This is the Coolest City in the Midwest Now
Minneapolis is America's new capital of cool—and we’re not talking about the icy weather. Thanks to the recent arrival of chic boutique hotels, red-hot restaurants, and redesigned museums, the city is having a moment. Here are all the places to go now.
Chelsea is Brooklyn-based travel writer, editor, and photographer. When not home eating her way through NYC, she's gallivanting across the globe, sailing the coast of Croatia or hiking the peaks of Peru. Her superpowers include booking flight deals and sleeping in small plane seats.
The Midwest may be known as fly-over country, but the region’s cities are developing their own unique identities, convincing coasters to stay longer than just a layover. For years, despite the “Minnesota nice” hospitality, tourists have avoided Minneapolis—and who could blame them? Come winter, negative temps and boatloads of snow make the area a frigid hellscape. But now, thanks to the city’s vibrant creative community of chefs, artists, and architects, Minneapolis is cementing its status as the star of The North.
The country is quickly taking notice: Minneapolis was chosen to host the 2018 Super Bowl; 28 non-stop flight routes have been added in the past two years; the 12-day Minnesota State Fair—America’s largest—attracted over two million visitors this past August; and big-on-style hotels continue to open their doors, among them the playful Moxy Uptown, the pretty boutique Alma Hotel, and the slick AC Hotel Downtown. Housed in a 19th-century logging warehouse in the North Loop, the two-year-old Hewing Hotel was one of the first design-forward stays to hit the city, seducing guests with its rustic, lodge-luxe aesthetic (think exposed brick, framed axes, and original pine timber beams) and rooftop social club, which features an exclusive, guests-only outdoor pool and sauna as well as a buzzy cocktail bar that just opened to the public in August. Adding to the building boom, the 168-room, Scandinavian-chic Elliot Park Hotel debuts later this month as the cornerstone of Kraus-Anderson’s new block of downtown development. It will have its own farm-to-table Italian restaurant as well as access to Finnegan’s Microbrewery next door.
Elliot Park isn’t the only downtown neighborhood getting a facelift. Nicollet Mall—Minneapolis’s lively shopping and entertainment district—is fresh off a $50 million makeover helmed by James Corner Field Operations, the mastermind behind New York City’s famed High Line. New elements include the Art Walk and the Light Walk, a two-block overhead installation made from colorful LEDs. The century-old main street is bookended by the Minneapolis Central Library and the Orchestra Hall at the tip of Peavey Plaza, an open green space that is undergoing its own year-long $10 million upgrade. This revitalized retail area and its new independent shops are bringing more attention to local artisans and veering away from the kitschy adult amusement park that is the Mall of America. JS Tip: Check out Askov Finlayson and Wilson & Willy’s Neighborhood Goods for Minnesota-made products like Faribault wool blankets, Sanborn Canoe Co. paddles, and Duluth Pack leather-and-canvas laptop bags.
It’s taken a while for travelers to realize that there is more to do in Minnesota than just fishing, shoveling snow, and cheering on the beloved Vikings. In fact, unknown to most, Minneapolis—the Twin Cities’ younger, hipper sibling—is a bastion of arts and culture. After D.C., Minnesota ranks second in the nation for per-capita government spending on the arts. See the result first-hand at the Walker Arts Center’s 19-acre campus, where a $78 million renovation introduced a fine-dining restaurant and entry pavilion, quickly followed by the $10 million expansion of the sculpture garden that added 17 works from the likes of German sculptor Katharina Fritsch and American conceptual artist Theaster Gates. Even the sleepy state capital is feeling the momentum: St. Paul’s Minnesota Museum of American Art is in the midst of its own overhaul, building a new wing of galleries, a sculpture court, and a sky bridge—all expected to debut in 2019.
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Meanwhile, the city’s red-hot restaurant scene that’s been slowly simmering under the surface is finally stepping into the spotlight. Ten of the city’s chefs and two restaurants were recent James Beard Award semifinalists, and Food & Wine named the reborn Grand Cafe one of America’s Restaurants of the Year, crowning its signature meal—the Paris-Brest, a choux pastry with chicken-liver mousse filling, gold leaf flecks, and a burnt honey glaze—as the Dish of 2018. This is a major nod to chef Jamie Malone’s mouth-watering nouveau French cuisine, made in the eatery’s original 1951 gas oven.
Honestly, you could spend your whole vacation eating your way through Minneapolis. We’d start at Esker Grove, the Walker Art Center’s new restaurant, where the seasonal small plates are just as striking as the paintings. Then, end the evening at Alma’s restaurant-café-inn trio by tucking into bison tartare, squid-ink spaghetti, or duck leg confit before retreating upstairs to one of the seven boho-chic bedrooms. In between, discover the city’s more diverse flavors at Young Joni, a Korean-influenced pizza place with an alley-side speakeasy; Martina, a seafood-focused Argentinian spot; or Kado No Mise, a three-part omakase concept featuring the city’s first Kaiseki and a quiet Japanese whisky bar called Gori Gori Peku.
Speaking of, let’s not forget the hooch-heavy drinking scene (after all, these people need something to get them through five months of tundra!). Minnesota has seen an impressive number of distilleries and microbreweries crop up recently, in part due to the Surly Bill, which lowered the annual license fee for small distillers from $30,000 to $1,000 and allowed breweries (and later, distilleries) to sell their alcohol onsite. Since the original bill passed in 2011, around 115 breweries have opened across the state, 30 of which launched in the last year. Some highlights include Bauhaus Brew Pub and Finnegan’s Microbrewery, which just opened a taproom downtown.
Leading the small-batch spirit culture is Tattersall. The warehouse distillery lends its liqueurs to many of the city’s top mixologists and has a trendy tasting room where it pours two dozen award-winning spirits such as the Scandinavian-inspired aquavit. Five minutes away, in another industrial neighborhood near the U of M campus, is Norseman, where you can try creative cocktails like the Lady of London (a fruity blend of apricot, strawberry-rhubarb gin, lemon, and cascara).
One of the city’s OG cocktail clubs, Marvel Bar, was started by Eric Dayton—the man who put Minneapolis on the map. Son of governor Mark Dayton and part of Target’s founding family, Dayton lives and breathes all things Minnesota. In 2011, he established the acclaimed Nordic-inspired restaurant The Bachelor Farmer as well as Askov Finlayson, a men’s adventure clothing store with the motto “Keep the North Cold.” Then, two years ago, he pioneered The Great Northern Festival, a 10-day outdoor celebration dedicated to the state’s harshest season and 150 years of local traditions that hosts everything from ice sculptures at the Saint Paul Winter Carnival to the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and an urban cross-country ski race. In doing so, he became the face of a new movement to secede Minnesota from the Midwest and rebrand itself as “The North,” a pseudo-Scandinavian region that’s more than just cold—it’s downright cool.
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