Written by Jennifer Kester, published January 30, 2018
Minneapolis’ brutal winters often scare off the hardiest of tourists. But this underrated destination offers much more than its frigid temperatures and regional Fargo-esque accent — and not just because it’s host to Super Bowl LII.
There are robust cultural offerings: the Twin Cities have 80 professional theater companies, and the Minnesota Fringe Festival is the largest non-juried theater festival in the United States. And Minneapolis is one of the Midwest’s breakout foodie cities.
If you’re still not convinced, dodge the bitter winter by using Minneapolis’ skyways (9.5 miles of enclosed, elevated walkways that connect 80 blocks of stores), and catch the best of the city’s restaurants and downtown attractions. Follow Forbes Travel Guide's two-day guide to get better acquainted with this metropolis.
After touching down at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, have an early lunch at a nearby local institution, the 5-8 Club. Opened in 1928 as a speakeasy, the 5-8 converted to a hamburger joint after Prohibition. But these aren’t run-of-the-mill burgers; the restaurant specializes in Minneapolis’ own creation, the Juicy Lucy — a half-pound beef patty stuffed with cheese.
Servers’ T-shirts read, “Unapologetically messy,” warning you of what’s to come. Order The Roadhouse, a staff favorite Juicy Lucy topped with more cheese, thick bacon, an onion ring and 5-8 sauce (mayo with barbecue spices). Each bite unleashes a lava of hot cheese. Upgrade to the crinkle-cut sweet potato fries, but skip the cloying marshmallow-blue sauce. Your belt buckle will ultimately forgive you.
Go downtown and check into Hotel Ivy, A Luxury Collection Hotel for the best accommodations in the city. Originally built as a church tower in 1930, the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel keeps its interiors contemporary and stylish. Ten-foot ceilings make even basic accommodations seem airy, while buttery-soft leather couches and limestone-covered bathrooms with deep-soaking tubs invite you to linger.
Before leaving Hotel Ivy, stop by the desk of Galie Jaddunath-Robinson, the charming, make-it-happen “lead curator.” She’ll secure those hard-to-get reservations and dole out insider Minneapolis tips.
Then it’s off to the Guthrie Theater. Even if you aren’t a theatergoer, the building warrants a visit for its compelling architecture and fantastic city views. Jean Nouvel designed the Guthrie to mimic the surrounding old flour factories, complete with vertical LED signs resembling smokestacks.
Walk the fourth floor’s Endless Bridge, which juts out the equivalent of 12 stories toward the Mississippi, for up-close vistas of St. Anthony Falls (the more than 2,300-mile river’s only natural waterfall), the Stone Arch Bridge and Mill Ruins Park. Then zip up to the ninth floor’s Amber Box, a riverfront platform that’s cantilevered 15 feet off of the building’s midnight-blue façade. The box’s tinted window walls bathe the space in a serene yellow glow.
Take a backstage tour for a peek into how the theater’s productions are made. You’ll encounter a spiky Mohawk and a Rapunzel-length braid in the wig shop, gorgeous period dresses being sewn in costumes and furniture, and swords being fashioned in props.
To witness Minneapolis’ origins as an industrial town, visit downtown’s North Loop. Pop into Spyhouse Coffee Roasting Co. to refuel with some of the city’s best java before shopping.
The first stop must be Martin Patrick 3, the ultimate men’s store. In the warren of rooms, pick up Lanvin suits and Aesop toiletries, have alterations done at the tailor and get a cut and shave in the old-fashioned barbershop.
Find fashion-forward pieces from the likes of Rag and Bone and Lamarque at Queen Anna. Eco-friendly Askov Finlayson crafts Minneapolis-weather-resistant winter wear (a “North” pom-pom hat makes a fitting souvenir).
Dinner is just across the street at Spoon and Stable. After working with Daniel Boulud at Café Boulud New York, chef Gavin Kaysen returned to his hometown in 2014 to open this eatery, which continues to draw in crowds. The from-scratch cavatelli with housemade nduja sausage keeps bringing us back, since this spicy, smoky dish is as comforting as a hug. It will keep you warm on a winter night, as will the excellent Old Fashioned, which gets a tropical touch from plantation rum and roasted pineapple.
Return to Hotel Ivy for a nightcap at Constantine. The bar nods to its past incarnation as a church with a stained-glass window, organ pipes lining a wall and dripping wax candles, yet it feels modern with dark gray walls, chesterfield sofas, wingback chairs and a mounted elk head (it is Minnesota, after all). Enjoy a Rococo Grove (Martin Miller’s gin, pink peppercorn, Punt e Mes, Earl Giles strawberry cordial, coconut, lemon) while the DJ spins The Blackbyrds’ “Rock Creek Park” for a funky end to the day.
To keep the party going, popular Union Rooftop provides a lively mid-morning spot with a DJ and downtown views — it’s the city’s only year-round, glass-enclosed rooftop. The indulgent Sunday brunch fare will cure any excesses from last night. Try the hash browns with creamed spinach and lobster chunks — it’s big enough to share.
For a more refined morning meal, visit Kaysen’s lovely Bellecour French bistro, which debuted in 2017 across from Lake Minnetonka in nearby Wayzata. Go heavy on the pastries and light on the entrée.
Usually, the pastry basket is an afterthought, but talented pastry chef Diane Yang makes it a focal point with a buttery, delicate ham and cheese croissant, and a moist blueberry-frangipane muffin, among other treats. Follow it up with the ethereal, custard-like quiche Lorraine. Even if you can only muster a couple of bites, the gorgeous crepe cake is a must, with vanilla Chantilly tucked between 20 dainty layers and a brûléed top.
Work that all off with a stroll in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which was renovated in June 2017. With 60 works spread on 19 acres, it’s one of the country’s largest urban sculpture gardens.
Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry is an iconic Minneapolis symbol: a 1,200-pound cherry dangles on the edge of a 5,800-pound spoon. Be sure to see Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock, in which a brilliant blue rooster postures proudly 25 feet above the garden. A dark, cylindrical temple, Theaster Gates’ Black Vessel for a Saint pays homage to the patron saint of libraries and archives. What else is a museum — even one found on a lawn — but an archive?
Go across the street to the Walker Art Center. The contemporary art museum packs in a lot of programming, including performance pieces, films, tours and more. Peruse the galleries, which offers new experience each time with rotating exhibits. The thought-provoking “I Am You, You Are Too” (through January 19, 2020) examines belonging through works like Wolfgang Tillmans’ wall of anti-Brexit campaign posters (bearing slogans like, “No man is an island. No country by itself.”).
Take a break to taste the city’s varied beer scene. A short walk from the sculpture garden is Sisyphus, a cheery brewery/comedy club with small-batch beers. Try the Orange You Glad You Like Chocolate, a stout with a chocolaty finish.
From that great little find, venture off to Surly Brewing Co., a destination brewery with a large German-style beer hall. Locals reach for Surly’s Furious IPA or Coffee Bender oatmeal brown ale, but if you spy a Darkness, snap it up. With hints of chocolate, cherries, raisins, coffee and toffee, the Russian imperial stout has a cult following.
When you get hungry, make your way to the Northeast neighborhood’s Young Joni, one of the hottest restaurants in town. Young Joni revolves around wood-fire grilling, which explains an eclectic menu of shareable plates, ranging from pizza to Korean short ribs. Because everything tastes so good, it somehow works.
Order the tender, flavorful Korean beef along with the intense amatriciana, which interprets chef Ann Kim’s favorite pasta dish into pizza form. Add on the Japanese sweet potato, which hits your palate from every direction with sweetness from the potato, saltiness from the fish flakes, smokiness from the charred scallion crème fraîche, brininess from the pickled fresno and fieriness from the gochugaru.
After dinner, venture outside to the adjacent alley and follow the red light (there’s no sign) to the speakeasy-like Back Bar. The wood cabin with a ’70s vibe seems almost too retro, but you’ll feel at home once you sip one of the expertly made cocktails. Our pick: Purple Tape, a violet-hued tipple (pisco, angostura, violette, ginger and cassis) that’s slightly sweet, but complex with a velvety-smooth finish. We can’t think of a better way to wrap up a Minneapolis trip than drinking a cocktail inspired by its most famous resident, Prince.