My favorite cocktail-bar experiences often start with an adventurous bartender willing to create a brand new drink on the spot. While this can sometimes be a recipe for disaster, nothing tastes better when it works -- and you're left with a spontaneous masterpiece.
Marvel Bar is trying to bottle that experience by turning Sunday nights into a menu-less playground for its staff. Owners Andrew and Eric Dayton are unofficially calling it "improv night." This is a chance for Marvel's bartenders to give customers a more personal experience (something lacking during über-packed Friday and Saturday nights). Start by chatting with your bartender about your flavor profile. Do you want something sweet? Sour? Hate gin? Love vodka? They'll come up with something in the $10 range, risk-free (they'll make you another if you absolutely hate it). (Of course, you can still get a drink menu if you really want one.)
This isn't the only new amusement happening at the North Loop bar, which opened nine months ago. Bartender Pip Hanson has started a punch program that's available on weekdays. Stop right there if the word "punch" brings you back to your boozy college days when you got drunk off a vat of cheap rum and soggy fruit. Punch actually has a storied history in cocktail culture and is enjoying a comeback in the bar scenes of New York and Chicago.
A lot more goes into brewing "craft" punch. For instance, Hanson might start one of his punch recipes with an oleo-saccharum (sugared oil that comes from zesting and mashing lemons, and some boiling). The special ingredient in this week's punch was dark rose tea from China's Hunan Province. His team debuts a new concoction each Monday until it runs out. You can order a $5 glass or a $40 bowl for the whole table, which comes with frozen glasses and your own ladle.
One more Hanson revelation: The bartender has created "day drinks" to accompany the brunch menu upstairs at the Bachelor Farmer. Highlights include the Breakfast Whiskey (bourbon, smoked maple syrup and bitter), Caraway Shandy (a beer/lemonade concoction made with aquavit) and a bourbon coffee flip cocktail simply called Coffee Flip (made with espresso and a whole egg). Now if Bachelor Farmer could only do the reverse and offer some food down in Marvel Bar.
Where: 50 N. 2nd Av., Mpls.
Hours: 5 p.m.-midnight Sun.-Thu. and 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri. and Sat.
Contact: 612-206-3929 or www.marvel bar.com.