Laborial Day and Trivia Mafia

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612: Brew in Northeast Minneapolis

The first Saturday in August this year, the 4th, marked the exact halfway point between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which is definitely an odd date to mark and one that had never occurred to me before. I think that, in future, though, I’ll definitely be sure to mark Laborial Day down on my calendar!

For the past year or so, my wife and I have gotten a little bit obsessed with the Twin Cities own trivia empire, Trivia Mafia. We’ve tried out a few of the local versions of bar trivia offered in the metro and have found it to be the best mix of risk and reward and have had quite a bit of fun at some of the many local establishments that offer trivia nights, officiated by some very funny hosts. Along with a group of friends, we’ve had some success, even participating in the annual winter invitational last March. Well, we didn’t do the worst, but Kitten Mittons has been known to pull a win on occasion, netting some free tickets to a local show or event or gift cards to one of the participating establishments. In fact, we won the tickets for last fall’s Adult Night at the Children’s Museum playing Trivia Mafia.

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Laborial Day Trivia Stop #1 at Sociable Cider Werks

However, Trivia Mafia offers more than trivia nights at venues across the Twin Cities and beyond. For the last few years, they have established a new tradition of Laborial Day, the halfway point between the two bordering holidays of summer. Yep, here in Minnesota that means that snow, so deep just four months ago, will be here in four more months as well, so participants wear black and white to symbolize the color schemes of each. While Trivia Mafia is generally free, a $5 admission fee gets you into the Laborial Day festivities, along with oreos (laboreos) and ice cream sandwiches. Of course, there is trivia as well, four special trivia quizzes each held at a different Northeast Minneapolis brewery for four entertaining (and slightly intoxicating) hours.

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Red River Foodtruck outside of Socialble

This year was a coolish day as we traversed the streets of Northeast, beginning at Sociable Cider Werks, an old favorite, before heading on to Able Seedhouse (a new favorite), 612:Brew (an established brewery I’d yet to have visited), and ending up at the stylish Bauhaus Brew Labs. Each an easy walk from one another, it was quite a blast to sample a different brew at each location and keep on trying to come up with answers. As with Trivia Mafia in general, each was based on a theme, and some were kinder to us than others.

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Laborial Day in full force at Able

Surprisingly, we did pretty well on the subject of Cleveland, Ohio (the 216 area code to riff off the 612 Brewing location) for a blog so obsessed with the Twin Cities. Still, it was perhaps better that we didn’t excel, since the prizes for each segment is a round of beer or cider for the winning team. If we were on fire, that could have proven a bit much, though perhaps those who succeed early may be at a disadvantage later. We never found out! All in all, one of the funnest days out of the summer and I would be excited to try our luck again next year.  

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“Use your noodle, not your google!” Mural at Bauhaus Brew Labs that seemed appropriate for Trivia Mafia’s slogan

 

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Twin Cities Time Travel: 1800s

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Fort Snelling at night: photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Last fall, I had the opportunity to explore a few remnants of the Twin Cities’ early nineteenth century history, survivors of more than a hundred years of urban renewal and change the dynamic region has experienced as it enters the 21st century.

A history buff with a master’s degree to show for it, I appreciate the changes that have led to a world where we might question the appropriateness of naming one of our most popular natural landmarks after one of the nineteenth century’s foremost proponents of white supremacy, restoring it to the name given it by the region’s original inhabitants, the Dakota. In the mid-nineteenth century Minneapolis and St. Paul were beginning to come to prominence as a major agricultural hub, feeding the world. At the same time, they relied heavily on investments obtained through the buying and selling of human lives and planned the wholesale destruction of the people who already lived here. Also the region became the destination for thousands of immigrants who would bring their own cultural and political ideas here, making it among the most heavily immigrant states in the country. As these tensions and contradictions became untenable and the continued presence of slavery in a nation founded on equality led to Civil War, Minnesota was fast to join the Union cause in spite of taking in so much slaveholding investment to found various state institutions, in particular the University of Minnesota. The relics of these times that still exist can provide a little time traveling to these fraught and interesting eras, and I do appreciate the chance to delve into the past.

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Waldmann Brewery

One such survivor was recently brought back to life in the up and coming West 7th neighborhood of St. Paul. Waldmann Brewery and Wurstery is housed in the oldest commercial building in Minneapolis-St. Paul, originally built in 1857 as one of the city’s first German immigrant lager saloons. Established by Bavarian immigrant Anton Waldmann, the saloon operated until 1863, and survived the next hundred and fifty years as a rental property before being completely renovated as one of the St. Paul’s most interesting new breweries. The drinking culture of German immigrants was, at the time, a controversial and dangerous aspect of these foreigners, though people did take quickly to the new German innovation of lager beer as it was thought to be a less alcoholic alternative to the Yankees’ ubiquitous whisky. So Waldmann Brewery’s authentic

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Some artifacts at Waldmann Brewery: photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

recreations of 19th century German beer styles is particularly intriguing as they are both “old fashioned” to our current brewing techniques while being a “cutting edge” technology to the period.  A new innovation from this culture which was beginning to influence the current culture of the Twin Cities, and yet are also emblematic of the fears of immigration that always strike the country.

Visiting last fall, the little stone saloon was packed with people enjoying the painstakingly restored architecture and ambiance. With the wood burning stove, the flickering oil lamps, and the period decor, it really does feel like going back in time. It is quite a cozy place to enjoy some beer and comfort foods such as wurtz and smoked fish (if you are a meat eater), or pretzels and cheese, if not.

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enjoying our beers at Waldmann; photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

 

Just down West 7th Street is another nineteenth century survivor, the impressive home of Alexander Ramsey, first territorial and second state governor, completed in 1872. Ramsey was at the heart of the contradictions present at the founding of the state, being the first governor to pledge troops to the Civil War while also advocating the genocide of the Dakota people in response to the US Dakota War, started as a result of Ramsey’s and other white elites enforcing fraudulent and exploitative treaties against them.

Ramsey’s ornate home definitely reflects the Victorian splendor of the gilded age elite, with technologies that would be the top of the line at the time, including both hot and cold running water and steam heated radiators. Ramsey’s family willed the mansion to the state, along with ninety percent of its original furnishings, and it is maintained as a museum by the Minnesota Historical Society. Today, the MNHS hosts many educational and entertainment events in its lavish halls.

I had never visited the Ramsey House until last October, when my wife and I saw an MNHS “History Happy Hour” focusing on historical hoaxes, including nineteenth century “fake news.” Arriving after dark on a rainy evening, the old mansion definitely had a spooky ambience, an atmosphere not harmed by the oppressive Victorian opulence. It was definitely an interesting discussion, touching on historical falsehoods that, in the past as well as the present, reach fever pitch in the popular culture. The Happy Hours are held the last Thursday of every month, and are a good way to experience the house and learn some information about the Victorian period and other historical topics, along with a drink or two.  

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Fort Snelling; Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Of course, the most infamous and prominent historical building in the state is across the river at Fort Snelling, ground zero of these themes of oppression and site of many of the atrocities the state and federal governments were privy to; the genocide of native peoples as well as the enslavement of people throughout the United States. The site where Dred Scott was brought as a slave by an army surgeon who leased his work, leading him to assert his freedom only to be ruled against by the Supreme Court, and where hundreds of Dakota were imprisoned in squalid concentration camps before being driven from the state, it symbolizes much of the injustice of American history.

The fort was built in 1819 at a prominent and sacred location for the Dakota, near the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers by United States forces to consolidate their power over the indigenous population of this formerly French territory, sold recently to them by Napoleon in order to fund his wars of conquest. It is an interesting example of how the confluence of global history can converge on a single location, and emblematic of the Euro-American quest for domination of the continent. Interestingly, and perhaps in part because of this conflicted history, by the 1950s only a few vestiges of the old fort survived, notably the Round Tower and the South Battery. By 1960, the MNHS performed extensive archaeological and reconstructing work, restoring the old fort’s appearance to that of the 1820s, making it one of their flagship historic sites. The site of many school trips and events, traditionally emphasizing it’s military history.

The MNHS is, however, currently working on a major revitalization project at the Fort, hoping to better serve the “many voices, many stories” that exist there, but there is still a dark, ominous feeling at the place. Not that I believe in ghosts or anything!

This feeling was heightened when Lindsay and I visited the site one late autumn evening after the sun had already disappeared, the moon was hidden behind dark clouds, and the winter cold had just begun to set in. I had not been since I was a kid, but we visited to experience one of the MNHS’ “CSI: Fort Snelling” events for the Halloween season, an interactive mystery based on a historical crime that actually took place in the fort. A crime unrelated, of course, to the matters of slavery and genocide that are centered there.

As someone who has been known to engage in a roleplaying game or two, and drawn to the idea of time travel, the idea of this event appealed to me. Time travel is, of course, a much more appealing thought for someone who needs not worry about their safety in the past. In spite of my knowledge of the horrors that took place here, it did not occur to me, in my privileged place, how inappropriate such an event in so fraught a place might be. As I discovered later, there was some controversy regarding the CSI: Fort Snelling event as people called out its insensitive nature and, in response, the MNHS will no longer organized the event in the future as they strive to serve a more inclusive mission with their revilization. Even when one is primed for such awareness, it is all too easy to forget, which is why it is so important to increase the acknowledgement of these aspects of our history. As it was, we set out to the fort curious about what this story might entail.

In this scenario, “The Musician’s Secret,” set in 1827, we would be portraying members a crowd of Scottish and Swiss refugees from the ill fated attempt at at settlement in the Assissinobine territory, near where Winnipeg exists today. It proved to be an atmospheric but crowded event. We arrived with a large group of tourists, bundled up for the cold, and were handed info sheets to get us caught up with who we were and the various personages we would encounter. Entering the walls of the fort, we found quite a few people milling around bonfires drinking beer and cider while listening to period fiddlers. Most were dressed in in street clothes, though a few came dressed as time traveling vampires.

Organized by the Scottish Lord Selkirk, the colony was plagued by disasters, flooding and locusts, and many prospective squatters, including “us,” who had plodded down the Red River ox cart road in an attempt to return to Europe. Stopping at the fort, hoping to board a steamship at St. Paul to return to the coast, we were supposed to have become entangled in the story of a musician and fellow former Selkirker who, it was said, stashed some gold nearby only to have been murdered by person or persons unknown. Given the information we were presented as we were guided around the fort, we were tasked with unraveling the conspiracy, identifying the culprit, and assisting with the trial.

The actors, costumed in their historically accurate garb and portraying various soldiers, servants, travelers, and professionals, were exuberant and earnest in that community theater sort of way, through the large group of people being led around did not really lend to too much interactivity, or much investigation or questioning as it was difficult to make sure everyone heard everything. While I did figure it out in the end, it was more my knowledge of the tropes of the genre than any clues I managed to garner over the course of the investigation. As an RPG aficionado, it also would have been better to have had more of a motivation in our “roles” as well.

However, none of this even acknowledges the stories of pain and injustice that took place at the fort, centered with its function as an outpost of the will of the invading colonial forces. As the MNHS struggles to make this surviving bit of our past reflect all of the viewpoints and tragedies that it’s existence created, taking stock of such uses of its history is important. In the end, I am not sad to see the end of CSI: Fort Snelling, though it remains to be seen how the stories of the cruelty of the state and it’s government will be told.

Look forward to more time travel adventures in the future as I write about some places in the Twin Cities that will bring you back to the 1920s and ‘30s and the 1950s and ‘60s, two interesting periods of 20th century history here.

This will be my last update of my adventures in 2017, and I’ll shortly be recounting some of the adventures of the first few months of 2018, including why updates have been so sparse around here of late!

Art-A-Whirl 2018

 

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Outside of Rogue Buddha Gallery

I’m excited to start up a new year of adventures here in MSP, after some long months of stasis. Before I wrap up some last favorites of 2017 and some of the reasons I’ve taken a writing break, I’d like to post about a fun new experience from this weekend.

After a long, cold winter that seemed to overstay its welcome by a few months, the warm temperatures of spring are sure to make any citizen of the Twin Cities look for some fun things to do outside. We look for any excuse to leave the skyways and our comfy winter lairs. Lindsay and I have been obsessed in recent weeks with tackling the walks featured in the book Walking Twin Cities; some of which we walked before the snow from the last blizzard even melted away.

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Art-A-Whirl venues in Northeast Minneapolis

This last weekend, we took the opportunity to check off the “Nordeast” walk, a 2.5 mile stroll through the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, which just happened to be the Art-A-Whirl, Northeast Minneapolis’ annual open studio tour, the largest in the country. Art-A-Whirl was always something I was aware of and interested in checking out sometime, but for whatever reason I never ended up going, so it was fun to finally experience it. In it’s 23rd year, there was so much cool stuff happening all throughout our walk, from local artists displaying their work to local bands performing at neighborhood restaurants, it was almost overwhelming! Here is a few of my impressions from our afternoon of walking the Art-A-Whirl.

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Some curing salumis in the Food Building

The day was perhaps not the most spring like, with a brisk wind and temperatures in the low 50s making it feel a little more like October, belying the sweet perfume of the blooming lilacs as we walked through the vibrant Northeast neighborhoods. Beginning near the Pierre Bottineau Library, built into the old Minnesota Brewery building, we explored the old brewery buildings, once packed full of bottles of Grain Belt, now filled with all manner of paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other interesting things, and crowded with patrons of the arts. In the Food Building, we saw more artists amid the baking bread and curing salumis of Red Table meats and Baker’s Field Bakery.

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A few of the many whimsical creatures at Betty Danger’s (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

Some of the local restaurants were also in on the festivities. We had lunch at Psycho Suzi’s, celebrating an Art-Thou-Luau and puppy pageant, enjoying our tropical drinks on the decidedly untropical porch with it’s view of the rolling Mississippi, and some cute dogs. Still, we were happy to be outside in spite of the chilly temperatures. A few blocks up the street, we indulged a little round of mini-golf at Psycho Suzi’s sister establishment, checking out more unique and interesting pieces along the way. I will discuss more about the kitschy and very midwestern sport of minigolf in an upcoming entry.

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Walking Twin Cities with the authors!

Heading down into the heart of the Art District, we stopped at a few interesting places, making our way through the crowds. At Rogue Buddha Gallery, we saw some spooky art by curator Nicholas Harper and other local artists, and then caught some more music behind the Sheridan Room and the 331 Club. As Lindsay consulted our copy of Walking Twin Cities, looking for where to turn next, we were surprised to bump into the author’s themselves, who were themselves surprised to see their book! So far, it’s been a great resource, as we learned a lot on our strolls, including how Northeast Minneapolis was once a national leader in casket production and it was fun to be able to show our appreciation in person.  

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The sun sets in Northeast Minneapolis (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

 

 

After our brush with literary fame, we stopped for a peanut butter porter at Dangerous Man as the sun began to set behind the looming clouds. Finishing up our walk, we went off the route to make our way over to Central Avenue for the finale for our evening, Har Mar Superstar at Bauhaus Brew Labs, part of the brew lab’s Liquid Zoo lineup. As among the most stylish breweries in the metro, as usual for events at Bauhaus, there was a bit of line to get in but once inside, it was a great venue for Har Mar’s brand of energetic, catchy dance pop. After a fun set, it was a long bus and train ride back to downtown St. Paul, encumbered with beer and art, but it was a great day and definitely worth the fatigue! Northeast Minneapolis is a fun, dynamic, and idiosyncratic area and I really enjoyed the chance to explore it up close.

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Har Mar Superstar performing at Bauhaus Brew Labs (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

 

2017 Highlights: Can Can Wonderland

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Hitting the links at Can Can Wonderland: Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Just opened in 2017, Can Can Wonderland was one of the most fun, weird, and wild nights out I have gotten the chance to experience over the last year. Buried deep under an old can factory in the industrial zone in the Midway area of St. Paul, it is one of those new uses for decaying industrial infrastructure that is making the city so interesting.

After hearing about it early in the year, Lindsay and I were excited to finally make it there with a group of friends for my birthday last August, and it was definitely worth the wait. In this case, literally, as the place was so popular we had to wait several hours to get into the much anticipated artist-designed mini golf course the place is becoming most well known for.  From what I’ve heard from others, arriving the earlier the better is advisable to get checked in for minigolf, as we discovered as we were the very last group to make it through the links late one Thursday evening after getting signed up before seven.

On the other hand, there is plenty stuff to of keep you occupied while you’re waiting, including vintage arcade machines, a variety of tasty comfort food (I recommend the grilled cheese), and delicious, bizarre cocktails. The blue cheese infused gin “Sailing the Seas of Cheese,” for instance, was a refreshingly creamy mix served in the gaping maw of a shark shaped mug, complete with fake blood. Wow! And, it is was quite tasty as well. Of course, Lindsay ordered me a wonderful Happy Birthday cocktail as well, a delicious birthday cakey drink which was served with a sparkler and a party popper let off by the bartender.

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Receiving a birthday sparkler from the bartender at Can Can Wonderland: Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

In addition, another new 2017 brewery, BlackStack Brewing, shares the same location, in on old warehouse upstairs from Can Can’s subterranean factory space, allowing you to sip a few pints of Punch Press Belgian ale or Spare Parts dark lager while waiting for your queue in the Can Can line. The comfy, low key brewery offers plenty of seating and board games, too.

As for the mini golf, it was well worth the wait. Now, I haven’t played much mini golf for a number of years, so I was a fair bit rusty when the time came to hit the course. To be honest, I ended up swinging wildly at the ball and didn’t get very far in terms of progress. Maybe the beer and the cocktails had something to do with that, but the elaborate and innovative backdrops certainly made even losing fun. In addition to the cool surroundings, the whimsical holes allow for any number of strategies for getting your ball through the obstacles- attempt a delicate maneuver to roll it right up the tongue of the Blue Toad, or try to knock it over the pond? Take the bridge or brave the tornado in the Natural Disaster? My favorite was trying not to get the ball lost under the couch in Gramma’s Living Room, packed full with kitschy bric a brac and vintage knick knacks. After all eighteen holes, I was pretty tired.

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Taking a rest on Gramma’s Couch at Can Can Wonderland: Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Thankfully, we were responsible and came via Lyft, though on a less hot, muggy day, Can Can Wonderland is a convenient fifteen minute walk from the Fairview Avenue Station on the Greenline. I’m looking forward to making another expedition here.

Holiday Cheers

 

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Having a merry Christmas at Lawless Distilling

It’s back to work for many of us Americans on Boxing Day, MSP Adventure Time included, so hopefully everyone has had a warm and cozy holiday season so far. Now that the big ones are over and a subzero cold has settled over the metro, I’m going to reflect a little on some of the fun things we got up to this busy holiday season.

There’s always the crop of local craft fairs and markets, as I’ve written about every year, great for picking up a few last minute locally crafted gifts. A new one we checked out this year was the Hoppy Holidays Makers Market at Urban Growler Brewing Company in St. Paul’s St. Anthony Park neighborhood, one of my favorite local breweries. Along with checking out some cool local craftspeople, we picked up a bottle of the Bourbon Barrel Imperial Porter, one of Urban Growler’s limited releases. Not as much of a beer drinker, Lindsay has discovered a tolerable liking for the rich, sweet, heavy stouts and porters. That’ll be a great, heady libation for our New Years celebration.

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Urban Growler

Along with the craft fairs, we had another fun, energetic evening down at the Eagles Club in Seward, as I wrote about earlier this year. The 7th Annual Kinda Kinky Holiday food raiser was, again, a good time. The same Kinks hits performed with joy and energy by a roster of guests, it is always a cheery experience.

The highlight of the holidays was definitely the Miracle at Lawless, Lawless Distilling’s hosting of a holiday themed pop up cocktail bar idea originating in New York. Here, they’ve transformed their cosy and intimate but elegant space into a Christmas lighted extravaganza complete with themed drinks and the comforting, nostalgic scene of pine. It was packed when we arrived but we quickly got a couple of tasty drinks, a Gimlet Who Stole Christmas and a Sipping Hot Chocolate infused with fragrant Bittercube bitters. This has come to be one of our favorite spots in the cities for cocktails and it was a great way to get a break from the stressful holiday season. They’re continuing the miracle until New Years, so I’d really recommend stopping by for a festive and stimulating beverage.

 

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Miracle at Lawless

Hmm, I notice that a lot our holiday outings involve a drink or two…

In any case, for the new year, we will be writing a little about some of our favorite distillers here in the Twin Cities!  

 

 

 

Urban Growler, 2325 Endicott Street, St. Paul

Miracle at Lawless, 2619 S 28th Avenue, Minneapolis

 

Minnesota State Fair

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The crowd at the last sunday of the 2016 Minnesota State Fair

One of the last celebrations of the Minnesota summer and its quick and exorable transformation into fall, and winter, the Minnesota State Fair, also called “the Great Minnesota Get Together,” and I’m sure a lot of other self-aggrandising nicknames. Lindsay and I spent the last Sunday of the venerable Minnesota tradition enjoying its treats and braving the crowds. It was surprising that I had avoided the fair for the last decade or so, and so I really enjoyed getting to rediscover it with a newcomer to our strange state. After moving here, Lindsay found herself enchanted by many aspects of the Fair and attends faithfully each year, and I was eager to experience it again with her.  I was definitely not disappointed by my return!

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So much honey…

A lot had changed, and a lot had stayed the same, since my last visit. As our local media is dutiful to report, there were a lot of delicious, if not exactly healthy sounding, new culinary innovations being hawked throughout the Fair, some delectable and some, not so much. In any case, we had to track a few of the most promising sounding ones down, and as we explored twisting grounds of the fair, weaving through the throngs, we encountered some of the weird and wonderful quirks that make our state a little bit different. By all accounts, this was the largest attendance ever for the Minnesota State Fair, an event not known for a small turnout.

We started out with some breakfast near the in the Blue Barn in the new West End Market, a welcome transformation of what I found the chintzy old “Heritage Square.” Nothing says breakfast like a cup of beer, so I started off with that, a Caramel Apple Pi beer, which was the closest one could get to drinking a caramel apple pie, along with some fried french toast. The important artifacts remain, the cabin and the windmill, and there’s still plenty of taxidermied animal carcasses to take home (if you must).

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Saying hi- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Heading over to the livestock, always a popular attraction at the fair, we wandered through the goat and sheep barn, echoing with bleats, munching, and that goaty smell. Even better, Lindsay and I were enchanted by the rows and rows of Lindsay’s favorite creature, rabbits. There were so many, of so many different hues, sizes, fur types, and ear shapes, but all adorable. Some stood up, inspecting their surroundings with concern, if not interest, while others simply took it easy on their furry little bellies. Of course, some were winners and some were losers to the farm kids who raised them to show at the Fair, but they were all great to us city kids. The baby animals of the Miracle of Birth barn, with calves born just hours before and was also an interesting stop.

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newborn calf- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Hungry for lunch and other refreshments, we walked towards the Agriculture Building, but not before grabbing some fried croissants from the French Meadow and floating through the Old Mill, the oldest surviving attraction at the Fair. The Mill, a rickety contraption that propels brightly dyed water and boats of visitors through a cramped, dark, damp maze, past pastel murals of gnome villages, is what is known as a “tunnel of love.” The place is so old, as you creak through the maze, attempting to find the lips of your loved one in the darkness, you can think of Garrison Keillor doing the same years before. Sorry!   

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Dahlia- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Finding our way to the Agriculture-Horticulture Building, I again subjected Lindsay to a slew of beers courtesy of the Land of 10,000 Beers, the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild exhibit. With a sampler of four different local beers by theme, Lindsay and I picked out a couple, the sweeter beers and the “Cicerone’s Choice.” By the time we were done with them, we were both a little overly indulged. What better time than to tour lovely displays of Christmas trees, rows of precisely arranged jars of honey, and tables covered with dahlias of every color. Of course, the iconic seed art was worth checking out, too.

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wow, that’s a lot of cookies!

 

After drinking a few more State Fair themed beers, I needed something to soak it all up, and Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar definitely had enough. I had never heard of this stand before, but judging by all of the fairgoers dragging around piles of chocolate chip cookies throughout the fair, it was a popular place. I was enticed to get the giant bucket option, a tub overflowing with cookies that we snacked on as we rode the SkyGlider over the busy crowds, marveling at weird agricultural vehicles of Machinery Hill and all of the stuff that somehow ended up on the roofs of the nearby buildings. By the time we escaped from the dangling cable cars, the sun was setting and our feet were burning. It was time to escape the Fair and make our way home. I would definitely recommend taking advantage of one of the bus shuttle services that bring people to the fair (there was one a short walk from our home), as the fair only seems to be getting more crowded and parking more difficult to come by. It was nice not to have to worry about that as we stumbled back and boarded our shuttle to return home, to relax and try to massage our feet back to life.

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Happy times on the SkyGlider

Vintage Buses and Beer

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The bus travels through downtown Minneapolis

Over the past year or so, the Hennepin History Museum has been trying to raise its profile in the community with a series of evening Night at the Museum events featuring different themes and topics. After our romantic cookie exchange at the museum last year, Lindsay and I have attended some of them, which have always been interesting and full of fun activities and little known facts about local history. We toyed with the idea of robots, learned about bees, saw how the history of pets and bicycles affected the local culture. As I said in previous reports, the Hennepin History Museum is a hidden gem of Twin Cities museums, and each visit has been a treat.

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Interior of the vintage bus (before crowd fills it up)

This summer, the museum hosted, along with another local institution, the Minnesota Transportation Museum, a historical Vintage Bus Brewery tour of Minneapolis. Bringing together three of my interests, local history, public transportation, and beer, it was definitely a blast! One of the highlights of the summer, Lindsay and I boarded the 1950s era GMC Transit buses which served Metro Transit for some years during the ‘50s and ‘60s to be whisked around to several local breweries, all the while listening to interesting facts about the history of the area. Maybe it’s just me, but I find the history of the region’s public transportation fascinating- we were riding in the bus that replaced the streetcar lines across the Twin Cities in a shady bit of corporate grift. The bright colors and lines of the old city bus attracted the attention of passersby as it rumbled through town. The preservation of the vintage bus was immaculate, with its period advertisements and creaking seats, it was like traveling back in time.

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enjoying a beer at Boom Island Brewing

 

Our first stop was at Boom Island Brewing, close to the river. A Belgian-style brewery in North Minneapolis, Boom Island’s beers are earthy and powerful, with enough variety to please just about any beer connoisseur. I had not been there before, but it would definitely be one I’d like to visit again. I particularly liked the Brimstone Trippel and the Cuvee de Boom. While we were visiting, the brewery was hosting a Bayou Blowout Crayfish boil, which was a nice place for me to get my seafood fix along with a beer. Some crayfish fettuccine is just the thing I didn’t know I was craving before setting out!  

Reboarding the bus, the crowd a bit more in our cups than before, we trundled off to our next destination, a stroll across the Stone Arch Bridge. Along the way, we passed through Nicollet Island, our interpreter having to raise his voice a little to be heard over the reveling. Crossing the river, we strolled around the park, walking off some of the beer we already imbibed. St. Anthony Falls, the reason the city was here in the first place, was roaring, the wet weather making it more than twice as full as it would be that time of year on average. The river-scented mist billowing off of the falls dampened us as we watched it flow from the bridge. I also took the opportunity, like so many others on the tour, to capture a few new pokemon on the newly exploding Pokemon Go app. Yep, it was just like being on an actual bus! As for the app, well, that can be an entirely different conversation best saved for another entry.

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View of St. Anthony Falls from the Stone Arch Bridge- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Our last stop was Day Block Brewery, one of my favorite breweries in Minneapolis, a venue that, in addition to its great beers, offers some intriguing craft cocktails for Lindsay as well! After enjoying a few more libations, and a fairly delicious pretzel to help absorb the booze a bit, we got back on the bus and returned to the Hennepin History Museum. While there are no more tours being offered this year, I’m looking forward to trying out one of the vintage bus history tours of St. Paul breweries next year, and I’d definitely recommend it!

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Preparing to board, outside of Day Block

Camping in the Metro

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Canoeing the St. Croix- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Throughout the summer, Lindsay and I took advantage of our year long Minnesota State Park sticker, as can be seen during our voyages outstate, but there are plenty of Minnesota State Parks within a short drive from Minneapolis and St. Paul. Two of the nearby state parks we took lovely, relaxing weekend camping trips to over the summer were William O’Brien State Park and Wild River State Park. Each are situated just along the border with Wisconsin, along the scenic St. Croix, probably my favorite river in Minnesota, and offer plenty of hiking trails through mixed deciduous and conifer forests, prairies, and swampy lowlands. We wandered along some of them, plodding through the green, buggy summer woods and fields of these wonderful natural areas, encountering ghost towns and the occasional squirrel or deer. As I mentioned in a previous blog, though, even wearing plenty of insect repellent, it proved too much for us- the mosquitoes were particularly horrible at Wild River, hideous clouds that beat even those we encountered earlier in the year at Bear Head Lake. We had to run back to our campsite in terror! We were also horrified to find a deer tick on Lindsay at William O’Brien, but were quickly able to remove it thanks to the tick removing devices sold at the park.

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William O’Brian State Park

On the whole, though, our favorite times were the pleasant hours of grilling veggie dogs, making s’mores, and reading next to the campfires I managed to start (I guess those years of Boy Scouts were good for something), watching the sun set and the stars come out as fireflies flitted in the woods.

William O’Brien is, in particular, a very popular park for campers from the Twin Cities, especially due to its proximity to the charming tourist town of Stillwater, a place where one can find no shortage of antique stores, bookstores, boutiques, and other high end shopping. I could not help but drag poor Lindsay to yet another brewery, Maple Island Brewing, during our afternoon in Stillwater. We shared plenty of tasty brews, even finding a few that she didn’t think were too bad! I particularly enjoyed the Cup of Joe Freakshow, a dark, roasty oatmeal coffee stout. Also, Stillwater has plenty of places to get candy, from the Twin Cities’ standard, Candyland to the local Tremblay’s Sweet Shop, which contained the most peanut brittle I’ve ever seen outside of Christmas. Because of all of these attractions nearby, most summer weekends at William O’Brien are pretty well booked, so it’s a good idea to take a look at sites early through the online booking system. This allows you to have a better choice of sites, so that you can avoid the one right next to the bathroom but also make sure its not all the way on the other side of the camping area!

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On the river- Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Up the road a bit at Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, we went on a canoeing adventure down the St. Croix. Renting a large canoe from Taylors Falls Canoes and Kayaking for a reasonable rate, it was a lovely afternoon for a river voyage. Along with a small fleet of other renters, we floated down the mostly unpeopled river, occasionally paddling. I was bit a rusty in my canoe steering (or maybe I never really developed that skill at all), but the current and river were not too demanding. After a few hours of listening to the wind, and the waves thump up against the sides of our canoe, we reached our destination, a park on the Minnesota side across from Osceola, Wisconsin. From there, we waited for a rental bus to return us to Taylors Falls.

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Franconia Sculpture Park

Just outside of Taylors Falls, we encountered one of the Twin Cities weird, hidden gems, one I had never been to before (though I had heard things), the Franconia Sculpture Park. Wow! The sunny fields and shady woods of the expansive grounds were packed with strange and monumental works of art from artists all over the world. Founded just twenty years ago (just twenty years!?), judging by the dates the works were installed, they are always growing. Lindsay and I were not prepared for just how huge the place was, and just how many bizarre, innovative sculptures were tucked away all over the place. It would definitely warrant another visit, I think! The place is open 365 days a year, so I’m intrigued by the idea of checking it out during the winter!

Heading Past the Edge of the Prairie

 

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A stormy day on the prairie, Pipestone National Monument

In July, Lindsay and I went south, driving down to the prairies and farmland of southwestern Minnesota. It was a much different landscape than our trip to the Iron Range and the North Shore, and I was struck by the great range of terrain to be found throughout the state. We began by heading into some familiar territory for me, spending the first night in Mankato. Before getting there, though, we stopped off at what is becoming a popular Minnesota attraction, Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store at Jim’s Apple Farm, known locally as the Big Yellow Barn. A completely overwhelming expanse of treats, from the local to the global; local apples, all manner of obscure and international candies and sodas (or “pop,” as we prefer around here), and much more. We escaped with a few bottles of soda, a tray of nostalgic Runts, some organic popcorn, and a selection of British candy bars. Quite a chaotic scene, there was something weird everywhere you looked, from a talking bear head guarding the immense selection of honey, to Cthulhu mints!

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Minneopa Falls

Arriving in Mankato, my old haunt, we spent some time at Minneopa State Park, visiting the majestic Minneopa Falls, which tumbles forty feet into a rugged gorge tucked away into the Minnesota flatlands. After the wet season we’ve had, the creek was still a raging torrent, sending plumes of mist into the air and making for a great, refreshing place to relax on a hot summer day. Later, we saw some of the State Park’s herd of bison, reintroduced from the population at Blue Mounds State Park as part of the DNR’s Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd. It was pretty awesome to see these iconic North American animals roaming so close to home, where they used to thrive.

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Schell’s Brewery Deer- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The next afternoon, we stopped at the picturesque grounds of the August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm. The second oldest family owned brewery in the United States, Schell’s Brewery is a pretty interesting place to make a stop, even if you aren’t particularly interested in beer (like Lindsay, sadly). After a lunch of a large pile of cheese and a few of Schell’s beers (hey, it was after noon) we explored the interesting museum chronicling the history of the company and the immigrant German family who started it back in 1860. The lush gardens and woods that surround the working brewery, the historic Schell family mansion, and other cool buildings  were picturesque, and inhabited by peacocks. These colorful birds, along with the company’s mascot deer, made for some surprises along the garden paths.

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A peacock- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

We continued our journey across the plains, dotted with the looming white forms of the wind power generators rotating gentle in the prairie wind, soon arriving at our next destination; the unique and ancient Jeffers Petroglyphs, another location of the Minnesota Historical Society. The petroglyphs, images carved onto an outcrop of Sioux Quartzite, date from many periods from about 7000-5000 BCE and are important to indigenous cultures across the continent up to the present.

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A turtle petroglyph- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

It really is pretty breathtaking, these intricate carvings etched thousands of years ago on rock a billion years old, on a small ridge above miles and miles of prairie dotted with prickly pears, with constant wind buffeting and providing a welcome respite from the sun. Among the many symbolic and mythical, more concrete figures are seen among the petroglyphs as well, including the atlatl, a hunting tool predating the bow and arrow. The site offers visitors the chance to try out it on a model bison, flinging deadly spears at the effigy animal. After one husky gentleman failed to connect even once, I guess I’m probably a bit too proud to say I managed it! Again, as Historical Society members, we were able to visit the site for free. Definitely one of my favorite places in Minnesota!

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Trying out an atlatl- Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

That evening, we pulled into our final destination, the town of Pipestone, Minnesota. We had reserved a room in the historic Calumet Hotel, reputed to be haunted. In fact, as soon as we parked, we could see that the little town was one that was, apparently, obsessed with ghosts. The Pipestone County Historical Society was offering a Saturday night Historic Ghost Walk, and we arrived just in time- after a quick, uninspiring dinner at the local Pizza Ranch, we lined up for the leisurely, informative walk around town to learn about the various ghost stories that have popped up around it. Hosted by a trio of storytellers dressed in Victorian garb, the stories were generally of a gentle, comical nature and rarely very horrifying or gruesome- the worst being the wife-beating confectioner who hung himself in a dumb waiter. Creepy! The stories of the mysteries of Pipestone were also very interesting, such as the missing statue of a nude woman carved and put on display by Leon Moore, a businessman and amateur sculptor who peopled his building with many strange gargoyles. No one knows where it went!

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The Moore Block, displaying a few gargoyles and the niche that, legend has it, formerly held a sculpture of a naked woman; too much for conservative Pipestone- photo of Lindsay Cameron

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Lindsay and I at the Calumet. Photos courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Amusingly, while we experienced no qualms with sharing with the tour the exact room in the Calumet Hotel we were staying in (I was both disappointed and relieved to find out we weren’t staying in the most haunted room, where a man died in a fire almost a century ago- not that Lindsay or I believe in ghosts), we were too embarrassed to volunteer the fact that we ate at the Pizza Ranch, which was also a haunted location! The Hotel itself was large and reasonably priced, though the room offered few frills aside from a light that flickered out mysteriously (or maybe the bulb was just old!)

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The next morning, after breakfast at a local institution, Lange’s Cafe, home of what Jane and Michael Stern of Roadfood called the best sour cream raisin pie in the world (a fact the restaurant is obviously very proud of) we visited the second National Monument in Minnesota, Pipestone National Monument. The location where the hard red rock was quarried by many different indigenous groups over the centuries to carve peace pipes and other important sacred items, the monument is another breathtaking Minnesota landscape, rich in natural and historical importance.

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Winnewissa Falls

After some atmospheric thunderstorms sweeping in across the prairie, we hiked across the quartzite cliffs, examining the quarries from which the sacred stone is mined, viewing intriguing rock formations and Winnewissa Falls, also filled the brim. The prairie flowers filled the moist but cool air with a host of wonderful smells, and the lichen covered walls flowed with water. It was a wonderful end to a wonderful trip.

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The quartzite cliffs at Pipestone National Monument

Pride Dabbler

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In the past, I’ve always been busy for some reason on Pride weekend, one of the Twin Cities biggest street festivals and among the largest one’s celebrating the GLBT community in the US. Last year was no different, in spite of living right next to Loring Park- I spent the majority of the weekend on a camping trip in Southern Minnesota. However, I got back home in time to check out the last day of the festival,  as I could hear the alluring music drifting through my windows as I unpacked from the trip. Running out across the street just before an early summer thunderstorm struck, I browsed used books, chatted with co-workers from the Hennepin County Library, grabbed some lunch, and browsed vendors selling local products.

This year, Lindsay and I visited on the Friday that began the 40th anniversary of the Pride Festival with the Pride Dabbler, the Beer Dabbler’s celebration of both Minnesota’s inclusive community and its burgeoning craft brewing scene. With a theme of “Icons,” each brewery or cidery crafted its own tribute to various advocates of bringing awareness to gender and marriage equality. It was definitely a fun time to be in such an inclusive crowd, with people enjoying the amusingly named beverages such as Gandalf the Grapefruit and the Frida Kahlo Unibrau brewed up by more than fifty breweries  from all over the state. There were so many great brews I would definitely like to try again, including Birches on the Lake’s coffee chocolate stout and boysenberry sour, and 612’s Mary Anne ginger lager. While Lindsay isn’t much of a beer fan herself, there were a few cideries offering some delicious varieties of cider as well, such as Number 12 Cider House’s Black Current.

IMG_20160624_193604Thankfully, local food trucks were on hand as well to peddle enough food to soak up all that beer. The giant pretzels from the Neu Bohemia Foodtruck proved quite popular, and one was enough for both of us to fill up. We found passersby to be quite interested in where it came from! All in all, it was exhilarating to see the diversity of the celebrations; people from all backgrounds walked about the shores of Loring Pond- I was amazed at how expansive the park seemed when filled with people- it never struck me as that huge before, but it became a maze of music, booths, and dancing, even as the evening closed on the first night of the festival. Particularly in today’s political environment, it is great to have such a vibrant celebration of diversity in our city. I’m looking forward to seeing more next summer!