You should hear Trish Gavin talk about the last crappy martini she had.
She told me about it during a podcast interview we did back in August. It was with such well-spoken disdain she described watching that bartender dump Plymouth Gin into a tin, sending six dashes of Peychaud’s bitters in behind it because he didn’t have any Vermouth, shaking it, then pouring half of it out.
“[Then he] set the tin in front of me to let the rest of it die in front of me, slowly, on bad ice,” she said, in the very tone with which Cersei Lannister explained how Ellaria Sand and her daughter were going to die last season on Game of Thrones.
Somebody who hates bad cocktails this much ought to be your first choice to head a bar program, and Gavin does just that at Tullibee. Tullibee is the upscale Norse-theme establishment in the North Loop’s Hewing Hotel, named after prey fish found in northern Minnesota’s lakes. The Hewing opened in November of 2016, and was immediately voted Best Hotel in the Twin Cities by the City Pages’ annual Best-of poll. Gavin was voted Best Bartender in the same poll.
Gavin has been at it since the age of 16. Her uncle had previously worked at The American Bar in London’s Savoy Hotel before starting his own shop in Chicagoland, and took her under his wing. She looked back on the day she was forced to fly.
“Somebody didn’t show up,” she said, “so he just put a jigger in my hand and told me, I’d seen him do it enough times and I should be able to figure it out. Here’s a recipe book if I need it.”
She figured it out. I’ve been up and down the cocktail menu. I’ve challenged Gavin and fellow bartender Michael Lindgren to make up drinks for me on the spot. It always ends the same: I find myself gazing in stupor at my glass, mouthing “wow,” saying “that is nice!”
I’ve had a Hewing Old Fashioned, first as a photo shoot prop near the pool table, then as a drink while leaning on tables. It’s marvelous. An Old Fashioned is the measuring stick by which I judge cocktail bars (whether that’s a crime, I care not), and the Hewing Old Fashioned is in the conversation for my Deserted Island Old Fashioned. I’ve drank a Blind Dragon at the end of the bar. The Blind Dragon is exciting, spicy and bright, like a fireside dance on a beach.
The Spruce Tonic is only $9, significantly lower priced than anything else on the drink menu (the others go $12-14) but it’s no joke. It’s Spruce Co. grapefruit soda, and your choice of Sipsmith Gin and Skaalvenn Vodka. Go local: Tyson and Mary Schnitker are very quietly doing excellent work at Brooklyn Park-based Skaalvenn. This cocktail is a light, peaceful sipper. It’s a small joy.
If you get to the rooftop bar, they make Slushie cocktails up there. Break it down, Michael!
If you want highballs, Tullibee installed a highball machine this past fall. All of their highballs land around 8% alcohol by volume, fulfilling Gavin’s goal of landing them right around that of a beer. My favorite is the single-malt highball with 12-year-aged Yamakazi whiskey. It comes Kobe-style (no ice), with no garnish.
The highballs are made with a hyper-carbonated seltzer. They’re bubbly and fun, not sappy and fizzy like the soda machine drinks that always leave me with gut rot. The highball menu isn’t to be confused with the Highballer section, smartly installed in time for the Super Bowl with drinks priced as highly as $502.
I sit as close as I can to the end of the bar where Gavin is directing traffic. She sets two glasses in front of her, pours, stirs, shakes, plunks, pours, gives orders and plunks. Her team grabs the drinks and hustle away. If you need a stock imagine for “stunning efficiency,” just come and creep on the Tullibee bar team. They don’t mind – I do it all the time.
In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t eaten a proper dinner in the Tullibee dining room. I’ve only had brunch and eaten from the bar menu. I love the cheeseburger. It’s built with aged beef, colby cheese, and greens. It’s a smoky, sharp bite, like a day of roughin’ it in the woods mixed with a night by the fireplace.
I was told an order of walleye toast would change my life; and, to the extent walleye toast could change one’s life, it changed mine. It’s not on the menu right now, to my seasonal dismay. Both of these dishes come with a handful of duck fat fries. They’re great fries. I wish you got more of them.
Speaking of getting more, the walleye toast came with eight ounces of walleye. If that’s not enough fish for you, there’s always the option of ordering a whole fish.
At brunch, you can score a turkey eggs benedict with watercress and a thick coat of hollandaise, and Norwegian waffles that have allegedly gained a cult following. The waffles are nice – I over-loved their syrup and butter – but my choice is the benedict. It’s a direct hit, delivered on a pre-messed plate. You’ll clean that plate, and in doing so make it even messier. Break the yolks open wide. Paint the whole plate yellow. I believe in you.
Bradley Day heads up the kitchen, replacing original chef Grae Nonas back in March. Day is originally from Australia and got his culinary start in Perth before moving to London for to work for Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Gordon Ramsay, among others. Day came to the U.S. in 2003. He was most recently the executive chef at New York City’s STK Downtown before coming to Tullibee. Links to all of their menus can be found on the Tullibee homepage.
It’s a beautiful, welcoming place. They open the door for you. They offer bar service in the front lobby. The view from their rooftop is breathtaking, and now it’s available to everyone on Tuesday nights. I come in wearing the frumpy polos I rock on lazy work days. On weekends, I come in wearing T-shirts with stupid sayings or restaurant names on the fronts. I never feel judged or out of place. I find a comfortable seat, order a cocktail, open my laptop, and get to work.
The Star Tribune wrote an article back in 2015 about efforts to sustain the tullibee fish in Minnesota lakes. A DNR representative is quoted as saying, “If you have tullibee in a lake, you know things are pretty good.” I can say it’s perfectly true: I’ve got a tullibee in my lake, and things are pretty good.