Maxing Out in Minneapolis
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
If it were just a matter of being a humbly under-rated city, Minneapolis would be content with being a pleasant secret that only its residents and a few determined tourists would enjoy. But there are people who, let the record show, have never even set foot in the state of Minnesota, that are convinced that Minneapolis is a frigid, remote, frontier-land, still using the barter system, full of weather-beaten people sporting maladies like Seasonal Affected Disorder, Cabin Fever, Frost Bite and Shoveler’s Back, with an “urban area” shared with tractors, bears and moose. Truthfully, it is a bustling, exciting metropolis that could give any U.S. city a run for its sophisticated money, while routinely ranking at the top of the Gallup Organization’s list of America’s safest cities.
In response to my daring declaration, you might be wondering, “Where has Minneapolis been?” When exactly did it shake off its restrained, Scandinavian air and start dripping with art, music, theatre and activities (yes, even outdoor) and quietly tiptoeing off with the title of the “Most Fun City in America” according to Money Magazine’s “Best Places to Live?” Buddy, the real question here is; where have you been?
The explosion of the med-tech industry has resulted in a massive influx of young, educated people â€” 60 percent are under age 34 and 41 percent hold college degrees â€” which has greatly added to a renewed vibrancy of cuisine, clothing and art that compliments the already sizeable museum, sports and live theatre offerings. And what about that notoriously cold weather? Well, sane travelers are certainly advised to resist a visit between January and March, otherwise it’s game on in Minneapolis and don’t let any trash-talking malcontents from the coast tell you otherwise.
The region that would eventually become the “Twin Cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul is believed to have been occupied by the Dakota (Mdewakanton) American Indians for centuries, who alternately shared the land or battled over it with Ojibwes from the north. The seed of Minneapolis was the construction of Fort Snelling in 1820, a move by the U.S. government to get a grip on the northwestern reaches of the recent Louisiana Purchase. The arrival of white settlers sparked the all too familiar downward spiral for the Native Americans. Whooping cough and alcoholism raged and the area’s trees, buffalo, deer and other animals were rapidly wiped out. Weakened and stripped of their resources, the Dakotas were forced into a desperate sale of their land to the U.S. government, a deal that took calculated advantage of their lack of understanding of land ownership concepts.
Using the power of St. Anthony Falls â€“ the only naturally occurring waterfall on the Mississippi River – flour milling was what initially put Minneapolis on the map. Within a few decades the mills that sprung up on both sides of the river collectively turned Minneapolis into the flour milling capital of the world, a title that was held until 1930.
More recently, due to Minnesota’s enviable social services and resultant attraction for displaced peoples, the 1980s saw Minneapolis light the fire under its own little melting pot of ethnic groups from all over the world. A monstrous 87 languages are now spoken by students enrolled in the Minneapolis Public School System. And this is just the beginning. In the next 10 years the 2.4 million residents of the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area are expecting to gain another one million neighbors.
The bulk of Minneapolis is a joy of grid patterned, numbered streets, liberally scattered with fine parks – no Minneapolis resident lives more than six blocks from a park. The downtown area is bordered by the Mississippi River to the north and framed by Highways 35W to the east, 394 to the west and 94 to the south. Less than two miles south of downtown is the intersection of Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street, the focal point of the uptown area and just a few blocks from the “Chain of Lakes:” an interconnected series of five lakes, traced by a 13.3-mile biking/walking/jogging path. Rollerblading, tanning, swimming, boating, fishing, cruising with the top down and the ubiquitous people-watching are all de rigor here. Visit www.minneapolisparks.org for more information.
Coming and Going
Minneapolis/St. Paul International airport has two terminals; the main Lindbergh terminal and the smaller Hubert H. Humphrey terminal. You can get to the heart of downtown in 24 minutes on light rail ($1.50-$2). Greyhound has two terminals; one located on Hawthorne Avenue on the southwestern edge of downtown and the other on Washington Avenue at Coffman Student Union on the University of Minnesota campus.
Aside from the wondrous, but limited service of the new light rail system – coverage includes downtown, Minnehaha Creek Boulevard, Fort Snelling, both airport terminals and the Mall of America – the Twin Cities has a bus-based, public transportation system with lamentable likeability issues. Nearly everything in downtown and uptown is within easy walking distance. If your activities take you far outside downtown and you’re in a hurry, a taxi is a must (Blue and White Cabs 612-333-3331; ABC Taxi 612-788-1111).
The Greater Minneapolis Convention & Visitors Association can be reached toll-free (within the U.S.) at 888-676-MPLS or visit www.minneapolis.org.
Main post office (612-349-0359, Marquette Ave and 1st Street, 7 a.m.- 8 p.m.). General Delivery (Poste Restante) service is available. Mail is held for 30 days. The addressing convention is as follows: [Name], General Delivery, Minneapolis, MN 55440.
Local and national banks are almost ludicrously abundant and you can’t throw a snowball over your shoulder without hitting an internationally networked ATM.
Hennepin County Medical Center (612-873-3000, 701 Park Avenue). This is the city’s Level 1 Trauma Center, but if your condition isn’t life threatening, it would behoove you to drive/bike/limp to the more serene and speedy ER at the University of Minnesota Medical Center (A.K.A Fairview University) (612-273-3000, 500 Harvard Street SE) just over the river and a few miles down East River Road.
A few bars offer Internet service and complimentary Internet is available at all Dunn Bros Coffee locations. If you’re packing a wi-fi enabled device, you’ll be happy to learn that Minneapolis ranks among the top “unwired cities” in the country. Simply go in â€“ or loiter near the entrance of â€“ one of countless bars, restaurants, hotels, bakeries, ice cream shops or launderettes boasting wi-fi service and log on. See minnesota.metrofreefi.com for more information.
The Minneapolis International Hostel (612-522-5000, www.minneapolishostel.com, 2400 Stevens Avenue South, dm/s/d $20/24/49). The fact that it’s the only budget option in town would be discouraging if it weren’t perfect in every way. Housed in a classic Minneapolis three story mansion, the hostel is impeccably situated equidistant from downtown and uptown, with a variety of eating and entertainment options within walking distance. Open year round, featuring free parking/Internet/local calls/coffee with a self-catering kitchen and TV/DVD lounge.
Nan’s B&B (800-214-5118, 2304 Fremont Avenue South, zosel at mcad dot edu, $60-70). This is a three room B&B hosted out of a private Victorian home near Uptown and the Chain of Lakes. Shared bathroom, breakfast included, open year round.
Days Inn University (612-623-3999, 2407 University Avenue SE, www.daysinn.com, $60-90). Just blocks from the lively hum of the University of Minnesota campus. Book online for best rates and specials.
Falafel King (612-824-7887, 701 West Lake Street, lunch/dinner $4-8). Gyros, spinach pie and baklava, oh my! Right, and falafels! Mediterranean food at Mediterranean prices. Play your tourist card right and the Falafel King may humor you and don his gold and red velvet crown.
Pizza LucÃ© (Uptown: 612-827-5978, 3200 Lyndale – Downtown: 612-333-7359, 119 N. 4th St.). This may be the only place in the world where you can get toe-curling pizza made by a guy with a purple, reverse mohawk, 13 face piercings and “Rat Boy” tattooed on his forehead. Just $5 for a pint and a slice. Open very, very late.
Quang Restaurant (612-870-4739, 2719 Nicollet Ave., lunch/dinner $6, closed Tues). Sit down and enjoy giant bowls of soup, spring rolls, fried shrimp or a vermicelli salad in the restaurant or race through the deli for a Vietnamese-style hoagie.
Cuzzy’s (612-389-6211, 507 Washington Avenue). Cuzzy’s has great breakfast, lunches and nightly food specials. The “Prestigious Asphalt Tiki Garden” provides views of the downtown skyline and the bar occasionally hosts parties with DJ’s and performers. Happy Hour Mon-Fri 3:00-6:00 p.m. ($3 drinks).
Chino Latino (612-824-PUPU, 2916 Hennepin Avenue South, www.chinolatino.com). Later in the evening it’s a pricey Yuppiefest, which is why Chino’s Happy Hour (4:30-7pm daily, 10:30 p.m.-close Sunâ€“Thurs) is such an unexpected treat. $3 Bloody Mary’s, $2 tap beers/house wines and $2-4 appetizers are among the deals waiting to be plundered.