My favorite restaurants in the Twin Cities (or anywhere, for that matter) all have a certain something that isn’t so easy to define, like how Barbette oozes with atmosphere or Meritage makes you feel like you stumbled into a corner of France. Town Talk Diner is on the top of that list. Let’s call it my je na sais quoi list, because, you know, everything is more intriguing when you say it in French.
My je na sais quoi list, now that I decided I have one, is all about synergy, I suppose, the way in which the elements of a restaurant come together to create something greater than their individual parts. I love how this ineffable quality can be just as nourishing as the food. In the words of author Ray Oldenburg, I would call these restaurants “the third place.” What Oldenburg means is that most everyone has two places: home and work. But on top of it, to finish the triangle and make us complete, we all need a third place, defined by wordspy.com as “a place other than home or work where a person can go to relax and feel part of the community.”
Town Talk is not only a place to get a meal. It is also a perfect third place. Town Talk is classic, authentic, and well-designed. It is a comfortable modern space that brings a vintage diner carefully back to life. I think this has to be one of the reasons why it has such great karma. The positive atmosphere buzzes with life. Part of me doesn’t even want to call it a restaurant. Town Talk is more like a party or an ongoing conversation, a place where you can always go to have a great meal, a perfectly shaken cocktail, a malt, and a conversation with your server or a stranger at the bar. The only thing you need is good timing, of course, because it can be awfully hard to get a seat.
I’ve been to Town Talk many times, but last week I went to have a few drinks on the bar stools bar with Nathan (aka, the Bohemian woodworker). He’s busy completely remaking a darling Victorian he rescued from foreclosure, so we met at his house-in-process in Powderhorn. After the grand tour, we went to Luce for pizza and a few beers, then we headed to the main course, the cocktails at Town Talk.
One of life’s great disappointments is wasting 10 bucks on a mediocre cocktail, so I like to spend my drinkin’ money at a bar that will never let you down. Town Talk is one of those places. Their cocktail list is carefully crafted and delightful in its attention to detail. I’m a fan of absinthe, so I asked for The Green Fairy: Zen Green Tea liquer, St. George’s absinthe, vodka, lemon, sugar, and egg white.
I know. You’re probably rolling your eyes at me because you know how hip absinthe is. It doesn’t matter. It’s great stuff, and this has to be one of the best cocktails I ever had. Seriously, it was that good. The bartender shook it up for what seemed like 10 minutes, sifted it into a glass in front of me, then added a generous dose of St. George absinthe with an eyedropper all around the face of the cocktail. He even gave me the bottle to admire. St. George is the good stuff, with excellent design.
Nathan got the Jackson Pollock: Bombay Sapphire, grapefruit-lime sour, sparkling wine, and basil oil. The bartender drops the basil oil into the bottom of your cocktail glass. As he pours in the contents of the cocktail shaker, the oil bubbles to the top and looks a bit like something Pollock might haphazardly drip off of his paint brush.
My only complaint about Town Talk is that the wine used to be cheaper, a lot cheaper. I liked how 3 and 4-dollar glasses set the wine list apart and encouraged a healthy glass or two to go with your meal. Nathan’s only complaint is that the cocktails are too small. The gimlet he ordered was served in a dainty glass.
On one of the many occasions I’ve been to Town Talk Diner, this song was playing as I walked in the door. Even though I didn’t know the song at the time, it got lodged in my head because I thought it summed up the spirit of Town Talk in a way I couldn’t explain: the ice cream drinks and cocktails, the friendly bar, the buoyant atmosphere, and the happy din of the place all seemed to come together in this jangley Jim Noir tune. Both of them seem to exuberantly go on and on . . .