I have family in Minneapolis, and know the city well. Recently, I took a trip back to one of America’s most LGBT-friendly cities and caught the 44th annual Twin Cities Pride, I reunited with the city’s thriving culinary scene, explored its natural attractions, and found myself at the center of its surprisingly large LGBT scene.
Minneapolis may have a reputation for long, freezing winters, but there’s plenty to offer. I once spent an entire day outside sledding in January in below-freezing temperatures with my nephews, and the numb fingers were all worth it. Come summertime, and the weather becomes perfect to explore Minneapolis’ chain of lakes. 20 of Minnesota’s 12,034 lakes, the mighty Mississippi River, and 200 miles of walking, biking, and cross-country ski trails are literally steps from the city limits. Nature aside, Minneapolis is full of hidden treasures, cultural attractions, fantastic theater and dance performances, and a thriving culinary scene I couldn’t wait to dig into.
My flight landed on Friday night during the Pride weekend and I headed over to The Saloon (830 Hennepin Ave., Tel: 612-332-0835. www.saloonmn.com), one of the most popular gay bars downtown. While there, DJ drag queen Nina DiAngelo offered more options: “The club scene here is great but limited. The Saloon is the only real dance club. The Gay 90’s (408 Hennepin Ave., Tel: 612-333-7755. www.gay90s.com) is best for being able to catch a drag show almost every day of the week. Lush (990 Central Ave., Tel: 612-208-0358. www.lushmpls.com) is under new ownership and still in search of their niche. They do a little bit of everything, but not enough of any of it. But they have great food, great drag, and a really great patio. 19 Bar (19 W 15th St., Tel: 612-871-5553) is your neighborhood “dive”, in a good familiar way. We don’t have a huge club scene here, but there is something for everyone.”
After a long night, I checked into the luxurious Grand Hotel Minneapolis (615 2nd Ave S., Tel: 612-288-8888. www.grandhotelminneapolis.com). Located in bustling downtown, the Grand Hotel is surrounded by restaurants, shows, events, and nightclubs. The hotel itself used to be an Athletic Club, and boasts a gorgeous pool, a steam room, free yoga classes, exercise machines, and free bicycle rentals. To top it all off, every hotel room supplies a yoga mat, which was fantastic since I do yoga every day. The hotel also offers morning coffee in the lounge, and fabulous free wine tastings every afternoon.
There’s nothing like rewarding yourself with a hearty meal after exercise, and there are plenty of spots to pick from. One of my favorite restaurants in the world happens to be the historic eatery, Al’s Breakfast (413 14th Ave SE, Tel: 612-331-9991) in Dinkytown. In 2004, Al’s Breakfast won a James Beard Foundation award in “America’s Classics Restaurants” category, and is one of the most popular spots in town. My nephew and I went for a late breakfast the day after I arrived, only to find a queue that would turn me away anywhere else. However, the eggs benedict, blueberry pancakes, and hash browns are too good to refuse; I have yet to find a restaurant in New York that has such delicious breakfast food. With colorful vintage lamps, Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling, and fun music, entering the diner is like walking into the 1950’s. It also holds the title of narrowest restaurant in Minneapolis, only ten feet wide with 14 stools, so be warned if you’re not a fan of tight spaces.
Visitors who may want a little more space and calm can visit the lovely Italian restaurant Monello (1115 2nd Ave S., Tel: 612-353-6207. www.monellompls.com), which serves classic coastal Italian fare in the Hotel Ivy. The restaurant celebrates the cuisine of the Campania region, one that weaves the charm of rustic simplicity with the inherent elegance of fresh ingredients. An extensive wine list and exceptional cocktail program, complete with a house made limoncello, complements a menu that pushes boundaries even as it seeks to preserve tradition.
My next stop was to watch the classic musical South Pacific at the Guthrie Theatre (818 South 2nd St., Tel: 612-225-6000. www.guthrietheater.org). Located in a lovely building on the banks of the Mississippi River, the theatre is home to music concerts, theatre performances, and public workshops. After a show, visitors can head up to the rooftop to enjoy a spectacular view of the river and the city skyline. Show-goers can also sit down at Sea Change (806 South 2nd St., Tel: 612-225-6499. www.seachangempls.com), the theatre’s restaurant and bar, headed by award-winning Chef Tim McKee. The restaurant prides itself on providing sustainable seafood, and buys from fisheries that use environmentally responsible ways of farming seafood.
Continuing my exploration of the arts in Minneapolis, I made my way to one of the best museums in the United States, The Walker Art Center (1750 Hennepin Ave., Tel: 612-375-7600. www.walkerart.org). The Walker is known for its provocative and cutting-edge trends in contemporary art, and is one of my favorite museums. Amazing views and novelties await visitors on the Walker Art Center’s newest skyline mini-golf course, featuring a giant hot dog, ping-pong paddles, a tricky chicken coop, and more. Due to the ongoing renovation of the Walker/Minneapolis Sculpture Garden campus, they’ve set up a 9-hole course on the rooftop. Notable changes of the renovation include a new entry pavilion for the Walker and reconstruction of the 26-year-old Garden, the greening of Hennepin Avenue, and the addition of hundreds of new trees to the Walker hillside and the Garden. After exploring the various floors of beautiful art, head to the rooftop to play a round of golf in one of the Twin Cities’ most unique outdoor settings.
No trip to Minneapolis is complete without seeing Prince’s Paisley Park (7801 Audubon Rd, Chanhassen, Tel: 952-470-2409. www.officialpaisleypark.com). Music icon Prince’s private estate and production complex opened in October 2016 for tours and visits, and was one of the highlights of my trip. Visitors can take tours of Prince’s recording studio, music venue, and private spaces, and experience how Prince lived and performed. Fans will be guided through the performance stage, recording studio, and rehearsal rooms of the 65,000-square-foot compound. Thousands of pieces of Prince memorabilia is also on display, along with tributes from the multitudes of Prince fans.
I was thrilled to see Prince’s home and studio. My friend Sharyn Jackson, a staff writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper, drove me there, and told me about living in Minneapolis with her wife Laryssa. “It’s been great,” she enthused. “We have a little house and are loving the city. We live in Harrison, and our neighborhood has a ton of gays. Our neighbors own Cuppa Java (400 Penn Ave South, Tel: 612-374-4806. www.cuppajava.com), which is a gay coffee shop a couple blocks away.” She also advised, “Another really queer area is Powderhorn Park – tons of lesbians live there. As for queer parties, I would go to anything with DJ Shannon Blowtorch. She DJs all the best queer/trans and women-centric events, and plays lots of oldies and funk.”
One of the main purposes of my trip had been the Twin Cities Pride (www.tcpride.org) weekend, and it was as fabulous as I had hoped. I did miss my hometown New York City pride celebration, but the Twin Cities Pride was awesome and, dare I say it, perhaps comparable to New York’s Pride. It took up all of Loring Park, which is located in a gay-friendly neighborhood, and the festival was brimming with live entertainment. A few hit events included the 5k Rainbow Run, the Pride Family Picnic, and an art show opening. The real highlight of the weekend, however, was Saturday’s Pride in Concert show, featuring The Pointer Sisters, a three-time Grammy-winning group, and Adore Delano (AKA Daniel Anthony “Danny” Noriega), the drag queen and singer who competed in American Idol in 2008 and who finished in the top three on the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. After partaking in the activities and good vibes, I kicked back with a cocktail in the Cafe & Bar Lurcat (1624 Harmon Pl., Tel: 612-486-5500. www.cafelurcat.com), located right beside the park and perfect for people-watching.
The next day I spent with my family at the picturesque Minnehaha Regional Park (4801 S Minnehaha Dr., Tel: 612-230-6400. www.minneapolisparks.org) Boasting a 53-foot waterfall, 10 miles of hiking trails, a biking path, golf course, picnic area, volleyball court, gardens, and several historical sites; it’s the perfect urban escape. If you’re not the picnicking type, Sea Salt Eatery (4825 Minnehaha Ave., Tel: 612-721-8990. www.seasalteatery.wordpress.com) is right across from the falls. Serving delicious seafood, wine, and beer, it also offers patio dining with scenic views. Lake Minnetonka is 50 minutes away from the park, for those who enjoy a bit of fishing, boating, and water sports. It’s the ninth largest lake in the state, as well as one of the most popular, with some great patios for happy hour by the water. Rent a Nice Ride bike, take a dive to see the marine life, or spend a few hours pedal-boating through the glassy water.
Although I didn’t get to do a lot of shopping during my trip, one of the advantages of Minnesota is that it has no sales tax on clothing. The Mall of America (60 E Broadway, Tel: 952-883-8800. www.mallofamerica.com), only minutes from the airport, is one of the world’s largest retail centers, and the largest shopping and entertainment complex in North America. At 5.6 million square feet, the Mall boasts over 520 stores, 50 restaurants, and 14 movie screens. This is like no shopping mall I’ve ever seen; not only is there the Nickelodeon Universe indoor theme park with 27 rides, but it also has an aquarium of sharks, sting rays and an amazing underwater tunnel; a 4D immersive flight adventure; the nation’s longest indoor zip line; and we can’t leave out the 18-hole mini golf course. The Mall draws thousands of people every day, and it’s easy to see why, given the unbelievable variety of things to do, eat, and see.
As a farewell to this fantastic city, I brought my sister to the legendary Manny’s Steakhouse (825 S Marquette Ave., Tel: 612-339-9900. www.mannyssteakhouse.com) downtown. A locally famous restaurant steeped in tradition, their huge portions and high quality dishes lived up to my expectations. I had a delicious rare rib eye steak, creamed spinach, herbed mashed potatoes, and gin and tonic. Their selection of fresh seafood is also a crowd favorite, especially the whole lobsters. For diners with a sweet tooth, the signature Maker’s Mark Whiskey Bread Pudding, full of boozy goodness, is a must-order dessert.