Street View: Grand Prix Minneapolis

Written by Peter Lane on . Posted in Magic Culture

Street View: Grand Prix Minneapolis

Peter Lane

Twin Cities deck brewer Pete Lane is better known by those online as "pandafarmer." Playing Magic since 1996, Pete grew up a board gamer and took this natural love of gaming to a new level as an adult by being a playtester for Fantasy Flight Games classics including Doom, Descent, Twilight Imperium and Arkham Horror. Not one to chase Pro Tour dreams on his own, Pete enjoys offering sage advice to rising local players and building decks with others online.

Grand Prix Minneapolis 2005 was the first Pro level Magic tournament for the Minneapolis area in years.  Everywhere you looked you could spot members of the Magic player elite mingling in with starry-eyed locals.  It was time for the player’s meeting and I sat at my assigned seat.  Having never experienced a large scale event like this before, I took out my playmat and deck. I was ready to play.  Sitting across from me was Tom Lapille.  Before becoming an R&D member for Wizards of the Coast, he was a medium level grinder on the tournament scene.

Tom looked at me, rolled his eyes a bit and said “Don’t worry, we won’t be playing.”  In an attempt to be friendly, I asked whether he enjoyed being in the Twin Cities.

His smug reply: “This place is boring.  Nothing to do here.”

Many years later, I bumped into Tom again at the 2010 Nationals in Minneapolis.  Tom was now a popular columnist for the mothership and member of Wizards R&D.  Calling him out on our previous meeting, he seemed to remember me and sheepishly admitted he was wrong.

“Yes, I’m sorry… I love this town. It’s so much fun.  I come here often to see friends!”

We had a good laugh. While he could have been pulling my leg in an effort to play nice, it made me realize that Minneapolis/St. Paul is a VERY difficult town to figure out if you don’t know where to look.  After reading Ken Bearl’s Minneapolis guide on Star City Games, it became obvious that even locals fall victim to this conundrum.  As a complimentary guide to his, this article aims to help anyone coming into town for next weekend’s GP find some appreciation for the town some of us call home.

GETTING AROUND

The thing that newcomers to Minneapolis/St. Paul should know is that we are two distinct cities with a short stretch of Highway 94 connecting us.  East of the Mississippi, St. Paul is the smaller city and serves as a place for many of the locals to live and work. This was the city that Tom encountered when the PT ran through town in 2005.  In downtown St. Paul, there is no proper nightlife.

On the west side of the River, Minneapolis is where we go for nightlife, and thankfully, the Convention Center.  Downtown is large, but easy to navigate on plainly labeled streets or by using the winding skywalk system.  These “sidewalks in the air” connect many of the buildings and allow for snow-free, cross-city access.  The Convention Center is connected to this skywalk system on one end. However, it’s not always a straight shot to get from one place to another.  The skywalk may lead you through hotel lobbies, parking ramps, and twisting through department stores.  It’s convenient in the winter, but hair pulling if you’re lost. If you’re staying downtown, get comfortable with this system.  You will likely use it to get to and from your hotel.

From the airport, the easiest way into town is to take the “Light Rail.”  It’s a good way to get to and from the Airport and downtown Minneapolis without breaking your bank.  The downside to this slick system is that it won’t drop you off anywhere near the Convention Center.

I recommend getting off at Nicollet Mall Station.  Around the corner is “Nicollet Mall,” a stretch of street that serves as the main downtown shopping district.  It will lead you straight to the Convention Center, 8 blocks away.  Nicollet Mall is also a great area to stumble into some food (see below) or stop for supplies since both Target and Walgreens are along this stretch.

CONVENTION CENTER

It’s a very important thing to keep in mind that the Minneapolis Convention Center is quite large. We’re likely in the basement of this large complex, which makes leaving the building seem a bit daunting.  If you need a quick smoke or food break, consider adding an extra 5-10 mins to get up escalators and walk through the huge halls.

Being in the basement also affects cell phone service.  Tell your loved ones and friends that it will likely be impossible to communicate between rounds unless you can duck out and climb an escalator to find a signal.  I can’t say there will be a wireless signal available to players in the hall, but we can hope!

If crunched for time, there is convention food in the building. Be aware the prices are inflated and may not be worth the convenience.  If you scrub out and have the time however, here is a guide to the best food nearby.

FOOD

Minneapolis winters are brutal and the businesses need to put in the effort to lure people out of their warm homes.  Because of this we have top notch service, unique menus, and generous happy hours.

It’s no wonder that Minneapolis is a foodie hotspot that rivals San Francisco, Portland, and Denver.  There are popular locally owned chains and delicious pub grub joints within walking distance of the Convention Center.  Check menus in the links provided, as some establishments may have changed what they offer from when last visited.

WANT PUB GRUB? – Having lived in Britain for a year, I adore Brit’s Pub for the atmosphere.  It’s the closest thing to a real British pub that we have in town.  A close second is The Local which is north on Nicollet Mall from Brits.  My vote for best happy hour, however goes to McCormick and Schmick’s.  Surprisingly, they have a little-known bar menu that is fast, cheap, and high quality.

HAVE TIME AND MONEY? – I’m sure everyone will be talking about Fogo De Chao, but if you want to spend that kind of money on quality food, there are some alternatives that are closer to the Convention Center.  Hell’s Kitchen is just off of Nicollet Mall on 9th street and is known for “spicy” food and Ralph Stedman-inspired decor.  They do a killer weekend brunch and have plenty of creative menu items, like the home-made peanut butter.  On the other side of Nicollet is the Hennepin Theater District.  Here you’ll find yummy tapas at Solera.  If you’re looking for traditional American, just head north from Solera and visit Crave.  Their happy hour menu has both sliders and sushi as well as plenty on the regular menu that will suit whatever you’re looking for.

On a grander scale, Loring Park District is on Grant Street near the Convention Center.  Here you’ll find Bar Lurcat and Joe’s Garage.  Lurcat is a fantastic place to eat, but very expensive.  Joe’s is a good alternative, and has a lovely rooftop bar.  Just cross the pedestrian bridge is the world famous Walker Art Museum and sculpture garden–a great area for art lovers looking for something to do.

ADVENTUROUS ETHNIC FOOD YOUR TASTE?King and I Thai  is also near Loring Park and is quite popular with locals.  For Indian, I’d recommend hoofing it down 11th to Dancing Ganesha, which is one of the best Indian restaurants in town.  However, service is very slow and the lunch buffet isn’t as tasty as the actual menu items.  For a popular new twist on Asian food, walk down to Thom Pham’s Wonderous Azian Kitchen.  It’s spendy and the longest walk yet, but it’s a local foodie hotspot and is recommended for those who want to a experience creative brunch.  It’s also close to the Gay 90’s, which is one of the most entertaining nights out in town.  I recommend driving or taking a taxi unless your hotel is close.

JUST NEED SOME COMFORT FOOD? – If fancy isn’t your bag, Keys Café is just down the block from the Center and specializes in homegrown grub in “family restaurant” style.  They are most famous for the deserts. But, for breakfast or a sandwich, it’s pretty staple stuff.  Otherwise, north on Nicollet Mall is D’Amico and Son’s, which has Italian-inspired sandwiches, pastas, salads, and deserts.  It’s a great place for fresh ingredients and a great lunch, though it is a bit of walk from the Convention Center.  If pizza and hoagies is your interest, check out Divanni’s on Hennepin.

LOOKING FOR THE FAMILIAR? – In a pinch, who can beat the old standbys?  Nicollet Mall has Chipotle nearby. Also a reasonable walk from the Convention Center is Buca di Bepo, Panera, Starbucks, Target, Quiznos, Dominos, and Jimmy Johns.  Add at least an extra hour to your walk time to get back and forth from anywhere and check your maps to be sure you know where you’re going.  The skyway may help this journey, but only if you study the map first.

Bulldog Burger

IF YOU’RE WILLING TO DRIVE – Any local will tell you to try a Juicy (Jucy) Lucy.  These cheeseburgers are a great novelty and there’s friendly competition between locals in town over who makes the best.  I’ve tried the 5-8 Club and the Blue Door’s versions and I can’t say they blow my mind. But, for anyone looking to truly “experience” Minneapolis, it’s a hoot to fill the car and take the “Lucy challenge.”  Matt’s and 5-8 are within a few miles drive south from each other on Cedar Ave.  This is a great field trip if you don’t make day 2 because if you continue south down Cedar Ave you’ll find the Mall Of America.

The best burger in town in my opinion is The Bulldog in lowertown Saint Paul.  If you find yourself driving into St. Paul, if for no other reason, it should be these delicious made to order Angus burgers.  Creative toppings and a fantastic selection of draft beers make the short drive worth it.  Don’t forget the seasoned tater tots!

I’ve covered a ton of options that make the Twin Cities unique for food alone.  I honestly could go on with more, but I wanted to keep within a reasonable driving or walking distance.  I invite other locals to chime in with their personal favorites in the comments.  Let’s show them why we love to live here!

Peter Lane

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