I suppose too much time has passed for me to brook any further delay on a full account of the trip to Minneapolis. The account begins directly.
I met up with Jeff and Matt on Friday afternoon, and we hastened out of town as quickly as is possible in outbound rush hour traffic. We arrived in Des Moines about three hours later, and found that there was an Iowa Cubs game going on downtown. We thought this would be a logistical doomsday device, but in fact it seemed to make no difference to downtown Des Moines at all. We had no difficulty finding parking, and we sat right down at El Bait Shop for dinner and beers.
We had a lovely time in Des Moines, and wished, looking back, that we had spent Friday night there instead. Nonetheless, we pushed on, through the worst part of the trip: Northern Iowa. It's 150 miles of nothing. Whatever towns one may find along the way have no presence on the highway. Ames, Fort Dodge, and Mason City are all backed away from the highway, leaving only a smattering of gas stations and fast food joints to break the monotony of passing motorists. We passed the time as best as we could, pointing out each other's shortcomings and foibles until we crossed the arbitrary state line just south of Albert Lea.
When you enter Minnesota from Iowa, it feels like reentering civilization. All of a sudden there are towns, billboards, other motorists, and plentiful exits. Not to mention the fact that the scenery spruces up considerably. Like Iowa there are still corn fields, but unlike Iowa they're attractively broken up by forests, rivers, and lakes. Even at night it's pretty.
After some ninety miles of cruising up I-35 in Minnesota, we entered quite suddenly the suburbs of the Twin Cities. Even though it was late and we were ready for bed, we decided to go through St. Paul to get to Minneapolis. We arrived at the hotel in downtown at about 1am. Jeff handed me the keys as he went inside to check us in. After I'd only had time to throw them up in the air and catch them two times, he was back outside, saying that the posh hotel's staff had informed us that we were at the wrong hotel.
Our hotel was not quite as impressive as the one that waved us away, though hotwire.com had awarded it a four-star rating. I think their rating system is flawed. Not a single person on staff was intimately familiar with the English language. Unfortunately, this turned into sleepiness-fueled frustration on our part, and things weren't as rosy as they could have been. It was alright though, because we got right to sleep once we sorted out the bedding arrangements. As a cap-off for the evening though, I found that this "4-star" hotel demanded thirteen dollars a day for internet access. That's why you're reading this on Thursday and not within 24 hours of it happening.
Anyway, we each enjoyed a long four-hour sleep before getting up to meet some local pillars of the community for a previously arranged breakfast. We met at the Spoon River Cafe, in the Old Mill district. This was humorous to me because I grew up within an hour's drive of the actual Spoon River. The real thing doesn't carry the same romance as going to a trendy upscale breakfast place in an attractive faraway downtown neighborhood. It's a lovely river, really, but only if you're used to living in Central Illinois.
Anyway, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast with Carletta and Dale from the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association. I had a quiche with goat cheese in it. It was so wonderful, it was kind of ridiculous. Carletta and Dale were happy to tell us all about the issues with which they as a city have had to contend over the course of its renewal, and the measures the city took to overcome them. In comparison, Kansas City still has a long way to go, and a lot of self-realization to do. I'll leave it at that.
We left from there to do a little sightseeing. It turned into a long walk that wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't been wearing brand-new jeans. That was pain. Our route is outlined in the fuzzy map below.
After our circuit of the city, we went back to the hotel and slept for a solid two hours before hitting the vaunted downtown attractions that evening. We started at Brit's Pub and Eating Establishment, on Nicollet Mall. We watched the Wizards tie Houston's similarly dumb-named team in a soccer contest and enjoyed English beers of surpassing quality before checking out the rooftop lawn and making ourselves scarce.
Next we tried a newish place called the Newsroom, which unlike the tavern in Kansas City by the same name, had a bar shaped like a pirate ship. The beer was good, and we began to appreciate sports, as people often do when the beer begins to get to them. From there Jeff bade us good-night, and Matt and I went over to First Avenue to see the alleged bar area over there. I had found out about a brewery there called The District, so I was eager to check it out.
It was extremely popular and crowded on a Saturday night. It reminded me a lot of Greektown in Detroit or State & Division in Chicago. Most of the establishments, we found were discotheques, complete with velvet-roped lines, bouncers, and cover charges. We found the brewery, but never found the entrance, as it was completely mobbed by people waiting to get into a discotheque next door. Near the end of the row of bars we found one that wasn't too crowded, didn't have a line, and had two available stools right up at the bar.
As we walked back to the hotel at closing time, I noticed something about Minneapolis. Kansas City has a much larger black population than Minneapolis, but in the downtown nightclub area, there are far more black people out than in any part of Kansas City I have ever seen. The black people, especially the women, also dress much better than their Kansas City counterparts. I would wager that though the black population is much smaller there, it's more fully integrated, and hence has a higher economic standing than in Kansas City.
We slept until 11am or so on Sunday morning. Matt and Jeff were keen to try some local flavor for brunch, and it was also agreed between us that Sunday would be dedicated to exploring St. Paul. This resulted in the slightly unfortunate decision to eat at Key's just outside downtown St. Paul. The food was expensive, the service was slow, and the place was obviously one that caters more to families with small children, and thus doesn't really serve anything very interesting. I had a mediocre Eggs Benedict for thirteen dollars.
Shrugging off our heavy brunch, we took to the streets of downtown St. Paul. Besides the occasional cafe or restaurant, the place was devoid of human life. We walked for miles around downtown, and only ever found pockets of people, most of whom were homeless, or at least homeless-looking. It was as if a piece of Iowa had been transplanted to where we were. Now don't get me wrong. St. Paul was extremely pretty, clean, and safe. But it felt more like a movie set or an exhibit hall than an actual downtown. It was just flabbergasting how completely unlike Minneapolis it was.
After a while of wandering around, and the first ever so-so cask-conditioned beer I've ever had, we went over to the Capitol. I liked its layout a lot- both branches of the state legislature and the Supreme Court were located in symmetric wings of the building. The architecture of the building was also quite beautiful- grand, and yet not ostentatious(a lot like St. Paul). Unfortunately, we were rounded up and shooed out with about twenty minutes, as they were closing for the day. Thinking back, I'm actually amazed it was open on Sunday at all.
At my insistence, we went over to the University of St. Thomas, where a significant portion of my Peoria-raised family went to school. It was obviously a big day for moving large objects from cars into dorm rooms, so the going was slow on the streets immediately adjacent to the campus. To me, it seems like the quintessential college campus. It almost looked strange without autumnal yellows, oranges, reds, and browns adorning the trees and open spaces. From there we drove down Summit Avenue, past the homes of the elite of St. Paul, including the governor, whatever his/her name is.
After all this business was taken care of, we settled into chairs at the real reason I wanted to visit St. Paul: beer bars. The Muddy Pig is an excellent beer bar, with a neighborhood bar feel, and despite the relatively high prices was completely unpretentious, as a beer bar should be. We went to the walking-distance Happy Gnome after that, and enjoyed their classier but equally expensive environment. Despite these inroads by the creative class and beer-appreciating communities, the word I would use to describe St. Paul is "wholesome."
From there I finally got in touch with Amanda, and we agreed to meet at Town Hall Brewery, in an area called Seven Corners, near the Minneapolis portion of the University of Minnesota. We had a delicious dinner and even better beer there. Of all the breweries we visited, Town Hall was the outstanding favorite of the owner of this website. After dinner we said good-bye to Amanda and her fiance Jim, and went across the street to some patio bar that was apparently a very collegiate one. We were surrounded by kids with fake IDs.
We decided that it was just fine to join in the fray, and helped ourselves to some ridiculous drink served in the fishbowl medium. A bright blue concoction, it was allegedly infused with seventeen shots. Shots of what, we never found out, but we doubted very seriously that they were liquor. All it did to us, apart from make us look like asses, was give us headaches. We had a couple more drinks there before heading to a place called Grumpy's, where a large assortment of bikes were piled and chained pell-mell in front of the door.
Grumpy's completely redeemed Minneapolis for me. It was the first "real" bar that we visited, with bartenders that actually appeared to enjoy working there. Also, they had Two Hearted Ale on tap. A woman that sat next to me at the bar began a conversation with, "hello, man." I enjoyed this very much. Besides the usually unlikely circumstance of a woman initiating conversation with me, she also had a sense of humor. I wish I remembered her name. I responded with, "good evening, woman." We shared a lovely back-and-forth about nothing in particular, before her friend was set upon by Matt on the pretense of finding what kind of crazy reason she would have to get olives with her drink. Smooth, man. Smooth! To her indignation, I voiced my frustration with the fact that no formal introductions had gone around by addressing Matt's lady with, "woman on the left."
Anyway, the bar closed, and the women disappeared. We hobbled home, singing aloud like cranially deficient jackasses. Sleep came immediately when we got back to the hotel, and the shave was razor-thin between the door closing behind as we left and the hotel-imposed noon checkout. We took our time leaving town, and sat in a Labor Day traffic pileup all the way to Des Moines. We stopped at the horrible, recently constructed suburboplex in West Des Moines for dinner. We all agreed that it was "the worst thing we'd ever seen."
We got back home with enough time for me to break my computer. More on that later. Also, pictures later.
She got olives in a BEER! I really need to know what the heck was up with that.
4:31 PM, Sep 6, 2007
7:02 PM, Sep 6, 2007
9:15 PM, Sep 6, 2007
What a perfectly precise way to describe your delight over the goat cheese quiche- "it was kind of ridiculous"- that tickled me so much made me decide to do a quiche w/ goat cheese for dinner tonight. Equally as wonderful: is that your description of your entire journey was so keen that it made it come to life for me. I always love a good armchair road trip, so thanks! (o:
1:16 PM, Sep 7, 2007
This was far too much text to read. Next time make an abbreviated version. Sit down.
3:40 PM, Sep 7, 2007