Creative cocktails

Restaurateurs create cocktail programs to complement food offerings

The Lolita from Pizzeria Lola

Silvia Sacta, co-owner of Cocina Latina, said customers have often asked for margaritas over the past 10 years while dining at her small Latin restaurant at 38th & Nicollet.

Her new cocktail menu, unveiled in June, should satisfy that demand.

Sacta, who owns the restaurant with her sister Ruth Gutierrez, serves several flavors of margarita, in addition to a mojito, a pina colada and a Sex on the Beach. She plans to add more drinks in the future.

Cocina Latina is one of 12 Southwest Minneapolis restaurants that have received full liquor licenses and started serving cocktails since November, when Minneapolis voters lifted restrictions on which businesses could apply for the license. (A 13th restaurant, Seed Cafe, is no longer serving cocktails.)

The restaurant owners said they have tried to ensure their new drinks complement their food and ambiance.

“We still are a restaurant that’s super family friendly and closes early,” said The Lowbrow owner Heather Bray, who began serving cocktails in June. “We didn’t want liquor to change that and, so far, it hasn’t at all.”

Bray, who opened The Lowbrow in 2011, said she envisioned serving cocktails that feature local spirits and reflect the restaurant’s “lowbrow” theme. She worked with Northeast Minneapolis’ Tattersall Distilling to create recipes and pick spirits, and she closed the restaurant for four days in June to add coolers and renovate the space behind the bar.

“It was a crazy sprint to get it ready in four days,” she said.

At the Italian restaurant Terzo, co-owner Charlie Broder said he and his team worked to create cocktails that use Italian spirits. He said the biggest benefit of having cocktails is being able to serve and teach customers about amaro, a post-dinner digestif.

“In every region [of Italy] you have different amaro that are so fascinating and delicious,” he said.

Sixteen Southwest Minneapolis businesses have upgraded their liquor licenses since voters approved the referendum, according to the city. Previously, the city charter barred businesses not located in large commercial areas from applying for anything more than wine-and-beer licenses. Those businesses could lobby the state Legislature for an exemption, but that was a costly process.

A coalition of business owners, including Bray, Broder and others in Southwest Minneapolis, led a campaign to pass the referendum.

— Christopher Shea contributed reporting to this story.

A look at Southwest’s new cocktail programs

Pizzeria Lola

Location: 5557 Xerxes Ave. (Armatage) Hours: Sunday–Thursday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Friday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–11 p.m.

At a glance: Pizzeria Lola serves six cocktails,
all priced at $10. Young Joni bar manager Adam Gorski and Lola’s front-of-house manager Monika D’Onofrio collaborated on the menu.


Blackbird Cafe

Location: 3800 Nicollet Ave. (Kingfield)

Hours: Daily, 8 a.m.–3 p.m.

At a glance: Blackbird serves four drinks, ranging in price from $8 to $10. Visit to see the restaurant’s menus and to learn more.


La Mesa

Location: 230 Cedar Lake Road (Bryn Mawr)

Hours: Tuesday–Friday, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5 p.m.–10 p.m., Saturday, noon–2 p.m. and 5 p.m.–10 p.m., Sunday, 5 p.m.–9 p.m.

At a glance: Owners Juan Yunga and Ann Carlson-Yunga serve about a dozen made-to-order cocktails ranging in price from $8 to $16. Their bestseller so far has been the margarita. “We’re trying to expose people through food and beverages to some of the interesting flavors and products of Central and South America,” Carlson-Yunga said.


Red Wagon Pizza

Location: 5416 Penn. Ave. (Armatage)

Hours: Daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

At a glance: Owner Peter Campbell and his team serve six batched cocktails to complement a wine list and 36 tap beers. The cocktail offerings include an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan.


Saint Genevieve

Location: 5003 Bryant Ave. (Lynnhurst)

Hours: Monday–Thursday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.–midnight, Saturday, 9:30 a.m.–midnight, Sunday, 9:30 a.m.–9 p.m.

At a glance: Owner Steven Brown has a menu
that includes six batched, French-influenced cocktails, ranging in price from $9 to $13. His bestseller is the Vesper, a cocktail that includes gin, vodka and the French wine Lillet.



Location: 2726 43rd St. (Linden Hills)

Hours: Monday–Friday, 11 a.m.–1 p.m., Saturday–Sunday, 9 a.m.–1 a.m.

At a glance: Brown’s other Southwest Minneapolis restaurant has six cocktail offerings in the evening and three brunch cocktails, all batched. The bestseller is called Gin & Two Tonics and features gin, housemade tonic, lemon and herbs.



Location: 2221 50th St. (Lynnhurst)

Hours: Sunday–Thursday, 5 p.m.–9 p.m., Friday–Saturday, 5 p.m.–10 p.m.

At a glance: The Broder family restaurant focuses on its Italian roots with its cocktail program, which it unveiled in April. Customers can find amaro (an Italian herbal liqueur), vermouth (a wine flavored with herbs) and other Italy-inspired drinks.


Cocina Latina

Location: 3764 Nicollet Ave. (Kingfield)

Hours: Monday–Friday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Saturday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–11 p.m.

At a glance: Silvia Sacta and Ruth Gutierrez offer tequila shots and four cocktails, with their most popular being the margarita.


La Fresca

Location: 4750 Grand Ave. (Tangletown)

Hours: Sunday–Thursday, 4 p.m.–9 p.m., Friday–Saturday, 4 p.m.–10 p.m.

At a glance: Owner Hector Ruiz and his team serve eight agave-based cocktails, most of which are made to order. A bestseller is a drink called Waterfall City, which features tequila, fresh watermelon, lime juice and agave nectar. “We just want to give people a good balance of a drink that’s not overly sweet or overly potent,” general manager Zoilo Ruacho said.


Harriet’s Inn

Location: 4000 Lyndale Ave. (East Harriet)

Hours: Monday–Thursday, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.–midnight Saturday, 10 a.m.– midnight Sunday, 10 a.m.–11 p.m.

At a glance: Harriet’s Inn has mixed drinks and serves eight made-to-order cocktails. Its bestsellers are its martini and Old Fashioned.


The Lowbrow

Location: 4244 Nicollet Ave. (Kingfield)

Hours: Monday, 4 p.m.–9:30 p.m. Tuesday–Friday, 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Sunday, 9 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

At a glance: Heather Bray and her team serve eight cocktails, ranging from an Old Fashioned to a mimosa, many of which feature local spirits. Bray said her version of a Pimm’s Cup was inspired by a visit to London a couple years ago.



Location: 3758 Nicollet Ave. (Kingfield)

Hours: Monday–Friday, 4 p.m.– midnight, Saturday–Sunday, noon–midnight

At a glance: This sushi and Japanese restaurant has five pre-batched gin-and vodka-based cocktails. It also serves nine Japanese whiskies and three shochus (a type of Japanese hard alcohol).


How to make a La Fresca margarita

Margaritas are a staple of cocktail menus across Southwest Minneapolis, including at the Mexican restaurant La Fresca, located at 48th & Grand, which offers six of them. Here’s a look at how owner Hector Ruiz and his team make their Margarita Classica, as demonstrated by general manager Zoilo Ruacho.

—Photos by Nate Gotlieb

Step 1

Salt the rim of the glass and add a lime wedge.

Step 2

Combine ice, tequila, agave nectar and lime juice in a shaking tin.

Step 3

Shake over the shoulder.

Step 4

Pour cocktail into tumbler and serve.