East Town – Mill District Riverfront
One MILLion stories
Like a phoenix, the formerly forlorn east side of downtown and riverfront area is rapidly becoming a residential and entertainment district.
Until recently, East Downtown was mainly a business district, quiet on nights and weekends except during events at the old Dome Stadium. Its rapid residential and entertainment transformation, along with the opening of the new U.S. Bank Stadium, makes this neighborhood one of the most exciting areas of the expanding downtown. Numerous eateries, entertainment options, a weekend farmers market and a healthy grouping of new condos have turned this corner of downtown into a thriving neighborhood.
History, Theater, Natural Beauty and the 2018 Super Bowl Stadium
The gleaming U.S. Bank Stadium is East Downtown’s defining landmark. Minnesota Vikings games are held there, of course, but it’s also becoming the go-to concert venue for the very biggest artists that come to town. The historic Minneapolis Armory has been turned into a mid-sized music, club and events venue and has already hosted some big name artists, like Pink!, Jennifer Lopez and Imagine Dragons.
Making a museum about the history of flour milling into a fascinating, worthwhile attraction sounds virtually impossible, but the Mill City Museum is all that and more. It also serves as a Minneapolis history museum, being the city may have never existed without its milling industry, built around the only naturally occurring falls on the entire length of the Mississippi River.
Just down the street is the crown jewel of the Twin Cities’ distinguished theater community, the Guthrie Theater. Founded in 1963 (relocated to its current site in 2006), the Guthrie stages performances year-round in its three-theater complex on Mississippi River Boulevard. It also has a wonderful on-site seafood restaurant, Sea Change, and irresistible photo opportunities out on the 178-foot cantilever known as the “Endless Bridge” and yellow-filtered, 360-degree views up in the “Amber Box.”
If you’re looking for green space to let the kids (and adult-sized kids) run down excess energy, Gold Medal Park, adjacent to the Guthrie, is a 7.4 acre park with a 32-foot mound at its center, providing views of the Mississippi River, the Stone arch Bridge, the Guthrie and parts of the Mill District. In front of U.S. Bank Stadium is the new Commons Park; 4.2 acres with seasonal playground items, game cart, a “Splash Pad,” and numerous public events. And there’s always the Mississippi River Boulevard (this particular section is designated as a regional park), with more grass on which to frolic, the St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center and the highly Instagrammable Stone Arch Bridge. The river boulevard is a key link on the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, a 51-mile loop composed of parkways, trails and lakes. It’s the only scenic byway in the country located entirely within an urban area.
Wine and Dine Around
Many of the neighborhood bars reflect the fact that they’re a short walk from a NFL stadium. One of the oldest game day warm-up spots is Grumpy’s Bar & Grill, with lots of TVs, all tuned to sports, pool tables, a big patio and a menu with exactly the kind of food you need to fuel three hours of sporting your team. Having recently been reinvented with a short but respected menu is Dan Kelly’s Pub. The old Irish bar is still dark as a cave, but it has a strong selection of beer and whiskeys and an attractive happy hour (3-7 p.m.). Still shiny from its post-fire renovation, Maxwell’s American Pub has more of a neighborhood hangout feel than pre-game lubrication staging area, despite being barely three blocks from the stadium’s north entrance. The long menu is mainly classic pub food dishes with a bit of class or Minnesotaness (or both) mixed in, namely the tatter tots with chicken wild rice and “Midwest Jambalaya.”
Day Block Brewing Company doubles as a brewpub and live music venue. The menu is mainly composed of snacks, sandwiches and pizzas. Long-time gay bar and nightclub, eagleBOLTbar, has broadened its appeal with a menu featuring a wide range of burgers, sandwiches, pizzas and apps, plus happy hour specials Monday through Friday, including 2-for-1s on all drinks. Nordic-themed drinking hole, Erik the Red Nordic BBQ & Barbarian Bar (because, Minnesota Vikings, get it?) joined the neighborhood very recently. How BBQ and Scandinavians fit together is anyone’s guess, but with items like the intriguing fruity-spicy “lingonberry barbeque sauce” on the menu, they get the benefit of the doubt. They also win at location: literally across the street from the stadium’s front door.
Eat Your Greens
The immediate success of the Mill City Farmers Market was one of the first signs that this surface-parking-lot-turned-neighborhood plan was going to work. Locals and people from around the Twin Cities pour into the market to get their local, seasonal produce Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (May-October). It’s a family scene, with live entertainment, cooking classes, the Power of Produce kids vegetable tasting stall and several prepared food options for immediate snack attacks. There’s also a Tuesday night market (3:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.) for about eight weeks, July through September.
One of the first restaurants to blaze a food trail in the neighborhood was Spoonriver, featuring a seasonal menu of American fare, including beef, lamb and pork from Minnesota sources, local produce and signature cocktails. There’s also a take-away deli, if you’re running late to a show at the Guthrie, just next door. Sushi, sashimi, ramen and other Japanese comfort food is available at Zen Box Izakaya, just far away enough from the Guthrie to have a more neighborhood feel, than a dressy, pre-show splurge. It’s a busy place, so call ahead or be prepared to sit at the bar. The neighborhood’s go-to dessert spot is Izzy’s Ice Cream, a locally adored place for its lovingly hand-crafted ice cream. There’s frequently a line out the door, but the wait is well worth it.
The second Radisson Red in the world opened in East Downtown in 2016, to satisfy the wave of millennials descending on the city, who know a good time when they see it. The art/music/fashion inspired hotel is Skyway-connected and less than two blocks from both the stadium and the Guthrie. Also exquisitely placed for theater and sports fans is the modern, boutique-style Aloft Minneapolis, with a pool, bar, restaurant and a 24/7 gym. The recently refurbished Normandy Inn & Suites (operated by Best Western) is a strong three-star option with an on-site restaurant that attracts locals, particularly for breakfast and happy hour. They offer shuttle service to the convention center and Target Field, among others places. When Hyatt Place took over their location from another hotel chain, they sunk $20 million into renovations and it shows. Free breakfasts and Wi-Fi, indoor pool, 24-hour gym and a skyway connection are just a few of its features.