|When driving through the Twin Cities, its sometimes hard
to discern which city you are actually in. There is no visible dividing
line; they really do blend one into the other. But there are some who
say that the differences are vast. St. Paul is a bit smaller than
Minneapolis, but some feel that lends more to its hometown feel.
Minneapolis can be more cosmopolitan, and certainly is larger. Some
people from St. Paul might say that Minneapolis is a den of vice. Some
people from Minneapolis may think that St. Paul is too quiet, rolling up
its sidewalks at night. Of course, neither of these is an accurate
picture. There are just as many people who flit back and forth between
the two cities and enjoy as much as they can of what each has to offer.
Downtown / Theater District / Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis is 'The City of Lakes.' Known for its beautiful chain of lakes and annual summertime Aquatennial festival, the city also boasts a thriving downtown with a world-class theater district. Remember that scene at the beginning of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where she flings her hat into the air with careless abandon? That takes place on Nicollet Mall, the bustling shopping corridor that runs parallel to the Hennepin Avenue theater district. With its grubby and tough start as a lumber and grain mill town, Minneapolis has turned into the Crystal City. The Minneapolis Convention Center anchors the south end of downtown.
On the opposite end, at the riverfront, renovation is underway on the Milwaukee Road Depot, a project that will include restaurants, a hotel, and a skating rink. Many old mills still stand along the river, and they are slowly being repurposed for other uses. Across Washington Avenue, many old warehouses are also being renovated to revitalize the area. Open Book, a literary center holding four major book-oriented organizations, just celebrated its grand opening. The Metrodome is just a couple blocks further in.
Follow Washington Avenue across Hennepin Avenue, and you come to the famed Warehouse District, a hot-spot for nightlife, with many large spaces accommodating a lot of revelers. Rosens, South Beach, or Chez Bananas might be the spot for your next night out.
A little south of downtown on Hennepin Avenue is the district known as Uptown. Uptown is the Minneapolis equivalent of Greenwich Village. Dotted with coffee shops and vintage clothing stores, it is a throbbing blend of bohemian and cosmopolitan. At the corner of Hennepin and Lake is Calhoun Square, full of shops and restaurants. Don't miss Famous Daves Bar-B-Que, where the atmosphere takes on the experience of being under the El in Chicago, complete with a train going over every few minutes. Head left on Lake and you can hit Cheapo for a vast selection of used CDs and a backroom full of pressed vinyl.
The Lakes and Linden Hills
As Hennepin winds down leaving Uptown, it hits 36th St. Take a right here and follow it directly to one of the favored recreational lakes in the area, Lake Calhoun. Take a trolley ride or join one of the many people skating, running or biking on the path that runs around it. This is just one in the chain of lakes that lies south of downtown. To the south of Lake Calhoun is the Linden Hills neighborhood. Linden Hills is full of little antique and gift shops, and don't miss the Turtle Bread Company. Their chocolate bread will melt in your mouth!
On the opposite side of downtown, take the Hennepin Avenue bridge to the other side of the river for a varied assortment of restaurants and nightspots. Here you will find some of the best eastern European food in the cities, along with Mexican, Mediterranean, Asian, and plain old American. Polish and Ukrainian immigrants made this area their home early in the century. The area is known as Nordeast (being northeast of downtown), and is a favored area for the University crowd.
The University crowd is so pervasive, in fact, that they have created their own little city, called Dinkytown. In this area, crowned by the Dinkydome, you can find many bastions of college life: bookstores (try Cummings, a great little nook with tons of gems), coffee houses, sports bars, clothing stores, fast food, music stores, restaurants, and of course, copy centers. The streets resemble a little village, in an area thats only about four square blocks. Frat houses line University Avenue, and the ROTC building presents its imposing castle buttresses behind the fence.
On the other side of the river is the West Bank campus, which abuts the Cedar/Riverside area. If you want international, authentic and direct, try Cedar Avenue. African, Asian, Indian, they are all represented here. Intercontinental Video offers a wide selection of international films. This street is also the scene of Cedarfest, an annual August music festival that brings everyone out of the woodwork. If its pierced or tattooed, you'll see it at Cedarfest. The bars along this little strip are hot music venues, and what they lack in elegance they make up for in sound.
University Avenue continues on past the frat houses, over Hwy. 280, and into St. Paul, running parallel with I-94. On this main drag, you can pull up in your car for a chilidog at Porkys, where classic car buffs still bring their showy vehicles on summer evenings. The area from approximately Cretin to around Lexington is known as the Midway. Many of the establishments along this strip date from the 50s: the Turf Club, Christiansens, and Midway Bank. You will find a few places to while away an afternoon. Midway Used and Rare Books, with three floors of books, is prominent on the corner of Snelling and University.
Further down University, past Lexington, is what is known as Frogtown. The area is fast becoming a center of Asian businesses, with markets, restaurants, and services from many nationalities.
Between Snelling and Lexington north of University Avenue is the Como area, containing the green jewel of Como Park. Como Park is home to Como Park Zoo, Como Park Conservatory, Como Golf Course, the Como Lake Pavillion, and acres of green space for picnics, games, and outings. To the west of the Como area, across Snelling, is the Minnesota State Fair Grounds. Events are held on the grounds year-round. Just north, across Hwy 36, is Rosedale Shopping Center.
Downtown St. Paul
The downtown St. Paul interchange has been known as spaghetti junction for years, but is vastly improved from earlier years when it earned the name. Across the freeway from the Capitol is the heart of downtown, with the Minnesota History Center easily visible from the freeway. The St. Paul riverfront has been undergoing a facelift over the last few years, just like Minneapolis. Recently renovated co-op loft apartments, the brand new Science Museum built into the bluff, and the new arena, the Xcel Energy Center, all line Kellogg Blvd along the river. The Ordway Center for Performing Arts, Heartthrob Cafe, and the Childrens Museum are all located downtown as well. Each January the century-old Winter Carnival is celebrated in St. Paul. Many of the events take place downtown in Rice Park, in front of the Landmark Center.
Cross the river on the Robert Street bridge and you will find Harriet Island to your right. This is the home of the Covington Inn and the No Wake Café. Take a riverboat ride on one of the boats of the Padelford Packet Company.
Cathedral Hill to Highland Park
Overlooking downtown on the west is the St. Paul Cathedral, which is open to visitors. The area around there is aptly known as Cathedral Hill, and business and government workers from downtown flock there for lunch and happy hour in one of the many bars or restaurants in the neighborhoods Victorian-era buildings. Chang O?Haras, Costellos and W A Frost on Selby Avenue are all well attended, each with good food and wide selections of beverages.
Further west from downtown between I-94 and Ford Parkway, from Cretin to Snelling, are three private colleges. This concentration of college students makes for many energetic neighborhoods: Highland Park, Macalester-Groveland, Merriam Park, Crocus Hill. Grand Avenue is lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. This area is heaven for those who like to browse, drink and eat. Get there early on a Friday, or be prepared to walk a few blocks. Parking isn't as organized as it could be.
One block up from Grand is Summit Avenue, one of the greatest extant neighborhoods of Victorian architecture in the country. Starting at the James J. Hill House as a two-lane street, Summit turns into a broad, sweeping parkway, separated down the middle by a parklike boulevard that is frequented by joggers and strollers. It runs about four miles to Mississippi River Blvd. Summit Avenue house tours are offered Saturdays during the summer; other tours are offered throughout the year, such as Garden Tours. James J. Hill House tours are available year-round.
West Seventh Street
The West 7th Street corridor still holds some vestiges of the good old days. Here you can still find the traditional supper club, such as Mancinis Char House or Parrishs Supper Club. Famous Daves has a location on this stretch. The Pearsons Salted Nut Rolls plant just took down their giant candy bar. But Mickeys Diner is still there, in all its neon splendor. You can find the other Mickeys Diner downtown, across from the Greyhound Bus Depot. This 1930s dining car is on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been featured in many movies. West Seventh runs into Hwy 5, which will take you right to the airport.
There is so much to see and do in the Twin Cities; its no wonder its hard to know where to start. The best advice is to just get started. Just spend a few days meandering. No matter where you hit, you are bound to find what you're looking for, even if its just a bit of relaxation.
L. A. Smith