I am so shamefully overdue for an update on my carfree downtown living experiences that there’s really no excuse for it. I’ve thought about writing this post about once a month for the past two years, but eh.
For a little preview and perspective, you may want to read my 2007 and 2008 reports. Otherwise, here’s my quick back-story:
After living and traveling abroad for 4.5 years, I came home in 2007 determined to live a European lifestyle, meaning a small, reasonable living space and no car. Though I’d long loathed downtown for the noise and air pollution, I knew living downtown was the only choice, mainly for the advantage of being smack in the center of the city’s public transport hub and having virtually anything I might desire within walking distance.
Well, my reservations about living downtown were totally unfounded. I took to it immediately. It is simply the pinnacle of convenience and options in Minneapolis. Coffee, sandwiches, groceries, booze, banks, stores, restaurants, bars, and every conceivable service are all less than 20 minutes away by foot. Any need, any spontaneous craving, any entertainment wish can be attended to pretty much instantaneously. Yes, the noise is still irritating sometimes and the air pollution, while not spring fresh, is much improved since the snapshot my brain took in the mid-90s.
This was and still is one of the primary selling points for living downtown when one has decided to shun car ownership for the rest of eternity. Buses continue to be amazingly timely, relatively clean and quick. The Light Rail line through South Minneapolis is an oft used treasure. That it connects downtown with the airport in only 21-23 minutes and costs a mere $1.75 ($2.25 peak) is still one of the best airport-city transfer arrangements in just about any major city in the U.S. And the Central Corridor line, connecting downtown Minneapolis to downtown St Paul in 36 minutes will start passenger service in 2014. (Though if your goal is to get between the two downtowns as fast as possible, taking the 94 Bus will still your best option.)
After five years, the downtown Target location is still struggling with the challenge of keeping their food section stocked. No other Target I’ve visited has as much trouble keeping simple, everyday items on the shelves as the downtown location. It’s confounding and results in nearly weekly bouts of cursing and last second menu adjustments.
However, an encouraging development has occurred. The brand new Lunds on 12th street and Hennepin has FINALLY opened after years of delays. For my purposes, it’s a little too spendy for regular shopping and about as far away as it could possibly be from my building and still be downtown, but it’s there nonetheless for emergencies and special food needs.
The other back-up option is still taking LTR four stops and shopping at the Rainbow or Cub Foods just east of the Lake Street station.
There’s been a tragic blow to my entertainment options. The Block E AMC movie theater did not get its lease renewed and will shut down on September 23rd. I’m heartbroken. Sure, the staff were a little rough and the Commodore 64 computer that ran all the theater systems frequently failed at little things like turning off the lights when the movie started and focusing the projector, but the theaters were large, convenient and Skyway-connected. Now the nearest movie theater to downtown is the moribund St Anthony Main Theater across the river.
Otherwise, little has changed, apart from the belated discovery of the 8th Street Grill happy hour (3pm-7pm weekdays and all day Saturday) where one can buy the cheapest cider on tap in all of downtown. The appetizers are discounted too, though apart from the chicken quesadilla, I haven’t been too fond of the app selection.
Another heartening improvement to the downtown eating scene is the proliferation of food trucks in the past two years. Marquette Ave has developed into food truck central, with anywhere from six to nine or more trucks parked between 6th Street and 9th Street on weekdays serving lobster rolls, tacos, sushi, arepas, sandwiches, vegetarian and more. A smattering of food trucks are scattered in other random downtown spots as well.
Gettin’ stuff done:
Same ease and convenience as always. Pretty much everything I need is within walking distance. I occasionally run specialty errands to Uptown and other non-downtown destinations, but 98% of my simple needs are met by downtown establishments. One or two annual outings notwithstanding, all friends, social engagements and places of importance are still a single, hassle-free bus ride from home. Only during rush hour on the busiest streets am I ever sitting on a bus for more than 30 minutes to get anywhere. Moreover, with public transport information folded into the Google map directions tool on my Android, I can dog leg errands and improvise on the go with only a few moments of research.
This has become slightly less advantageous in 2012. The housing lull is lifting in downtown and condos and apartments are once again in high demand. Though all I really know about this is what I read in the paper, so perhaps people who have actually purchased/rented in recent months can speak with more authority. Still, if my property tax statements are even slightly accurate, condo prices are still languishing near the bottom of the curve, so while availability might be dicey, prices are still decent.
Alas, the forever needy and bleating Minnesota Vikings were successful in pick pocketing Minneapolis for $700-something million for a new stadium that will both result in a new sales tax for purchases made downtown and a couple years with of construction headaches and debris floating through the air that will probably give all downtown workers and residents respiratory ailments. But the good news is that a billionaire in New Jersey will get richer and a losing, felonious team of overgrown babies and ingrates will stop threatening to move to L.A. for a few more years and that’s what really counts.
That theft and injustice aside, in the grand scheme, I’m still a huge proponent of downtown and carfree living. The uncomplicated, streamlined lifestyle has resulted in more free time than I’ve ever had, lower stress and unequalled contentment.
Anyone with other observations or anything to add are very welcome to leave a comment.
This is not a review of the galloping parade of compounding awesomeness that is the eight-course Chef’s Tasting Menu ($85, plus $65 for the wine flight) at La Belle Vie. If I wanted to do that, I would have (somehow) scrounged up the funds to indulge in this meal about eight years ago, and only after trading brains with someone who has a better understanding of what’s going on in the kitchen.
Having thoroughly missed that boat on so many timeliness and wisdom levels, I would like to instead focus on the experience itself which happily took me off guard with its casualness mere moments after sitting at the table and only got better as the meal progressed.
My main worry was the atmosphere. I only had 24 hours warning that I was being treated to this singular meal. Dancing giddiness quickly dissolved into dress code panic, what with La Belle Vie’s reputation as “the best restaurant in the history of Minneapolis” and the words “jacket preferred” so frequently attached to descriptions of the restaurant. I’m a simple man with a lifestyle that tends to be pretty high-impact on clothes. As such, my arsenal of nice clothing is rather limited. Comically so on some occasions, like last Friday afternoon as I puzzled over my options.
I do have a suit jacket, though one that is laughably out of style and has become a little too tight around the back and shoulders anyway. The dark pants that go with the jacket still fit, however, and I eventually settled on a green cashmere sweater and black shoes. Even so, I was worried that, upon seeing me, the staff would hurriedly escort me out the nearest emergency exit to a table fashioned out of a sheet of wood laid over an oil drum out by the dumpster.
Instead, my companion and I were given a prime spot in the corner, with an expansive view of the dinning room, where we observed wave after wave of people arriving in the clothes they seemingly wore to class (with a tie thrown on in one case), casual Friday attire and skirts so mini that even my female companion stared openly.
What relaxed me even more were the staff, who were disarmingly informal and fun. Not a condescending tone or withering gaze in the group. The dizzyingly complex dishes were explained without a hint of presumption. The desire was that we thoroughly understand the meal, not to test or exceed our food preparation vocabulary. Our server was personable, and even encouraging when she busted us taking cell phone pictures of the food.
When we left, as we paused to stare longingly at a bottle of Barolo Cavalier Bartolomeo, which was not on the tasting menu, nor the wine list for that matter, which had nevertheless been served with the lamb course, Bill Summerville himself sidled up and, without preamble, casually spoke to us about the wine for several minutes. Only as we parted ways and he proffered a business card did we realize that we were speaking to one of the owners and a local sommelier all-star.
So, there you go. No dress code anxiety necessary, beyond common sense, and the same degree of staff interaction, from the very top on down, as you might encounter at a casual, neighborhood place. I loved it. I just wish I could afford it.
And now, because I am shameless, a quick run down of the meal, including awful cell phone pictures taken in increasingly horrible light as the meal progressed and natural light disappeared:
Amuse-bouche: a single anchovy on a slice of turnip, wrapped with leek and mint (basil?) foam.
Yellow tail jack with dried shallot and chorizo bits, spattered with cream and citrus sauces, with various mystery dollops and shavings. (Served with a brut champagne, which went straight to our heads, being we were on empty stomachs.)
Sautéed sea bass with whipped brandade (an emulsion of slated cod and olive oil), artichoke, black olive and dill. (Served with Rias Baixas, a light and fruity white from Spain’s Galacia region.)
Lobster-filled spinach pasta, vegetable ash (those red puffs), ruby beets, sprinkled with black truffle. (Served with Sean Minor pinot noir.)
Pan roasted poussin (chicken) with cuttlefish, braised pork belly, in a porcini broth. This was served with a sherry (Manzanilla, La Cigarerra, Spain), which is normally not my favorite thing, but paired fantastically well with the broth.
Grilled lamb ribeye (barely, it was pink and amazing), with ratatouille, black olive and crispy squash blossom. (Though the menu said it would be served with a Cotes de Francs from Bordeaux, some generous person subbed in that amazing Barolo.)
Abbaye de belloc (cheese) with apple-apricot compote and preserved lemon honey. (Served with a wonderful French cider with only 5% alcohol volume, which was welcome, because we were starting to become a little shitfaced by this stage.)
Yuza panna cotta with mint foam. This was so good it nearly caused faint.
Caramel cremeux with crème fraiche cake and blood orange ice cream. (Served with a moscato from Piedmont, Italy.)
La Belle Vie
Open daily, dinner only
The Chef’s Tasting Menu comes in five and eight-course configurations
The bar has a four-course menu
510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis
The 23rd annual MONDO Jugglefest drops this weekend, February 17th, 18th and 19th. Being of legal drinking age, but not quite ready to rent a car, this MONDO is brimming with all the options and (probably) not enough inhibitions of that fun and charming age group.
As always, two and a half days of open juggling, unicycling, workshops, and games will be crowned by the Saturday night MONDO Spectacular, our wildly popular public show. Among the this year’s venerable collection of talent, we’re flying in Jack Kalvan, juggling sage and the veteran of 3,000 shows over 15 year of performing. All the way from Switzerland, we’ve got the world class unicycling pairs team of Emilie Stegmüller and Philipp Henestrosa. Finally, fearless local favorites The Danger Committee are also on the program.
Once again, the festival is being held at Concordia College’s monstrous Gangelhoff Center, just off Hamlin Avenue in St Paul. This massive field house, with the always exciting bouncy rubber floor that weaponizes virtually every dropped club, is where all the workshops, demonstrations, prop vending and games will occur.
Some 500 jugglers, unicyclists and others attended last year. Few things in life slacken the jaw like a field house teeming with people deftly throwing and catching (and dropping and bending overing and picking upping) thousands of objects simultaneously, while a mind-bending army of unicyclists wizz around, yoyoists yo and poi spinners, uh, do whatever it is that they do. I’m telling ya, this caliber of full blown over-stimulation entertainment can usually only be achieved with highly illicit drugs. (Kids: don’t do drugs.)
If you don’t juggle (or unicycle or kendama), this is the place to learn. Formal and informal coaching persists throughout the festival. I can teach anyone between the ages of six and 75 to juggle in less than 30 minutes. That’s right, in thirty minutes you can be just a little bit more like me and who doesn’t want that?
The deets: The 23rd Annual MONDO Jugglefest
Gym passes, good for all three days, are $10 at the door. All attendees will be required to sign a waiver before admittance to the festival.
Tickets for the MONDO Spectacular (7pm, Saturday February 18th) are $12 for adults, $10 for children under 12. This show frequently sells out, so it’s probably a good idea to secure tickets in advance.
Friday February 17th: 5:00pm – Midnight
Saturday February 18th: 9:00am to 2:00am (Note: the Gym will be closed during the Spectacular show, roughly from 5pm until the end of the show around 10pm)
Sunday February 19th: 10:00am to 5:00pm
Special self-promotion section:
I will celebrating my 30th(!) year of juggling at MONDO by showing off some of my club passing secrets, much like the amazing awesomeness below:
I’ve recently hit a euphoric peak regarding the fixed price, “Date Night” menus that keep appearing around town and, as is my way, I must share the happiness.
I’ve enjoyed the Tuesday Date Night menu at al Vento twice now. There’s nothing about this arrangement that isn’t awesome. A mere $20 gets you a four course, stomach-distending meal in an exceptional restaurant.
Now sometimes al Vento tries to sneak in a little too much eggplant on these fixed price menus, so if like me, eggplant causes you to experience an intestinal tsunami, it would behoove you to check the menu before you go. That said, my most recent Date Night visit to al Vento was exceptional start to finish.
I opened with the stuffed mushrooms (walnut, with parmesan and marinara), which I erased from my plate as thoroughly as one can without resorting to a tongue cleaning. The next plate, a small Caesar salad, was subtle while still nailing it. For the pasta course I chose the generously portioned pappardelle with braised pork ragu tomato and procini. The pork was tender as hell and the ragu had an unusual but excellent sweetness, as if (just guessing here) a modest amount of cherry reduction had been mixed in. Dessert was a selection of gelato and sorbet, from which I chose the cappuccino gelato.
It was just wonderful. And not exactly a secret. The place was jammed. We just barely got away with not making a reservation, but next time I won’t be so cavalier.
There was only one, huge disappointment in the evening – an equally mouthwatering fixed price menu was happening simultaneously at Kings Wine Bar! Their Tuesday Date Night menu has three courses, plus dessert, paired with a wine flight. Total: $45 for two people!
Hey non-native Minnesotans, what were some of your most profound “Whoa, I’m really in Minnesota” moments after you arrived? Let me guess:
• When you bought a parka
• When someone offered you lutefisk
• When you were gravely advised on which shovel to buy
• When you very quickly realized that vaguely attentive driving habits were the norm
• When you met someone named ‘Leif’
These things simply don’t happen anywhere else – except occasionally in Norway – and are in fact all part of Minnesota’s rich cultural identity.
For decades I thought there were only a couple Leifs in Minnesota. And to make matters worse, those other Leifs all sacrilegiously pronounced their names like the word ‘leaf’. (Indisputable fact: it’s pronounced like the word ‘life’.) I felt as if I was almost singlehandedly carrying the burden of one of Minnesota’s dying cultural traditions.
But then, thanks to Facebook, oh magical Facebook, an idle search one day revealed that there are TONS of Leifs in Minnesota! Walking around, oozing state heritage, smelling of stoic manliness and pine trees…
And many of these Leifs are much younger than I, meaning, that’s right, a Leif Renaissance!! Our path to Leif extinction has been narrowly averted. But for how long? Will other brave parents name their children ‘Leif’, continuing the state’s solemn tradition and dooming their sons to at least 16 years of cruel and unimaginative taunts by their mouth-breathing, zero-contributing peers? We can only hope so.
As part of the effort to preserve our state’s prized heritage, I would like to formally propose that Governor Dayton declare December 16th “Leif Day” in Minnesota. Government offices will shut down, parking meters won’t be enforced, a parade, naturally, will be held – say, on Hennepin Avenue, between 12th Street and Washington.
Furthermore, unofficially, December 16th, will also be declared “International Hug a Leif Day,” just in case I’m out of town.
Please show your support for “Leif Day” and “International Hug a Leif Day” by signing in the comments area below. I will present the signatures to Governor Dayton and Buddha and we should be good to go for at least an informal 2011 celebration at Grumpy’s on Washington this Friday.
Thank you for generously supporting our cherished state heritage and well-deserved recognition of our hard working, heroic Leifs.
No one remembers exactly when Matthews Park started opening their multipurpose room to a small, ragtag group of geeks and students every Monday night, so they could have a free, massive, indoor, high-ceiling place to practice throwing and catching more objects than they had hands with which to do so. What I know for sure is that I started attending these casual sessions circa late summer 1982, which everyone agrees was probably only a few months after its inception.
Nearly 30 years later, it’s still happening – and it’s still free.
The Neverthriving Juggling Club is a place where new jugglers practice, old jugglers socialize and ill-prepared non-jugglers get props thrust into their hands and a lesson, no matter how strongly they protest.
It doesn’t get much more wholesome than this. Free juggling lessons, free practice space, without having in bring your own equipment (at least not initially), open to all ages. Moreover, when you decide you need to take a break from dropping things and picking them up off the ground, the free entertainment of watching some of the best jugglers in the country practice and goof off is the juggling equivalent of watching the sound check at Lollapalooza.
As we careen into yet another rumored-to-be long and brutal winter, this weekly indoor escape and excuse to wear a tank top is pretty hard to beat. And did you know that juggling actually makes you smarter? I kid you not.
The Neverthriving folks are also largely responsible for putting together the annual MONDO Jugglefest, one of the largest, annual gatherings of jugglers, unicyclists and yo-yo enthusiasts in the country, coming up on February 17-19, 2012.
Further to the previous promise of free entertainment at Neverthriving, here’s a video of me and MPLSSteve doing, well, the uniquely ungraceful yet lively thing that we do best, passing six clubs.
Remember Slackerology? My probably best-selling, award-winning, religion-changing, planet-saving book proposal may have fizzled out on the desks of 26 editors, to the detriment of all society (history will vindicate me), but I’m still living and honing the theory every day.
[If you need to get up to speed on the modern, minimalist lifestyle I’ve cheekily labeled ‘Slackerology’, you can read about it in great detail here, here, here, here and here or read an incredibly condense explanation here.]
Further to that, I recently had the occasion to do a detailed calculation of my annual living expenses for the first time (oddly) since moving back to the US and, while I knew the number would be low, the total shocked even me.
What is Meet Plan Go? It’s an evening of illuminating information and discourse on the feasibility of career-break travel and round-the-world trips, held nearly simultaneously in 17 North American cities. If you’ve ever dreamed of escaping your cubicle to strike out and discover the world on your own terms, this should be Item 0 on your task list.
Being that career-break travel, commonplace nearly everywhere outside of the US, can be an intimidating prospect, we’ve pulled together a varied panel including world travelers, a financial planner and career-break veterans.
As fun and physically attractive as last year’s panel was, this year’s panel is a massive improvement. In addition to me, career-break traveler-turned freelance travel writer, there’s Julie DuRose, a recently returned, solo, female career-break traveler; Layne Kennedy, jet-setter and distinguished photographer; and Kara McGuire, personal financial columnist for the Star Tribune.
Cumulatively we are a veritable career-break travel super group, think tank and military junta all rolled into one. Our coming together will change the world in ways none of us can yet imagine. Historians will study and debate the event. Commemorative coins will be minted. Villagers will sing songs about us in the mountains of northern Laos.
Also, there’ll be $4 taps and $5 wines.
Needless to say, if you have any interest in career-break travel, you really don’t wanna miss this.
If you need further encouragement about the feasibility of career-break travel, check out the 2010 cover story I wrote for vita.mn “Choose Your Own Adventure,” featuring quotes from our very own Julie DuRose.
In the latest development defining me as a leading Skyway posterboy, Architecture Minnesota magazine followed me around one afternoon and shot video of me discussing my Skyway lifestyle. The video is a promotion piece for their Videotect video competition “Exploring the Built Environment,” the first subject being the Skyway.
Through what I’m sure was laborious and careful editing, they succeeded in not making me look too crazy: