I enjoyed a recent evening out with friends in the Lowertown neighborhood of St Paul (near where the new Saints' stadium
will be built for 2015). We hung out at the Bulldog
to watch the big game and then Barrio
to dance like maniacs -- but before all that rowdy revelry, we dropped in at Bin Wine Bar
for dinner, and I was pleasantly surprised.
I'd been to Bin once before, but only briefly. This was my first time enjoying the full dining experience.
First and foremost, the atmosphere is excellent. The lighting low; the colors dark and rich. There are decorative pillows in the booths and ornate, moody lighting fixtures throughout. Bin looks and feels like what I think a wine bar should look and feel like. It's not snooty, or overly refined. There is a casual, neighborhood ambiance to the place — it's comfortable, but handsome. I'd recommend it as quaint, romantic date location where you needn't be too worried about being under-dressed.
Bin's dimensions are intimate, but not crowded. Interestingly, the cozy confines lend to easy and natural conversation. We chatted with a couple next to us about the best restaurants in St. Paul largely because they were seated so close it seemed weird not to say something. The whole place feels a bit like a shared lounge where patrons are free, if not encouraged, to talk amongst themselves. I'm not much of a mingler and tend to prefer w i d e r open spaces, but I had fun with the close quarters and overall vibe at Bin.
The service was excellent. Our server was lively and engaging (without being phony or annoying) and seemed to sincerely love every minute of his job. The bartender stopped by mid-meal just to say "hi" and make sure we were happy and well-watered. Overall, the staff was genuine, pleasant and professional — on point from beginning to end.
As far as the dining itself, I'll not pretend to be a connoisseur of fine drink or food -- but there was nothing but smiles around my table throughout our meal. The ladies enjoyed hyper-colorful martinis and would not stop raving about the fresh guacamole in their appetizers. I asked for a beer recommendation ("Something that tastes like Miller Lite, please.") and our server was helpful and knowledgeable in guiding me toward something that stretched my taste preferences slightly without upsetting my juvenile palette.
After enjoying our opening beverages and conversation, we set our sights on food. In addition to its robust wine, spirit and beer selections, Bin offers a variety of choices on its appetizer and dinner menu.
We ended up ordering a few dishes — tacos, flatbread, mini-burgers — and sampling from one another. (Just how our very own Dena Hodnett recommends it.) There was general agreement the meal tasted great and hit the spot.
One observation I have is that the portions are a bit smallish for my taste — go to the Bulldog if you're looking for a big burger with your buddies. Bring your date to Bin for a light meal before busting a move at Barrio's — it seems to be an intentionally light menu in terms of portion size, and if you are very hungry and weigh more than 105 lbs, you'll need more food.
Overall, I'd highly recommend Bin Wine Bar to anyone visiting Lowertown. Stop by and grab a glass of wine solo. Or grab your gal and swing in to Bin before a romantic walk in charming Mears Park — it's right across the street.
Photos via: Bin Wine Bar