The Heart of Downtown - Nicollet
Walk the Line From the Walker Art Center to the River
Nicollet (formerly known as Nicollet Mall) has long been downtown’s core shopping and entertainment artery. Its comprehensive remodel has enhanced the experience for visitors, workers and the area’s growing residential population.
With motor vehicles restricted to buses and taxis, this mile-long, go-to pedestrian oasis is lined by bar and restaurant sidewalk seating, art, bountiful greenery and many shopping options.
Before marching down this strip of leisure and retail, your introduction to Nicollet can be found at Minneapolis Visitor Information, on the corner of 5th Street and Nicollet, directly in front of the Nicollet Metro Transit light rail station. There’s a Nice Ride bike share station immediately outside, if you feel the urge to get to the other end of Nicollet in a hurry.
From here, heading south along Nicollet, look for the “Light Walk,” a pedestrian-scaled trellis serving as an armature for a two-block-long overhead light installation made from mirrored fins and programmable LED lights. The same area also features the “Art Walk,” an alternating row of trees, light masts and lantern, which will be the main staging area for markets and events. Without lingering too long in the street (obviously), keep an eye out for the 50 new, decorative Minnesota-themed manhole covers along Nicollet.
Alternatively, walk or ride north and, with a zig and a zag, you’ll run into the mighty Mississippi River. This section of the river has been designated as the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area, so whether you go right or left when you hit the water, you’ll be in prime walking, jogging and biking grounds.
It’s difficult to miss the numerous skyways crossing Nicollet. The Minneapolis Skyway System is the largest, contiguous system of enclosed, second level bridges in the world, composed of roughly 8 miles of pathways connecting 80 city blocks. This grim weather retreat contains multiple places to eat, shop and drink as well as access to Orchestra Hall, Target Center, Target Field and more.
On Nicollet, there are a number of skyway access points, including the cavernous Crystal Court in the IDS (between 7th and 8th Street), the tallest building in downtown, and the flagship Target store at 9th Street. Along Nicollet, eating options on skyway level, or accessible by skyway, include chains like Freshii, Roti, Naf Naf, Chipotle, Bruegger’s Bagels, Au Bon Pain, Wich Wich Sandwiches, Panera Bread, Potbelly, Leann Chin, Starbucks and the list goes on and on. The Brothers Deli, OneTwoThree Sushi and Caribou Coffee are a few local chains and standalone options.
If you’re shopping along the Nicollet skyway corridor, you’ll have access to Brooks Brothers, Allen Edmonds (shoes and leather goods), Hubert White (clothing), Banana Republic, St Croix Shop (men’s clothing), Kisa Boutique (clothing), Shop the Runway, Marshalls, JB Hudson Jewelers, Juut Salonspa, Walgreens and retail shops for multiple cell phone providers.
Curb Your Appetite
Minneapolis has a particular affinity for outdoor dining. At ground level, Nicollet has a pleasing series of sidewalk patios that invite long, lazy meals, drinks and people watching without having to shout over cars, trucks and motorcycles roaring by.
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. Be warned that nice days and big events mean frantic demands on the service staff. Don’t arrive hungry. 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.
The news theme décor in Newsroom is a little out of place with the Star Tribune offices being several blocks away, but WCCO TV is just up the block, so we’ll allow it. The giant restaurant, punctuated by the clipper ship-shaped bar, is known for its menu of American food and that the cavernous space’s acoustics mean it gets loud in the evening. We won’t spoil the surprise, but the bathrooms here are memorable. Zelo’s serves upscale, contemporary Italian food with style and has a cozy bar that gets dark and cozy at night. Inside is largely for business meals, date nights and special occasions. The patio is less formal. New arrival to Nicollet is Michigan-based chain Hop Cat, serving pub food and a gigantic beer menu, including 80 beers on tap! It’s a large space, with bars on multiple levels.
The two-level, flagship Target Store at 9th Street has become the one-stop destination for downtown workers and residents to satisfy virtually any need. The grocery section in particular has grown to be a comprehensive shopping option for both residents doing their weekly shopping and visitors seeking quick hotel-room breakfasts and snacks. Nordstorm Rack’s recent arrival on Nicollet, inside the IDS building on 7th Street, has made an instant impact, drawing in people seeking a wide selection of big-brand-name apparel and accessories in their 40,000 square foot space. One block north is Saks off 5th, the well known upscale chain carrying over 800 designer brands in apparel, shoes, accessories and home goods.
Acting as an unofficial bookend to Nicollet is the Walker Art Center, a Minneapolis institution since 1940. Its continued work and relevance has made it one of the most visited modern and contemporary art museums in the country. Permanent and temporary interdisciplinary exhibits are supplement by places to rest your feet on the roof-top terrace, plazas and gardens. Across the street, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is the largest urban sculpture park in the world. The park features some 40 works of contemporary art, including the city’s iconic “Spoonbridge and Cherry” and a striking, 15-foot, blue chicken, recently arrived after a stint in London’s Trafalgar Square.
Orchestra Hall is home to the distinguished, Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra, founded in 1903, who stage roughly 175 performances each year. The venue is known for its outstanding acoustics, which one can visually appreciate with the more than 100 panels on the ceiling and back wall of the stage, directing sound down and out into the house. They also host all manner of touring modern, popular and classical music groups and special events.
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.