lawless Distilling Co. and Bittercube Bitters was destined for the North Loop, our spirits warmed just thinking about what Stilheart Distillery and Cocktail Lounge might hold in store when its doors finally opened.
As of this week, Stilheart made good on all those promises, opening at North Second Street and Third Avenue. The sleek, multilevel den of drink occupies a renovated building from the 1880s—right next door to Lululemon!, adjacent to the Monte Carlo—but the new occupants have made it entirely their own.
The atmosphere created by Minneapolis’s newest booze barons couldn’t be more different from the staid interior of its nearest martini competitor; the place is, throughout, a proper lounge, though it caters to adults with a soundtrack reflecting as much (we heard you, TV on the Radio and the Replacements).
Upstairs looks the part, too, thanks to modern accents and lighting, which play up sleek design and a high-contrast color scheme. Bright, contemporary paintings line one wall, while a smattering of lower seating options surround an island bar. Descending behind that is a staircase concealed by a curtain, which leads to an additional, more outright buoyant basement bar and even more lounging. On the lower lever, guests choose between a recess decorated with orb-lit and veil-separated perches with tableside service, and a separate room housing the subterranean bar.
At the latter, guests belly up to the bar with mid-century-esque bar stools, where all are equally cast in a pink hue courtesy of a STILHEART neon, shelved up high with the glassware. An entire wall (and under bar) lacquered in overlapping full-color magazine clippings pulled from fashion magazines from the past few decades makes for eye candy despite the low light.
Stilheart's menu of tap-poured, elevated libations is divided into classics, inventive original drinks, low-proof beauties, and build-your-own accompaniments (including non-alcoholic options). This "tap" element touches on something promised back when the establishment was but a mirage on the horizon: They’d hinted at blending elements of the craft beer taproom blueprint with craft cocktailing, but in a more comfortable ambiance. This is most evident by a glass window peeking from the downstairs bar into the distilling area (aka “the alcohol kitchen,” as head distiller Jeff Fricke put it), where patrons can glance from the menu to where it came from (like a brewery might lend a vantage point into their storage or fermentation tanks).
Despite its deceptively small size, it’s in this one room that Stilheart is creating 51 percent of the alcohol consumed in-house, while the rest is bonded over from Lawless. Since they have no intention of distributing, they can stay small, agile, streamlined, and experimental.
What this translates to for guests is a menu with chameleonic potential, paired with quick delivery. Stilheart’s original Nordic Cup arrived effervescent and garnished to the nines with a trio of blueberries, a pair of dehydrated citrus wheels, and two styles of ice; its reusable straw begged for some swizzling. The drink's mix of Aquavit, ginger, strawberry, rhubarb, and Jamaican No. 1 bitters made for a fruity and balanced sipper. Though the concoction was complex, nothing felt shortchanged in its speedy delivery.
Also, even without drinking it, we highly recommend watching the world’s friendliest bar staff turn a Cuba Libre into an Art Deco temple using nothing but a Collins glass, carefully tweezed greens, some liquid, and an ice rod.
Are we lame for thinking that the vodka martini (from the classics menu), poured from a nitro tap and garnished with lily pads of lemony olive oil, was a subtle delight? As a whole, the package takes an otherwise pretty standard drink and adds elements that subtly play with texture and flavor, while maintaining a simplicity and loveliness to the standard, proving that Stilheart doesn’t just lean on neon and pizzazz to please its guests.
With the weekend upon us, we encourage you to pop down to Stilheart and do a little exploring—whether inward, through your palate, or more literally through the lounge's well-appointed nooks. Enjoy not waiting a lifetime to enjoy multidimensional craft cocktails on that sojourn.
124 Third Ave. N., Minneapolis