Photo: Intercontinental Saint Paul Riverfront
Written by: Mecca Bos
One of my favorite places in the world is a hotel bar.
Not any hotel bar in particular, but hotel bars in general. Some of the most reliable spaces in the world, they fill a niche that goes beyond grabbing a drink before or after check-in, though that’s nice too.
But rather, think of a hotel bar when you don’t have anything else to do, and you’d like to imagine you’re on vacation (even if you are on vacation, a hotel bar can feel like a vacation within a vacation). The rows of rooms upstairs, even if you’re not staying there, offer a sense of comfort knowing that if you have one too many, a soft pillow is but a few short steps away.
Though I’ve never checked into a hotel room after a few too many at a hotel bar, just the option lends an air of glamour. I could if I wanted to, and that alone is a miniature thrill.
But also, a hotel bar is one of the most dependable places on the planet at odd hours, odd days (like the holidays) or even if you yourself are just feeling odd. A hotel bartender has just about seen it all, and she will toss you a bar napkin with a flick of the wrist that suggests you could try to surprise her— you can’t.
But more importantly, that napkin toss is in fact an invitation to stay awhile, even— or perhaps especially— if you’re visiting family at the holidays and need a bit of cheer, or just a glorious moment of peace.
Three of Downtown St. Paul’s finest:
Intercontinental Saint Paul Riverfront’s Citizen Restaurant and Bar
A mod interior with a moody dim appropriate for a hotel bar, Citizen can stand on its own merits as a greatest hits Minnesota restaurant, with old comfort favorites reimagined, like local Redhead Creamery cheese curds, and a burger plied with shallots and red wine butter.
But if you came to drink, check out local selections from Saint Paul’s own Tin Whiskers and other Twin Cities breweries.
The Saint Paul Hotel Lobby Bar
Saint Paul’s Grand Dame hotel offers a bar experience in line with this courtly property, where presidents and dignitaries have laid their heads over its 111 year history. I’ve written about The Saint Paul Hotel multitudes of times, and I think it’s because it always feels like a fantasy place to me.
The first time I stayed, I felt like I was somehow, finally grownup doing life right, being able to slide downstairs coatless, ordering a brown liquor drink from a white-shirted barkeep.
And alas, with each sip, gaze into the dusky mirrored walls, bottles reflected from behind, and all your grownup worries will fall away.
Pair that drink with some elegant snacks, like brandy sautéed shrimp, a fine cheese board, or even a selection of caviars if you want to go from feeling fine, to fantastic.
If you plan to stay: Consider a room overlooking Rice Park, one of the prettiest spots in downtown, or a holiday suite package, with Christmas decorations and welcome milk & cookies.
Celeste of St. Paul
This former convent will still allow you to get a little naughty with cheeky Catholic-themed cocktails like rye-based “The Kneeler,” or “Deacon Carl’s Holy Water,” with whiskey and bitters.
The bar menu at Celeste is tight but smart— with the kinds of light snackers that encourage lingering, sipping, and sipping some more. An olive bowl, a chicken satay, or a shrimp cocktail, you can almost imagine a nun in a habit dabbing modestly at the corner of her mouth.
After indulging, you could do penance at the onsite chapel. (Or, just order another drink.)
If you plan to stay: Choose rooms that were formerly occupied as chapels, with amenities like 12 and 18-foot ceilings.
Planning a stay in Saint Paul and want more ideas for places to rest your head? Check out other lodging offerings in the city.
Mecca Bos is a Twin Cities based food writer and professional chef. Thinking of tacos and travel are hobbies. Her work can be found at meccaboswrites.com