Slainte! Cent’anni! Skol! Prosit! Salud! Na zdorovie! L’chaim! Bottoms up! Every culture has a word to convey the same idea: Let us drink together, to health, to life and to this moment. It’s a simple ritual, heartfelt yet quick. It is in that spirit that we ventured forth to find the best lake-area places with the best libations. As you can imagine, the options are tremendous—and tremendously exciting. Follow our lead and sip, slurp and chug your merry way through the height of summer because it will be gone before we know it. And don’t forget to raise your glass to one another. Cheers!
The Wharf at Lord Fletcher’s is the very picture of summer. It’s the size of a football field, has three bars and live music Thursdays through Sundays. There’s a lot to look at—boats, water, young people cavorting—and it’s an exquisite pleasure to while away a summer evening there. It’s a classic and beloved place, so go with a classic and beloved cocktail: the Cuba libre, a drink you’ve probably heard about but have no idea how it’s made. It’s simply Bacardi gold rum, Coca-Cola and lime. A rum drink conjures tropical sunsets and sandy beaches, and the Cuba libre comes with an interesting story about Cuba. Ask your server about it; see if they’re up on their history. Happy-hour noshes are dynamite: fried pickles, onion rings, carnitas sliders and honey-walnut shrimp. $3.50. 3746 Sunset Drive; Spring Park; 952.471.8513.
Midnight Express Martini
Bacio’s martini covers drink and dessert in one fell swoop, with a coffee kick for good measure. The base of the drink is Prairie organic vodka, distilled from corn for a smooth, almost creamy sensation (and it’s as local as can be, from the Benson, Minn., Phillips Distilling Co.). The vodka, Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlua and espresso blend seamlessly in a martini glass for your delight. The drink is frothy, sweet and more reminiscent of ice cream than alcohol. This is best sipped earlier in the evening—the electric buzz of sugar, caffeine and booze will keep you humming along for hours. $9.50 1571 Plymouth Road; Minnetonka; 942.544.7000.
A rabble-rousing shot of tequila is for those nights of abandon when there’s not much to do the next day, and Red Rooster rocks a roadhouse vibe that will put you in the mood. The bar keeps it simple with two choices: Patron (high-brow) and Jose Cuervo gold (middle- to low-brow, depending on whom you ask). Lick a bit of salt, toss back the fuel, suck on a lime wedge and make the appropriate funny face. Get a beer chaser; something light and unobtrusive from Milwaukee will do. Be sure to temper the liquor with the baskets of free popcorn. Patron, $4.50; Cuervo, $3.25. 1832 Wayzata Blvd.; Long Lake; 952.473.4089.
If you’re feeling a little more, er, civilized, head over to Pairings to taste some wine. You can get it by the glass, by the bottle, or sample a flight—small pours of three to four different wines—for a bit of educational fun. If you can reserve the room with the long wooden table, you’ll be transported to the Tuscan countryside with 16 of your closest friends. Hire an on-site sommelier to provide context and guidance. Or do as we did and fly by the seat of your pants—what could go wrong? Wine snobs unduly influenced by the oenophile manifesto Sideways will want to sample a variety of pinot noirs. But maybe it’s time to venture out. How about wines from South America? Fall in love with one and pick up a bottle from the adjacent shop to bring home. Fancy snacks—charcuterie, cheese plate—are available to complement your wine. Prices vary. 6001 Shady Oak Road; Minnetonka; 952.426.0522.
The mimosa is one of those drinks that we tend to forget. Maybe because it’s a morning drink and we don’t drink much—if ever—in the mornings, more’s the pity. But it’s the perfect quaff for a lazy summer Sunday brunch, especially if there’s a patio involved. Get thee to Hazellewood Grill, where both mimosas and a patio await! A good mimosa doesn’t require top-shelf champagne, but it does require great orange juice. Hazellewood’s got the concoction down, mixing perfectly decent Wycliffe champagne with freshly squeezed juice. It’s perfect with their signature eggs Benedict on focaccia. $6; $4 on weekends during brunch. 5635 Manitou Road, Tonka Bay; 952.401.0066.
Single Malt Scotch
Single malt scotch is seriously sophisticated stuff, like leather-armchairs-and-cigars sophisticated. Except you can’t smoke on the patio here and there are no leather armchairs—but you catch the drift. Single malt scotch is a luxury drink for connoisseurs and those who aspire to connoisseurship. You’ll find the two “Glens” at this classy pub: Glenlivet and Glenfiddich. If you’re not familiar with the good stuff, it’s worth trying both of these superior distillations to compare the nuances. Words like peat, tobacco and leather might come to mind; so might “Whoa, Nellie!” and “Dang!” Ask for it served neat (which means no ice, but it’s much more fun to say “neat”) for a pure, unfettered encounter. If the weather’s nice, the small patio in front is a great place to take in the evening air while sipping. If not, the pub is always lively, always lovely. $9. 331 Broadway Ave. S.; Wayzata; 952.767.2417.
Minnesota has finally caught up with the rest of the country and is exploding with local microbreweries making small-batch craft beers that are a far cry from the insipid mass-produced lagers of summers past. Excelsior Brewery is slinging some terrific stuff: four different selections plus a seasonal. Their flagship brew, the XLCR, pulls off the neat trick of dressing up and dressing down. It’s fantastic with a steak dinner and deeply refreshing after mowing the lawn. It has a nice hoppy edge without the bitter bite of some ales and the malt is sweetly apparent. Some detect a floral note; it’s an intriguingly complex glass of liquid. 16 oz., $6.25. 421 Third St.; Excelsior; 952.474.7837.
Sakana Sushi offers the cocktail-seeker something exotic: sake, a fermented rice drink that is brewed like beer but tastes more like fortified wine. There are many varieties and distinctions, as it’s only been around since, oh, about 700 A.D. Settle in with an open mind and open palate for a three-sake flight. The flights come with a card describing each distillation, with words like “woodsy and dense” and “mellow and rustic.” Once you taste these elegant elixirs, you’ll be inspired to come up with your own fancy descriptors. Sakana’s patio is a bit recessed from the sidewalk, making it a perfect vantage point for people-watching. Simple Pleasures sake flight, $14; Umami flight, $20. 683 Lake St. E.; 952.476.7000.
If you’re looking for a swinging patio scene, this is the place. Late-night happy hour (9-11 p.m.) on Monday–Thursday subsumes the whole restaurant, and the outdoor section is jammed. A French 75 is a stylish, festive libation, made from citrusy Tanqueray 10 gin, champagne and a bracing squirt of fresh lemon. Apparently it was named after the French 75mm field gun because of its powerful kick. Word to the wise, folks. $12. 11544 Wayzata Blvd.; Minnetonka; 763.398.3200.