Banking on Cedar-Riverside
By Ali Elabbady
I was a University of Minnesota sophomore walking across the Washington Avenue Bridge, which connects the university’s East Bank campus with Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, when I saw a van owned by the student-run Radio K station. It was advertising a hip-hop radio show called The Beat Box. Soon after, from 1999 to 2006, this area became my second home as I started volunteering and interning for The Beat Box during the week, ready to broadcast live on Saturdays. Today, the Cedar Avenue South cultural district is a vibrant, welcoming, and fascinating place. Most commonly referred to as Cedar-Riverside, it boasts a progressive and diverse community that gives life to this part of Minneapolis.
Cedar-Riverside served as a second home for a lot of the experiences that would shape and mold my mind as a young college student, who was fresh out of taking all my prerequisite courses, and fully honed in on my major of speech communications. Since a majority of the courses I was taking at the time were arts-related, little did I know how the Cedar-Riverside area would be able to nourish and replenish my creative mindframe at that time. As time passed, this district would also be a prime spot for rejuvenation, whether it was through the numerous live venues for experimental plays and infectious live music, or to help quell the hunger pangs with some awesome breakfast, lunch, and dinner spots.
History of Cedar Avenue South
The Cedar Avenue South cultural district was considered a port of entry for Swedes, Germans, and Bohemians, who started to arrive in large numbers during the late 19th century. In its early days, Cedar-Riverside housed a lot of Scandinavian immigrants who worked for the lumber and milling fields on the banks of the Mississippi River. After those industries declined in the 1920s, the area experienced an increase in Eastern European immigrants in the 1940s. Along with the Seven Corners area in the 1960s and 70s, it became a burgeoning community for hippies, activists, and musicians. Fast-forward to today, and Cedar-Riverside is home to one of the largest immigrant communities in the Twin Cities—yet still maintains remnants of all these past influxes in some way, shape, or form. Somalis are now the predominant minority group here. Dubbed “Little Mogadishu,” the Cedar Avenue South cultural district reflects that shift with emerging businesses and numerous restaurants that are providing Somali goods and cuisine.
Make the Most of Hard Times and Matinees
During those years I was working with Radio K, I had a co-host who is still my best friend today. Every Saturday, I would usually pick him up from University Village on the East Bank, and then we would traverse to the West Bank campus, parking in a lot at the nearby Rarig Center. During our walk, we would debate if we should have breakfast at Hard Times Cafe or The Wienery, only to agree to have breakfast at The Wienery, and lunch with our guests that day from The Beat Box at Hard Times. Hard Times and The Wienery are still slinging dishes of delicious food and hot coffee and tea for any patron who walks through its doors today, and I still highly recommend a visit to both.
Also during those years, I would visit local businesses interested in running advertising. I would stop in at Midwest Mountaineering and Thrifty Outfitters, where you could find knowledgeable and pleasant sales staff who would help with your outdoorsy needs, and Mayday Books, where a lot of the literature found there helped shape much of the ideology I have to this day. Both are still making their presence known, and are staples in the Cedar Avenue South district.
Many are surprised to learn this area is a place for great theater, too. The arts departments of the University of Minnesota and nearby Augsburg College, as well as the Theatre in the Round stage, have been featuring plays and one-person shows here for decades. After a filling lunch in the district, I would often find myself at Theater in the Round to catch a 2 pm matinee, which you can still experience these days on Sundays.
Music and Memories
On a typical weekend, the district is known for its vibrant local music scene, too. These days, I still spend a bulk of my time seeing shows at the Cedar Cultural Center, where I’ve caught shows by Tuareg legends Tinariwen and comedian Ron Funches. Palmer’s Bar is an excellent spot to catch dope live shows from local and independent acts, too.
Cedar Avenue South brims with culture, diversity, and artistry, and what makes the cultural district unique is, of course, the people, the food, and the arts. It provides a kind of everyday education that makes the rest of us more astute and enriched as a result.
AUTHOR: Ali Elabbady
Ali Elabbady is a food and music writer based in the Twin Cities. Currently, Ali writes about food for Eater Twin Cities and has written about food and music in the past for City Pages, The Current, and more. Ali is also the host and producer for the TV show Tacos & Tastemakers, which launched its pilot season in September of 2020 and is available to watch on YouTube.
More to Explore in the Cedar Avenue South Cultural District:
Tamu Grill and Catering is a Kenyan restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota, offering flavorful dishes from Kenya and other parts of Africa.
Cozy spot for Ethiopian and East African staples, including vegetarian options.
Mixed Blood Theatre
A professional multiracial theatre company, presenting works focused on social justice & marginalized communities.
Town Hall Brewery
Cozy, brick-walled brewpub & restaurant serving both house/guest taps and ridiculously good food.
- 7 Corners Coffee: a multi-roaster community cafe crafting beverages while promoting a sustainable coffee economy.
- Afro Deli & Grill: Minneapolis: Fusion restaurant that offers freshly made African, Mediterranean, and American themed food in a fast, fun, and friendly environment.
- Baarakallah Restaurant: A taste of Somalia in Minneapolis, with authentic and flavorful East African dishes.
- Comedy Corner Underground: Located in a bar basement, this comedy club has frequent shows & free Friday open-mic nights.
- Urban Jungle: Hand-selected vintage clothing store.
- Red Sea Ethiopian: Minneapolis’ first Ethiopian restaurant that features a wide selection of authentic Ethiopian & Eritrean cuisine, a full bar, and a nightclub & live-music venue.
- The Cabooze: Bar and music venue featuring a diverse list of live acts, from cover bands to touring groups.