Punched at the dragon

At just over the legal drinking age, I’m still relatively new to the bar scene in Minneapolis. Although I’m always eager to break down doors and brandish my ID in search of bold new flavors, I’ve realized that some factors continually get in the way of my enjoyment. For example, a Mojito packed with fresh mint at a high-end eatery might be a taste sensation, but it’s sure to set me back about $15. That dollar amount could easily buy me six or seven rail drinks at happy hour, but while my wallet congratulates me, my tastebuds suffer. My criteria for great libation, it seems, can be summed up in three words: cheap, delicious and strong.

Enter the dragon. I’m talking, of course, about the Red Dragon Restaurant, 2116 Lyndale Ave. S., and the legendary Wondrous Punch. The bar has a succinct list of specialty cocktails, tropical libations with names like the Zombie, the Navy Grog and the Fog Cutter. But only the Punch has earned a reputation as a potent peachy-pink confection able to lure people in from the suburbs.

If you need proof of its popularity, you need only to sidle up to the bar, take a seat, wait and watch. Bartender Sandy Samountry poured my Wondrous Punch, the first of literally dozens I saw her make that night. It’s not a complicated drink — generous shots of four different kinds of rum, a sampling of citrus juices and a splash of grenadine. The result is a sweet, strong and tangy taste with which I imagine few could find fault.

Samountry confirmed the concoction’s cult status. I waited for the Wondrous Punch rush to die down a little before I asked how many she made in an average night. Her reply? “About 400.” Not hard to believe; nearly every other person in the room had one in hand.

At $9, the Punch is at the steeper end of the drink menu. Then again, it’s probably important to note that it is unlikely you’ll need a second round. “It’s an evening in a glass,” remarked one rather astute bar patron. If you’re considering a night of bar hopping, it may be wise to make the Dragon your final stop. Perhaps your only stop — the restaurant’s relaxed atmosphere makes it easy for a diverse crowd of people to settle into cozy booths and stay awhile.

So why don’t you join them? Stop in for a fruity, flavorful Wondrous Punch and you’ll leave with no regrets — and fewer inhibitions.

Red Dragon, 2116 Lyndale Ave. S.