Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, is home to not only breathtaking nature, industrious farmers and major corporations like Target and 3M (hello, Post-It’s!), but it’s also known for its highly cultured metropolitan areas. In this guide, I’ll take you on a short tour of some of my favorite things about Minneapolis, one of the major cities in Minnesota, the “twin” in fact, the Minnesota’s state capital, Saint Paul. I could tell you about all the world renowned museums like the Walker Art Center or the Minneapolis Institute of Arts or even the award-winning, architectural marvel that is the Guthrie Theater but instead I’ll give you suggestions on places to experience art, food and nightlife – from an insider’s perspective. Minneapolis is a wonderful place to visit, just try to avoid planning your trip during the winter (unless of course you enjoy sub-zero temps and mountains of snow).
Soo Visual Arts Center
A long-standing non-profit contemporary art space in Minneapolis, SooVAC has shown both major and emerging local artists, defining itself as a go-to for the most interesting art in town. A space that doesn’t take itself too seriously, infusing fun special events and accessibility into its programming, SooVAC balances well-presented contemporary art with a welcoming, open vibe. Also check out Soo’s satellite gallery, Soo LOCAL, which regularly showcases emerging artists and curators.
This new commercial gallery in downtown Minneapolis features group shows based on art of the natural world. Curator John Schuerman takes a theme that could easily go the route of landscape paintings and more literal works, and flips it on its ear with highly contemporary exhibits with a strong curatorial perspective. From David Hamlow’s geometric, recycled installations to Frank Gaard’s signature portraiture, Instinct is an eclectic foray into regional art. The gallery is located in the heart of downtown, so explore the area for many great restaurants, galleries, bars and theaters.
One of my favorite spaces in town (and not just because I am a founding board member), Public Functionary aims to create exciting art experiences for everyone. From exhibits featuring major national contemporary artists like Dzine, Sougwen Chung and Patrick Martinez to beloved, internationally recognized locals such Jennifer Davis and Michael Cina, PF transforms itself for each high-production show, painting walls neon, installing swings in the gallery and collaborating with local musicians, performance artists, publications and organizations to make art truly accessible for a wide variety of people.
First Avenue & 7th Street Entry
The most iconic rock club in the state, First Avenue not only attracts top national bands, but showcases the best in local music as well. From rock and hip hop to world and electronic, this downtown staple is where it’s at for any music connoisseur. Not to mention, First Ave is where Prince filmed the legendary movie, Purple Rain (and he even shows up to check out bands from time to time) so for a slice of true American music history, this club is a must. Stop in the adjacent, smaller 7th Street Entry for local bands, the upstairs Record Room for DJs or the attached restaurant, The Depot for a Diamond Dog (a 1/4 lb all beef hot dog wrapped in pepper bacon and deep fried).
This old Polish neighborhood is now a one stop shop for dining, nightlife and art. Designated as the city’s “Arts District,” Northeast Minneapolis boasts a number of award-winning galleries such as The Rogue Buddha, Rosalux and Public Functionary as well as hundreds of working artists and studios. Stop into the 331 Club for local music, Grumpy’s Northeast for drinks on the patio, or Jimmy’s for $3 Whiskeys and a meat raffle. Indulge in fried fish at the Anchor Fish & Chips, The Modern Cafe for the best brunch in town or Marina Deli for an epic falafel sandwich. And if you happen to be in town the third weekend in May, explore Art-A-Whirl, the largest studio art crawl in North America!
The Brass Rail
Minneapolis constantly lands itself on national lists as one of the top LGBTQ cities in the country, so it’s no surprise we’ve got a wide variety of establishments that cater to the queer set. One of the best is The Brass Rail, which blends a kitschy dive atmosphere with downtown flair. Known for its strong drinks and no-nonsense bartenders (ask for Nate, he’ll take care of you), the Rail is both welcoming and rowdy (in the best possible way, of course). Stop in on Thursdays after 10pm for the “Divine Divas” drag show or their famous “All Male Revue” strip show every day of the week. With 3-4-1 happy hour specials, you’ll let your rainbow flag fly (regardless of your orientation).
Central Avenue is a major thoroughfare that’s lined with amazing ethnic restaurants, from African to Asian to Latin and more. One of my favorites is Maya Cuisine, a cozy order-at-the-counter Mexican spot. Maya has the best tacos in town (complete with handmade tortillas) in addition to a number of traditional dishes and a full bar with Mexican karaoke on the weekends. Cheap, fresh, delicious, and a great place for late night eats and drinks.
Masu Sushi & Robata
This award-winning sushi and robata joint serves one of my favorite dishes in town: Tonkatsu Curry Ramen. A huge bowl of savory broth with perfect noodles, egg and crispy pork, you can’t go wrong. Sit at the bar and watch the sushi chefs work their magic or grab a cozy booth in the back. The decor is playful–contemporary with a Japanese game show twist. Craft cocktails with gummi bears seal the deal.
For more on Twin Cities dining, check out heavytable.com for excellent reviews on local food and restaurants.
If you want to experience Minneapolis like a Minneapolitan, there’s no better resource than l’etoile magazine. Named for the Minnesota state motto, “l’etoile du nord” (the star of the north), the online arts and culture digest delves into the underground of the Twin Cities, listing not only the coolest major happenings, but also the secret after parties, independent theater, basement shows, DIY art galleries and oh-so much more. Their weekly columnists provide an in-depth look at some of the most fascinating local creatives, from fashion designers to queer activists to performance artists and more. A cool need-to-read, regardless of your locale.