Central Business District - Theater District

The Central Business District - Theater District abounds in Night-Out Fun

This area is typically where the party starts and ends in downtown Minneapolis. Buckle up, because there’s a lot of options.

Where to start? The Theater District? Bars and clubs sitting shoulder-to-shoulder? And, being the focal point of the city’s singular Skyway System, a second-level world ripe for exploration? It’s all good. Conveniently, some of downtown’s best hotels are here in the thick of it, meaning many days of amusement can be planned without stepping a toe into a car.

A Giving Tree of Good Times

Hennepin Avenue’s theater district hosts top-shelf national and international productions and artists. The Orpheum, State and Pantages Theaters are where touring Broadway plays, musicals, comedies and concerts make their stops. In operation since 1958, the legendary Brave New Workshop is the longest, continuously running sketch comedy and improve theater in the country. They host many variety acts throughout the year, but the BNW is best know for its original sketch comedy shows, like “Make Love Like a Minnesotan” and “Fifty Shades of White: A Minnesota XXXmas.” Illusion Theater, based in the Cowles Center, produces original theater, music and dance productions, many of which address current social issues. Orchestra Hall is home to the distinguished, Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra, founded in 1903, who stage roughly 175 performances each year.

First Avenue had already cemented its legacy as one of the top live music venues in the country before Prince used it as a location for key parts of his 1984 film “Purple Rain.” The incredible history of this club is literally written on the outside walls of the building. Since 1970, artists that performed here have included Tina Turner, Ray Charles, BB King, Iggy and The Stooges, The Cure, The Replacements, U2, REM, Run DMC, Public Enemy, Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine, The Beastie Boys, Radiohead, Moby, Coldplay, The White Stripes, and virtually any other popular artist you can name. The neighboring, intimate 7th Street Entry is its smaller, live music sister venue.

The Dakota Jazz Club is a delightful music venue/chef-driven restaurant combination. It has hosted a wide variety of artists including Lucinda Williams, Philip Glass, Bob Mould, Rickie Lee Jones, Suzanne Vega, Cowboy Junkies, Angelique Kidjo, Dan Wilson, Shawn Colvin, Mavis Staples, Mike Doughty, Anoushka Shankar, Aimee Mann, Nick Lowe and Ronnie Spector. Prince liked to frequent the Dakota as both guest and as performer, which is about as high praise as a place can get.

The Fine Line Music Café is a small, upscale venue that gives guests the opportunity to see big name artists in an intimate, two-tiered cabaret style club.

Prologue and Encore Dining 

Right in the heart of the theater district, CRAVE’s American/Japanese combo menu manages to do justice to both cuisines, including some epic sushi platters. Their rooftop seating fills up fast. Just downstairs is brewpub chain Rock Bottom, serving upscale pub food and several in-house brewed beers on tap, though if you’re going to a long show, for the sake of your bladder, you’d better pace yourself. The Hennepin Ave outpost of The Capital Grill sets the steakhouse scene wonderfully. Classy décor, classier service and truly wonderful cuts of beef. Their Signature Cheeseburger is among the best in the city.

Housed on the ground floor of Le Meridien Hotel, Mercy is still shining and smelling of wood from its 2017 opening. They serve some Instagram-worthy seafood dishes, like the crab leg fried rice, and a variety of protein-themed small plates and entrees. The vine-covered patio is the preferred spot for breakfast, brunch and after work drinks. In less inviting weather, the small, subterranean Library Bar is on point with the cocktails and has leather-bound… everything. The modern rooftop atrium patio is, naturally, the main draw at Union Rooftop, featuring a retractable glass roof that completely encloses the space for year-round dining in natural light. The food ranges across the New American spectrum, including flatbreads, burgers and seafood. Note: the rooftop menu is an abbreviated version of the bar & grill menu. Upscale Seven Steakhouse Sushi & Rooftop is a clever hybrid of all the popular places mentioned above. Their roof patio overlooks one of the busiest intersections in downtown.  

If you’re willing to go farther afield before your show, you have many strong options. Quite close by is the wonderful Butcher & the Boar, with a menu bursting with sausage, charcuterie and, obviously, boar. The sampler is the way to go. Near Loring Park, 4 Bells serves “South Carolina low-country” food in the form of fried chicken, beef and pretty much the whole checklist of east coast seafood. A different menu is served up on the roof patio.

Eating to the Core

The downtown core is, naturally, full of popular options catering to whatever night out theme you have planned. Just blocks from Target Center and Target Field is Lyons Pub, serving no nonsense pub food and lots of tap beers in a classic, dark, wood-crafted English pub setting. An upscale pre-game option is Murray’s Steakhouse, opened in 1946, if lovingly prepared cuts of beef and classic cocktails are your thing. More casual, but still much loved is Ike’s Food & Cocktails with their long list of burgers, small plates and a few seafood items. They’re also famous for their gut-busting, “family style” brunch.

Elegant chain The Oceanaire Seafood Room excels at seafood, obviously, but also serves up steaks with flair and an impressive wine list. Their happy hour food menu is almost too good to be true. Mission American Kitchen & Bar appeals to game-day crowds, sharp business travelers and pretty much anyone looking for a reliably good meal. The menu focuses on upscale comfort food, which has earned them the title of “power lunch capital of downtown Minneapolis” according to the New York Times. Finally, there is Manny’s Steakhouse, located on the ground floor of the iconic Foshay Tower, home to the W Hotel. This place is mainly for special occasions, round numbered birthdays and anniversaries or when someone else is paying, but it’s absolutely worth the money. Many reliable sources agree about Manny’s excellence, including Men’s Journal who rated Manny’s among the “10 Best Steakhouses in the World” in 2015. Eye-watering cuts of beef (and their prices) are joined on the menu by lobster, king crab, salmon and, yes, even chicken if you want to ruin your server’s day.

Closing in on 30 years of business, Brit’s Pub has evolved into a kind of English Pub attraction as much as it is a place to get a bite and a pint. Soccer and rugby games bring in a specialized audience of passionate sports fans and the massive rooftop English Garden Park has a 10,000 square foot lawn bowling green, as well as being a pleasant place to sun oneself. Just a few steps down Nicollet is the Irish answer to Brit’s, The Local. The long, mahogany bar that greets you is the first sign you’ve hit Irish pub paydirt. The menu is a treat of traditional Irish food and the bar staff must be doing something right, as they have repeatedly been recognized as the top sellers of Jameson Whiskey in the world. That includes Ireland. All that Jameson is frequently sold in the form of the bar’s signature drink, The Big Ginger (Jameson and ginger ale). Televised soccer games bring in lively crowds.

Pre and Post Game Speed Round

With Target Center, home of the Minnesota Timberwolves and champion Minnesota Lynx, anchoring First Avenue and Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, in such close proximity, this part of downtown is frequently bustling with sports fans. Just a few of the options in the area include Kieran’s Irish Pub (restaurant, pub), Rock Bottom (brewpub, restaurant), Gluek’s Restaurant and Bar (German beer, pub food), Brothers Bar and Grill (sports bar), City Works (giant sports bar, American food) and O’Donovan’s  Irish Pub. That said, arguably the area’s most famous spot for food and drink is Hell’s Kitchen, an eclectically decorated, basement joint, serving “damn good food” all day. On weekends, they have a renowned brunch menu, a truly spectacular Bloody Mary bar and live music.  

Skyway Life

The largest, contiguous system of enclosed, second level bridges in the world, provides exceptional access to nearly all buildings in this part of downtown. This second level world contains multiple places to eat and shop as well as access to Target Center, Target Field and some theaters and bars.

The Minneapolis Skyway page includes a comprehensive skyway map.

Sleep It Off

This area of downtown has hosted business and entertainment visitors for decades and is rightly populated with a strong range of places to sleep. The Radisson Blu is the upscale-with-casual-style arm of the Radisson family. Their in-house restaurant, Firelake Grill House & Cocktail Bar is one of the pioneering downtown hotel restaurants that also attracts locals on the strength of its menu. The Westin Minneapolis is a strong three-star option housed in a historic bank building.  Loews Hotel is a decorative, yet comfortable option right across the street from Target Center’s entrance. Their onsite restaurant, Cosmos, is routinely rated as one of the best brunches in the entire city. The  Marriott City Center  is located at roughly the geographic center of downtown’s entertainment options, which probably explains its longevity at this location.

The Hampton Inn & Suites is a relatively new three-star option literally one minute from both the theater district and Target Center. The Embassy Suites by Hilton is housed in the landmark Plymouth Building and offers complimentary breakfast, Wi-Fi, evening receptions and in-room fridges and microwaves. Luxury property Le Meridien sitting just steps from all the theaters in the district, was named “Best Hotel in Minnesota” in 2017 by Travel + Leisure. Just down the street, new kid on the block, AC Marriott, is a strong contemporary option, with complimentary Wi-Fi and an evening reception with free drinks and tapas. There two extended stay Residence Inn by Marriott properties downtown. One just around the corner from the theaters and a Target flagship store, the other just a block off the Mississippi River Boulevard. Rooms have kitchens and separate living areas.