Some of the best places to slip away from the daily grind are just around the corner. A cozy nook, a gallery for a stolen moment, an experience that takes your breath away. Places to leave the noise of life behind and get lost in a libation, a daydream, or some exploration. From the hippest place in the library to subterranean sazerac slingers to the hands-down best street in Minneapolis named after an obscure president, here is your guide to 43 of our favorite ways to get lost in the Twin Cities.
Getting lost among old things is a great way to find yourself. Inspiration can be found in old windows that once hung in a Summit Avenue mansion or a patinaed brass wall sconce from who knows where. Winding your way through the pieces of Twin Cities past that are housed in Architectural Antiques is good for reflection. How do you know where you’re going if you can’t see where you’ve been? 1330 NE Quincy St., Mpls.
Things are just better below grade.
The Nook: A bowling alley, a bar, tables for grabbing its famous burgers—oh, and more dollar bills stapled to the ceiling than you can even count. Bucket list material—with a side of fries. 492 Hamline Ave. S., St. Paul
Sooki and Mimi: Sneak around the corner to the back alley, then down the stairs to a dark cocktail den. No food—get that upstairs—just a lot of midcentury vintage furniture artfully arranged so that you don’t miss a note flowing from the hi-fi. Drink your drink neat, and learn something about spirits while you’re at it. 1432 W. 31st St., Mpls.
NOLO’s: This is the basement bar you wish you could have set up in the last house you shared with seven roommates in college—cement walls and all your pals shouting trivia or jamming to DJs. There’s also a plush private record room that’s like an escape from the escape. 515 Washington Ave. N., Mpls.
Parlour Bar: Now that Marvel Bar is gone, this is the grande dame of North Loop cocktailery. So, if you’re stymied by a lack of reservations for dinner upstairs at Borough, slide down here for elevated nosh, a top-notch cocktail list, and comfy booths. 730 Washington Ave. N., Mpls.
Como Park Zoo and Conservatory
When cabin fever grips you and you need to go—somewhere, anywhere, if even for an hour—to reset, then St. Paul’s Marjorie McNeely Conservatory is for you. The ultimate haven that makes stepping out of your warm hygge cocoon worthwhile, this Victorian glass house is open 365 days a year and totally free of charge. Thaw out while wandering the Fern Room, Palm Dome, and Sunken and Ordway Gardens, and keep your eyes peeled for Chloe, the zoo’s resident sloth, who hangs in the trees of the Tropical Encounters rainforest exhibit. 1225 Estabrook Dr., St. Paul
It’s not so much about the thrill of a one-time polar plunge; it’s about swimming in the outdoors from October through April for your health. Seriously. The Twin Cities Cold Thermogenesis Group believes so much in the restorative and energizing benefits of cold-water submersion that they maintain open swimming holes in the frozen ice on Harriet, Cedar, and other metro lakes. If you need a nudge into this community, book the private Nordic Nook: a backyard cold pool with a sauna and a yurt.
Escher-esque Stairs at International Market Square
The double helix staircase at International Market Square is believed to be the first of its kind in the country. Built in 1905, the onetime manufacturing facility was home to Munsingwear, and the design of the stairway was intended to maximize the efficiency of workers coming and going at shift change. Next time you’re there, ask one of the myriad interior designers, builders, or architects that office out of IMS to show you the nearly forgotten gem of a back stairway. 275 Market St., Mpls.
Foshay Observation Deck (and Prohibition Bar)
Hop in the elevator at the W Minneapolis – The Foshay, press “27,” and go straight back in time. What was Wilbur Foshay’s private penthouse when the Foshay Tower was built in 1929 is now Prohibition, a low-key throwback space to go grab a cocktail and nibble on some beer-braised wings. When you’re done, get back in that elevator and ride up four more floors and check out the view from the observation deck of what was, at one time, the tallest building in Minneapolis. 821 Marquette Ave. S., Mpls.
Goat Yoga Studio
Tranquil yoga studios not your jam? Head to Hastings for a 45-minute class at The Hayloft, during which you’ll downward-dog alfresco with some tiny goats that roam around the class. Fair warning: They probably won’t headbutt you with enough force to send you straight to the ground, but they might jump on your back or have a seat on your mat. Oh, and there’s no need to ’gram while you ohm: The Hayloft’s team knows who their audience is and provides a 15-minute photo sesh once you’re finished exercising so you can recreate the positions you and your new goat besties learned in class. 12407 S. 80th St., Hastings
David Hockney might be the most accomplished painter alive. The living British legend, now 84, is known for his obsession with the swimming pools of his adopted Southern California. His exhibition David Hockney: People, Places & Things is drawn from a relationship with the Walker that reaches all the way back to 1983, including dozens of works that demonstrate the breadth of Hockney’s restless, curious eye. The man was always painting—on canvas, on paper, on iPad, even on stage sets for opera—and it’s all in this show. And those moody swimming pools will act as the perfect respite for the dog days of winter. 725 Vineland Place, Mpls.
Igloos with Bottle Service
Wayzata’s Ninetwentyfive has set up a series of plastic igloos to function as your COVID-safe bottle-service hideout. Perhaps you’ll order the Veuve Clicquot package, with a Lobster Tower Sushi Roll in your igloo? Or the Belvedere Vodka experience, with venison tartare? Book soon: There’s only so much winter. 925 E. Lake St., Wayzata
Jim Fiorentino’s Crazy Collection of Clocks
While making a small fortune installing garage doors, Jim Fiorentino spent every remaining minute doting on his more than 300 cuckoo clocks and dozens of banjo clocks and American regulator clocks. Fiorentino was an original North Loop character, and toward the end of his life, when he wasn’t refurbishing clocks, he sat out on the sidewalk and waved passersby into his warehouse of curiosities. Fiorentino passed away at the age of 94, but he’s left his collection intact as the James J. Fiorentino Foundation and Museum. “It’s truly a blue-collar museum,” director Rob Andres says. The museum is set to open in early 2022, once the sprawling collection is itemized and the building refreshed. 126 N. 1st St., Mpls.
For those who desperately want a Czech friend who runs to the Russian market for the special authentic farmer’s cheese, then makes kolache for you by hand, meet Michaela “Míša” Giancarlo Kotek. A cottage industry baker, Míša (pronounced Meesha) bakes from her home in Savage. All you have to do is order—theczechbaker.square.site—and swing by her house to pick up kolache, or poppy seed–stuffed cake or a dozen more Czech specialties, anytime you’re longing for the real deal. 14836 Hillside Tr., Savage
History and the chance to play a harpsichord and have a cocktail? Count us in.
Atrium: It’s no wonder Twin Citians host events of all kinds in the middle of the Landmark Center. A Richardsonian Romanesque built in the 1890s and restored in the 1970s (when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places), it is, after all, one of the city’s most architecturally stunning historic buildings.
- Schubert Club Museum: Redone during the pandemic, the Schubert Club Museum is bigger (and better) than ever. Check out everything from an Italian harpsichord from the 1600s to the same model of Fender electric piano Prince favored. Inspired to play some tunes of your own? Head down the hall to the Music Makers Zone and test-drive instruments from around the world.
- History Tour: Take yourself on a journey through St. Paul history with help from signs and markers throughout the center. A noteworthy federal building in the 1920s–1930s, the Landmark Center housed offices for both the FBI and Representative Andrew Volstead, who wrote the Prohibition Act. (Conveniently, bootleggers, smugglers, and other alleged criminals often stood trial in the upstairs courtroom.)
- Gallery of Wood Art: The American Association of Woodturners’ gift shop/rotating exhibit space/museum is unlike any place in the Cities—and will certainly have you staring at meticulously carved trinkets and pronouncing, “That lace-looking bowl can’t possibly be made of wood.” Spoiler: It is! 75 W. 5th St., St. Paul
Make like Ferris Bueller and take a day off at one of these lesser-known museums.
- Bakken Museum: Spark your passion for science at the Bakken Museum, hidden in plain sight just off Bde Maka Ska. At this museum, started in 1975 by Medtronic founder Earl Bakken and completely renovated in 2020, visitors can check out static electricity experiments inspired by Ben Franklin, learn how plants can be used as medicine, and creep themselves out in Frankenstein’s Lab. 3537 Zenith Ave. S., Mpls.
- Pavek Museum: Testing, testing, 1-2-3 . . . Learn all about TV and radio history, vintage video games, and all kinds of electronic communication at this St. Louis Park broadcasting museum replete with 12,000-plus square feet of historic equipment. 3517 Raleigh Ave., St. Louis Park
- Study Rooms at Mia: Think you’ve seen everything there is to see at Mia? Book a time slot in the museum’s Print and Photographs Study Rooms to pore over rarely seen photos from the museum’s permanent collection and the Department of Prints and Drawings’ amassment of lithographs, drawings, artists’ books, woodcuts, and more. 2400 3rd Ave. S., Mpls.
- House of Balls: Sure, we’re counting this wonky wonderland as a museum. Even we, professional writers, are struggling to describe Allen Christian’s maze of animal skulls, masks, carved bowling balls (for which House of Balls got its name), metal sculptures, and other sights that might visit your subconscious in your dreams. 1504 S. 7th St., Mpls.
- Jackson Street Roundhouse: Kick the tires—er, cast-iron rail wheels—of regional transportation history at the Jackson Street Roundhouse in St. Paul. The actual museum component of the Minnesota Transportation Museum (which also includes the seasonal operation of the Osceola and St. Croix Valley Railway), Jackson Street is home to 50 train cars, a blacksmith forge with live demos, and the eponymous roundhouse, which was built in 1907 and is still operational. 193 Pennsylvania Ave. E., St. Paul
Did you know that we have a 72-mile, 54,000-acre federally protected corridor winding right through our Twin Cities? Yep, the Mississippi is more than just mighty; it’s the centerpiece of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. And it’s chockablock with rare opportunities if you know where to look. Find the heron rookery at Marshall Terrace Park in Northeast Minneapolis; the sandy Grey Cloud Dunes in Cottage Grove; or the multitude of North American river otters spotted close to the airport, off Picnic Island in Fort Snelling State Park.
Overlooks of St. Paul
The battle between Minneapolis and St. Paul is competitive in many arenas, but when it comes to topography, it’s not even close. Truly, Minneapolis doesn’t hold a candle to the vistas of St. Paul. The man-made high-wire act that is the Smith Avenue High Bridge offers crazy-good, very intimidating views of downtown St. Paul and nearby Harriet Island, while Summit Overlook Park and its 1890 bronze eagle sit just across from the bridge, on the other side of West Seventh. But the best St. Paul overlook might be the one on the flip side of downtown. The view from Indian Mounds Regional Park’s perch above the urban core of St. Paul and the river flats beyond is something to behold.
To the south Minneapolitans for whom the Parkway is no secret, we apologize for letting the cat out of the bag. But it was bound to happen eventually, because the 1931 movie house that was reimagined in 2018 as a hybrid performance and screening venue is one of the most authentic experiences in town. Whether you go for a nationally touring concert like Sondre Lerche or a Saturday-afternoon family matinee of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, no matter where you live, you’ll feel at home at the Parkway. 4814 Chicago Ave., Mpls.
Northeast Minneapolis cobblestone streets for the win.
Indeed Brewing’s Corner Market: Carved out of the brewery as a pandemic takeout window initially, Quincy Corner now offers all sorts of sundries. Pick up growlers, of course, but also frozen pizzas (sometimes from Pizzeria Lola), meal kits, gifts and merch, sometimes vinyl, and, logically, gum. 711 15 Ave. NE, Mpls.
- Los Campeones Gym: In the former Uppercut Boxing space, this locally owned gym is the antithesis of a “club.” No frills, just hard work in the 13,000 square feet of open space. The competition-spec boxing ring is still there, as well as plenty of personal trainers to get you ready for it. 1324 NE Quincy St., Mpls.
- Quincy Hall: A new construction on this old street, Quincy Hall, with its 40-foot ceilings, is now one of the largest event spaces in the Twin Cities. But just wait until the attached Earl Giles Distillery and its restaurant open this year: That’s a level up. 1325 NE Quincy St., Mpls.
- Centro: The star of the street has to be this buzzy taco shop. Not really hidden, nor secret, but you can clearly escape winter with some queso fundido and a pitcher of margaritas. Or two. 1414 NE Quincy St., Mpls.
- The Trifecta: Near where Able Brewing’s beers are sold, you can find the Animales BBQ trailer doling out high-quality smoked meats in the warmer months. 1121 NE Quincy St., Mpls. After ribs, grab soft serve at MN Nice Cream. 807 NE Broadway St., Mpls.
Rathskeller or Ratskeller is the German name for a basement tavern. And the Twin Cities has a few. One is deep beneath the State Capitol (75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul) and was restored to the original 1905 design after being locked away for 70 years. And another is about to be once more revealed. The rathskeller under the Schmidt Brewery (882 W. 7th St., St. Paul) is being relaunched by Pat Mancini as an event space for the legendary Mancini’s up the road. You can probably expect a little Italian flavor to be added to the Germanic setting.
Behind the Walker, burrowed into the hill, you can find a work by one of America’s highest-profile contemporary artists. James Turrell’s Sky Pesher is one of over 80 of his “Skyspaces,” triumphs of the Light and Space movement—man-made caves with large overhead apertures. The edges of Sky Pesher’s roof frame a slice of Minneapolis’s sky, which visitors are welcome to contemplate from 6 am to midnight, 365 days a year. But the real magic happens at sunset, when Turrell accentuates the changing pinks and citrines and periwinkles with contrasting computerized light. 725 Vineland Pl., Mpls.
Small bars are the best bars.
- Dampfwerk Distilling: Hidden in an industrial park in St. Louis Park is a finely tuned German brandy- and spirits-making family. The cocktail room at this distillery is sophisticated, with comfortable leather barstools and gorgeously potent drinks. 6309 Cambridge St., St. Louis Park
- Sidecar by Town Hall Tap: What does a beer hall do when the bar next door bites the dust? Turn the space into an alter ego. While THT is known for award-winning micro craft beers, the new Sidecar (created in what used to be Adrian’s Tavern) is a long slip of a place with the drinks of a cocktail bar but the chill of a beer bar. 4810 Chicago Ave., Mpls
- Gori Gori Peku at Kado No Mise: Pay no mind to the pasta at lower-level Sanjusan, and instead climb the stairs at Kado No Mise and head to the dark and wonderful upstairs Japanese whiskey bar. Sip international gold named Yamazaki and Hibiki, or try some sake, and sink into the plush seating. 33 1st Ave. N., Mpls.
- The Celeste Bar: Never mind that this was once a convent; the tiny bar in the Celeste Hotel delivers nothing but grace. Its specialty cocktail list includes Deacon Carl’s Holy Water, and it has a quality roster of by-the-glass wines. 26 E. Exchange St., St. Paul
- Next Door at Tenant: Tenant, the tasting menu spot that occupies the former Piccolo digs, has quietly expanded into the space next door. More approachable than the tickets-only resto, the bar also has a pool table and a menu of toasts if you’re peckish. 4300 Bryant Ave. S., Mpls.
The greatest work of art at the Guthrie has nothing to do with a stage. No, the most immaculate thing you can see at architect Jean Nouvel’s creation is, in fact, only on view in the eighth-floor men’s room. There, directly above a urinal, Nouvel placed a tiny amber window with a view of one of Minneapolis’s most epic scenes: the Stone Arch Bridge slicing toward St. Anthony Main. 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
Vinyl Revival Listening Room (at the library?!)
Think library cards are old-fashioned? THINK AGAIN! At dowtown’s Minneapolis Central Library, you can use yours to listen to vintage vinyl. So, er, wait a minute, maybe that actually does make them old-fashioned. But still, it also makes them extremely hip. Either way, a well-cared-for cache of vinyl, a pristine turntable, and two pairs of studio headphones are available to anyone with the ability to make an online reservation. Reservations—almost always available—go in 15-minute increments and are limited to two people at one time. 300 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.
Whiskey Room at Billy’s
Tucked into the back of the most boisterous sushi house in the city is a quiet room with a wall of whiskey. Billy of Billy Sushi boasts some great bottles of hard-to-find Japanese and international whiskeys, secured by no small effort. If you are so inclined, you can buy a bottle and lock it to the wall so that when you come for Wagyu nigiri and boats overflowing with toro sushi, your chosen bottle of Tokyo mash will be ready for the pouring. 116 1st Ave. N., Mpls.
XII [twelve] Vultures
These darkest days are also a good time to dip into your darker sides. Which you can totally do when you lightly tread into the world of taxidermy and curiosities at Northeast’s new shop Twelve Vultures. You might not have known that you needed a taxidermy peacock from France, but now you do. Perhaps a tiny fruit bat skull is what’s missing from your bookshelf. It’s all artfully presented, and even if you don’t find a home for that bison head, strolling through gives you a new perspective. 507 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls.
Yurt Wine Bars
Yurts are all the rage for camping and Airbnbs, but did you know that just 30 minutes outside of town, in Hastings, you can rent one in which to drink vino and snack on fine cheeses and charcuterie? At Alexis Bailly Vineyard, $50 buys you and five other folks two hours in your own private yurt. Make reservations in advance, and if you’re going to bust out an engagement ring, keep it in the box until you’re inside the yurt—looking for a diamond in the snow is a heckuva hassle. 18200 Kirby Ave. S., Hastings
Zumwinkle, Emily (playing Golden Gopher hockey at Ridder Arena)
The second Breck Mustang Zumwinkle to play for the Minnesota Gophers Women’s Hockey team (her sister Grace just graduated), freshman Emily is just one reason you need to get your butt over to the U to see the pucksters play this year. The other is that the Gopher women are so prolific that not only are they routinely in the national top five, they are the only D-I women’s program to have their own rink, Ridder Arena, and it’s a downright magical environment on game day—and not just because it only costs $5 to get in. 1815 SE 4th St., Mpls.