Prince was Minneapolis’ favorite son, who arguably put the city on the global map. Though he had homes in other places, his Paisley Park entertainment complex was where he primarily worked and ultimately died in 2016.
But now, on the occasion of the release of Diamonds and Pearls –available Oct. 27– the third super deluxe edition box set released after his passing, it’s time to celebrate not just his legacy but the city he called home. Here are five things that make Minneapolis (and its sister city, St. Paul) a must-visit.
GEORGE FLOYD SQUARE
No conversation can be had about Minneapolis unless it includes George Perry Floyd. Though the city was once best known for its music scene that includes Prince, The Time, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Janet Jackson (who found the hitmaking production duo there in the ’80s) Jesse Johnson, Andre Cymone, Mint Condition, Stokley and more, it’s now known to the world as the place where Floyd was murdered by four former Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020. The intersection where it took place at 38th and Chicago Avenue is now known as George Floyd Square.
What’s truly amazing, considering the uprising that followed, as well as what viewers saw when the world’s media camped out in Minneapolis for weeks, is how small the area is. The murder took place in the middle of a predominantly African American community where a gas station and a convenience store were once across the street from each other.
Cup Foods is still there (now called Unity Foods as of earlier this year), but the gas station has been transformed into a protest space and art installation. It is worth a visit to see where one of the most horrific racial crimes of any generation took place but also to support the community that remains. George Floyd Square 38th and Chicago Avenue, Minneapolis
Minneapolis’ diverse cultures mean that the food offerings range across the culinary diaspora. Minneapolis is home to a significant population of Hmong and Somalian immigrants. Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar is Somalian, and Olympic all-around champion gymnast Sunisa “Suni” Lee is Hmong.
A recent eatery article detailed the Twin Cities’ restaurant options, which include the indigenous restaurant Owamni the 2022 James Beard Award winner for Best New Restaurant. The food scene in Minneapolis includes Black-owned sit-down restaurants, food trucks, catering companies and chef services that offer traditional soul food, Jamaican, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Mediterranean, vegan and barbeque, among others. That list can be found here.
When waking up to a bright Minneapolis day, if you want to venture outside of your hotel for breakfast, there’s Hell’s Kitchen, Minneapolis’ longtime eatery with an expansive brunch menu that includes a mimosa and bloody Mary bar and Breakfast Bar, a tasty downtown Black-owned breakfast spot.
Various locations, Minneapolis & St. Paul
MUSIC & PRINCE
As the latest box set shows, Prince Rogers Nelson was as prolific an artist as music history has ever seen. He left behind a vault worth of material that ranges from the pop hits he’s most closely associated with to a treasure trove of unreleased recordings that prove he only allowed us to experience a quarter of his genius while he was still here.
His Paisley Park recording complex is where he wrote, recorded, produced and performed for most of his 57 years. It’s open for tours and special events and hosts the annual celebration of Prince’s life and work.
But Paisley Park is not the only place to encounter musical geniuses in Minneapolis. The Dakota, where Prince saw his last show, is an intimate club with the top-notch acoustics he could appreciate. Bunker’s is a famous Minneapolis dive bar in what’s now called the North Loop, where Dr. Mambo’s Combo has played every Sunday night for the last 30 years. Prince pulled members of the combo into his band and played there 10 times.
First Avenue, where Purple Rain was filmed, is still an active music venue, and the Target Center and the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul bring in top-tier arena shows year-round. The cities also have an array of festivals and the Minnesota State Fair. Also, Minneapolis boasts two record stores that specialize in hard-to-find vinyl – Prince’s fave Electric Fetus and Cheapo Discs. But if you do nothing else music while in the Twin Cities, you’ve gotta go to Paisley to see where one of the greatest artists of all time created, worked, lived and inspired many more artists to follow.
Minneapolis/St. Paul is one of just 11 big cities/Metropolitan areas in the U.S. with a team in all five professional sports – baseball, basketball (NBA and WNBA), soccer, hockey and football. If you time it right, you could potentially catch three or more sports contests over several days. What makes it even easier is that the Target Center and Target Field are across the street from each other, and the U.S. Bank Stadium is a 20-minute walk or six-minute drive away.
However, that would be helped by Minneapolis teams going deeper into the post-season, which has not been the case in recent years. The last Minnesota championship team was the WNBA‘s Lynx, who won four titles in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.
A skyway connects the arena and field to shops, restaurants and hotels, which means not having to venture out into the frozen tundra if the weather gets cold…and it does. Minneapolis’ woes on the gridiron, court, pitch, rink and baseball field haven’t hurt their dedicated fan bases as the city’s avid sports fans usually head out to the games anyway. But tickets via StubHub and other resellers are fairly easy to acquire.
MALL OF AMERICA
America’s largest mall, the Mall of America, is one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions with more than 40 million visitors a year. It’s a cavernous space with 500 stores and its own theme park, Nickelodeon Universe. Stores include mall stalwarts like Hot Topic, Aldo and Bath and Body Works, as well as high-end retailers like Burberry and Nordstrom.
There’s also an aquarium, the Crayola Experience, a Fly Over America attraction, and two indoor golf spots, along with a comedy venue and several restaurants. In my view, it’s a great mall for families as its many attractions make it a fun stop for kids. But if you’re a high-end shopper, it won’t fulfill those needs despite its size. Think of it as a regular suburban mall on steroids. The attached JW Marriot hotel is nice, though, and someplace you can have a nice adult dinner after putting the kids to bed.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport is serviced predominantly by Sun Country and Delta Airlines, and Minneapolis is a 3-hour, 30-minute or less nonstop flight from most of the rest of the country. Just to get you into the right head space once you touch down, the airport has a well-stocked Prince store in Terminal 1. Flights are reasonable if booked in advance. If you’re not familiar with Sun Country, it’s a well-oiled machine, at least in my experience, but they will nickel and dime you for everything including overhead bag storage, extra legroom and anything else. It’s a la carte and no-frills, but you start out with a low base price, which may still make it a cheaper option.
WHERE TO STAY
In 2022, post-pandemic downtown Minneapolis hotels showed some signs of wear, but things have improved since then. I’d recommend three top-tier hotels if you’re a top-tier person – the Loews, which is across the street from Target Center and adjacent to Target Field, the W Minneapolis Foshay, an older hotel that was renovated in 2019 and has an uber-cool bar on the 27th floor called The Prohibition and the Four Seasons, the city’s first 5-star hotel.
I stayed there on my last trip, and it’s as luxuriously appointed as you would expect a Four Seasons to be. Ask about Minneapolis entrepreneur Houston White’s Cultural Collision events. The Four Seasons has partnered with him to bring people together from a cross-section of the city. The next one is Friday, Nov. 3, and they’ll go through 2024. Other affordable options: Radisson RED Minneapolis Downtown and the Canopy by Hilton Minneapolis Mill District.
Don’t let the cold keep you away from an easygoing, friendly city that boats all the positives we just detailed. Minneapolis/St. Paul nonetheless struggled post-pandemic and post-Floyd’s murder. But there is even more Black history in the city aside from Floyd and Prince. You can find much of it at the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery.
We know some Black folks are hesitant to visit a cold weather destination (and you can certainly visit the city any time of year, with fall being especially beautiful), but some African Americans grew up ice-skating, playing hockey and other winter sports, so they’re not fazed. And maybe you’re one of them. Minneapolis’ biggest winter festival, the Great Northern Festival takes place from Jan. 25 – Feb. 5 and includes a sauna village where you can warm up.
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