Welcome to Minneapolis!
Hello RailsConf and welcome! I don’t have a ticket to the event, but I live here. This is the guide I’d want to read if I were visiting for a convention.
Who should read this?
Whenever I head to a new city for a convention I immediately scope out the following:
- Places to exercise
If these things aren’t interesting to you, this guide will not do you much good.
So let’s go…
Craft Breweries. 15 years ago, MN was a beer desert. We had some pointless laws that made it hard for smaller brewers to get started. That’s all changed and there’s been an explosion of breweries popping up. Most of the breweries you’ll encounter make good beer.
Beers you’ll see
Surly is our most prominent craft brewer. They lobbied hard to have the laws changed. The explosion of breweries is directly due to their influence. Top to bottom they have the most well-made beers. Their taproom is huge, serves excellent food, and has a bunch of beers. Protip: if you’ve already had a few and want to slow down, the taproom has some enjoyable low alcohol choices.
One of the early examples of a hoppy IPA.
An excellent Belgian Pale. One of my go-to beers.
You won’t find it on tap. It comes out in the fall and disappears quickly. But your friend who trades beer on the internet would love you if you came back with a bottle of it.
If Surly is Minneapolis’ elder craft brewer, Summit (over the river in St. Paul) is the true progenitor of MN craft beer. They were slinging it before craft beer was a word (back when Samuel Adams was found on the import menu). In the ’90s, if you found Summit EPA on tap, you ordered it and called it good. Nowadays there are many other options, but this is a classic MN beer.
Extra Pale Ale (EPA)
A MN classic. It tastes like the ’90s.
Your favorite brewer probably geeks out over Summit Pils.
A well stock tapped list might have some Steel Toe beers. Steel Toe quietly makes excellent beer without much fanfare or bowing to latest trends. While the hipster urban tap-rooms get all the attention, the real beer scene is happening in crappy industrial parks. If you wanted to bike to the brewery, you can get there entirely on bike trails.
Size 7 is one of my favorite IPA’s. Nice and hop forward with a solid malt backing.
A newcomer from Northeast that makes some excellent selections. Including some solid lagers and experimental options.
From Duluth. Have been making great beers since day one. You are unlikely to be disappointed by any of them.
Some folks call it cheap, beer nerds call it adjunct lager, Europeans call it @#$%ing near water, but our grandparents called it… beer. If you entered a bar back-in-the-day there was a good chance Grain Belt was the only beer on tap (unless you were in a Hamm’s bar).
Grain Belt Premium
Texas has their Lone Star, East Coasters has Yuengling and MN has Grain Belt Premium. Nothing against Hamm’s (and could someone please explain why it is the only beer served at a top San Jose cocktail joint?) but it’s been corporate owned and brewed out-of-state for a long time. Grain Belt is still owned by a MN company and brewed in state. It’s an excellent palate cleanser between the quadruple IPA’s you so-called beer experts seem to drink exclusively.
Grain Belt Nordeast
See my comments on the Nordeast neighborhood. Some marketing group decided Premium wasn’t perfect and needed to be updated. It’s perfectly drinkable, but grab a Premium or an actual craft beer instead.
Bauhaus is one of the few American breweries that make solid Lagers. They also do the standard IPA but here are some beers of note:
A nice Pilser with a solid hop base (for the style). If I’m heading to a cook-out and want something to share with friends I pick up a 12 pack of Wonderstuff and don’t think that much about it.
A Black Lager (or Schwarzbier). Nice solid flavor without too much alcohol.
A nice yeasty Helles with a solid hop base (for the style). Catch a pattern here? One of the better American made examples of the style (Victory makes the best American Helles if you were wondering). More of a seasonal things so count yourself lucky if you find it.
Homeguys and Wonderstuff also make excellent palate cleansers between the quadruple IPA’s you so-called beer experts seem to drink exclusively.
With that said, let’s get to the next morning…
Most of the downtown coffee options exist to give office workers their caffeine jolt on their way to work. If you wanted a step up from Starbucks, Caribou & Dunn Brothers you didn’t have many options. This is changing. My favorite spots are outside downtown, but here some ones you can get to:
Probably your best option for a quality cup without walking too far. It’s tucked away in a residential street just outside downtown. Decent quality and surprisingly close to the convention center.
Your next best option for a nearby Caribou upgrade. It primarily serves office workers in the skyway. I’m not even sure how to get there from the street. If a Lavender Latte is your thing, this is your spot.
Cafe Pateen is two blocks away, has decent coffee and made-from-scratch baked goods. It’s also in the Skyway and run by a Certified Minneapolis Character.
3rd Wave Coffee
If you’re willing to venture out for a top-notch cup (the so-called 3rd wave), these are all Downtown but not especially close to the convention center. They are highly regarded by the highest level coffee nerds in my network.
Also among the better coffee shops is Spyhouse which just opened a new location Downtown. Not that close, but not that far either. Expect it to be busy.
Places to exercise
My convention mode is a lot of socializing, often around food and drinks. This puts a toll on my calorie intake and my usual introverted self so I’m usually up early and need some exercise to clear my head before a long day of convention-ing.
There are some nice trails along the Mississippi River, including a path over the Stone Arch Bridge. If you’re staying on the SW corner of Downtown, Loring Park and the Sculpture Garden offer some interesting sights.
If you can find a bike (check out Nice Ride), the Cedar Lake Trail heads west from Minneapolis. It’s a bit industrial until you get out of the DT area, but opens up into a nice meadow that leads to a bunch of pleasant rides. South Minneapolis is known for bike trails and lakes and the Cedar Lake Trail will get you to all of them.
Hidden Beach on Cedar Lake is an easily bikeable destination that isn’t too far from Downtown. If you’re up early enough you might see me running past one of the beaches on the other shore. It’s a beautiful spot to get away from all the action for a while.
Downtown Minneapolis kinda sucks and the area around the Convention Center is especially bleak. I mean, it’s not bad. You can find good food to eat. But it’s not that great. Until fairly recently, not that many people lived downtown. This is changing but it’s pretty rare I make a point to visit. Most of downtown caters to people on their lunch break. The dinner restaurants cater to people with expense accounts who aren’t spending their own money.
The exception to this is the North Loop on the NW corner of downtown. The North Loop is a bunch of trendy restaurants and shops where people spent their parents money. I rarely visit the area but people rave about the burger at Parlour. If trendy dining is your thing, you’ll find something you like there.
If conference box lunches aren’t your thing, there will be a bunch of Food Trucks on 2nd Ave between 4th and 5th St. Just head north from the Convention Center.
Exceptions to the rule in Downtown Minneapolis.
These are places that are worth a trip downtown.
Butcher and the Boar
Butcher and the Boar has a bunch of meat options and an excellent Whiskey menu. A great place to have an expense account.
The Bulldog has upscale bar food. What’s upscale bar food you ask? It’s like food you’d get a sports bar except the tots have truffle oil sprinkled on them. They also have an excellent beer menu including some rare Belgians. This is my go-to when I meet friends before a Twins game.
Hell’s Kitchen is a top breakfast spot (I still have dreams about the Buffalo Benedict I had there in ‘07.) and has quirky options throughout the rest of the day.
Brit’s is the best place to catch the Champions league games. Barcelona fans should note this is the home of the LFC Supporters Club and might feel more comfortable at The Local down the block (this is a joke, you are unlikely to encounter hostile American soccer fans). The Nomad World Pub is the local Spur’s bar. It’s a short cab ride or a long walk away.
Barcelona fans can be found wherever Yankees, Patriots and Duke Basketball fans hangout.
Neighborhoods outside of downtown
As I mentioned above, I rarely visit downtown outside of working hours unless there’s a concert or a Twins game. Here are some areas I would visit to hang out with friends. These neighborhoods are all easy to get to by Lyft, public transit or bike.
The area around Lake St and Lyndale. Up-Down has a bunch of vintage video games, there’s a speakeasy with the best cocktails in town (actually among the best I’ve had anywhere), a cigar shop and a bunch of restaurant options.
Nicollet Ave heads S from downtown and earned the name Eat Street because it’s jam-packed with restaurants. The corner of 26th and Nicollet has a ton cool spots including a record store, a Jamaican Rum Bar, a dedicated pinball bar, coal fired pizza, and many options for Pho. My favorite coffee shop (Wesley Andrews) is nearby. The best drip & pour-overs in town.
Protip: No one called it Nordeast until the city hired a marketing firm to tell us we should. [Update] Some in the know dispute this claim and have anecdotes to back it up. I don’t doubt their experience but still affirm Nordeast’s recent addition to our lexicon was astroturfed.
Head to NE Broadway and Cedar and you can visit multiple breweries in one shot. 612Brew, Indeed, Bauhaus, Able, Tattersall Distillery and Sociable Cider Werks are all in walking distance of each other.
Sidenote: it’s probably unwise to visit them all
Dive Bar Crawl
Despite it’s recent status as a destination for artists and hipsters: NE Mpls retains much of its charm from its heyday as a grouping of ethnic enclaves. As such, many of the old bars are still in operation and they are close by. Touring the spots along NE Marshall and University has been a rite of passage for many Twin Cities residents. Tony Jaro’s, Dusty’s, Shaw’s, Gasthof’s & Mayslack’s have been around forever and there are plenty of newer (but not cooler) places to fill in the gaps.
You’re unlikely to wander into a neighborhood that is unsafe. The worst I’ve heard is people preying on late-night drunks at the downtown bars near Hennepin Ave. As with most cities, it’s best to keep with a group and avoid empty streets. I regularly travel throughout Minneapolis on bike and rarely feel unsafe.
P.S. Many thanks to other locals who helped provide suggestions and edits. I stand on the shoulders of giants.