Like Kafka and Prague, John Waters and Baltimore…the public image of Minneapolis is inextricably linked to The Purple One. But unlike so many other American Midwestern cities, the Minnesota capital had always seemed to exhibit a kind of effortless cultural cred, from hosting proto-career-girl Mary Tyler Moore to birthing Prince and the Twin Tone / post-punk music scene, and on up to being home to one of the country’s most challenging contemporary art museums, the Walker Art Center.
But, well, once it was mostly known for…flour. And like most great American centers of industry, it took a dive in the mid-20th Century, with the factory buildings mostly getting shut down and business grinding to an almost halt. As happens, though, old factory buildings (see: Ancoats, Manchester, UK) make excellent apartments for 21st Century creative sorts – and once in awhile, are even expertly converted into an unexpected hotel.
Now, Hilton had introduced their Canopy marquee in 2014, and the new brand has since successfully endeavored to shake off the business-y image of the mothership. Their first in Minneapolis, just opened in May, is fitted into early 20th Century building that did, in fact, operate within the business of flour – and thus has great architectural bones.
We’ve spent quite a lot of time in the Twin Cities’ most recognizable twin. But with the purpose of checking into, and checking out the Canopy, we made yet another early autumn visit – and here’s what we came back with.
Minneapolis built a virtual (graffiti?) bridge from Prince and Hüsker Dü to young foodies and the primacy of Target to its local culture, and has thus managed to retain a significant level of cultural relevance. Once known for its provocative music scene, now it is a city that absorbs creative types not impressed enough by New York to pay its ridiculous rents, many of whom come to work for the “bullseye” retail giant with the seemingly endless credibility capital. Alas, climate change is already starting to negate the “it’s too cold” argument: we were there in early October, and it was, no exaggeration, 96 degrees fahrenheit.
The Mill District
It’s a curious phenomenon, there is now such an influx into American cities / urban centers that the real estate is evolving before the surrounding infrastructure manages to even get established (meaning, the formula of coffee shops / art galleries / condos has literally lapped itself). This seemed to be the case in the Mill District of Minneapolis, where scores of handsome old industrial buildings have been converted to architecturally hip new apartments; yet one would have a hard time finding even a pharmacy within walking distance of said apartments. Still, the neighborhood boasts the excellent Mill City Farmers Market, as well as the ability to go for a casual jog over the Stone Arch Bridge, against a spectacular backdrop of St Anthony Falls – all included in the price of the rent.
One of our fave features always is a hotel lobby into which pours energy from several different points of entry. And said lobby at the Canopy by Hilton Minneapolis Mill District sprawls out in several directions, so one can veritably choose a number of different public experiences: a cozy corner lounge, an energetic main seating area, and a pair of restaurants that seem to be hopping at various times of the day.
Aesthetically, one’s first impression is of public areas full of cleverly repurposed old timber – i.e. beamed ceilings everywhere you look – apparently shipped in from Portland, because, you know, that’s where there’s a lot of old timber. The hotel also boasts an extensive but unshowy contemporary art collection, mostly focused on local talent.
An extremely thoughtful feature? A shower area with lockers – so one can clean up and run straight off to a meeting, even if one’s room is not yet ready upon arrival.
Despite the hotel’s fascinating visual layout, the rooms are surely the pride of the Canopy Minny, handsomely brick walled spaces, some on the 6th floor boasting dizzying 19 foot ceilings (really, you should request one of these). Throughout, they’re remarkably good looking, with patterned rugs, mod canopy headboards, blond wood floors and furnishings that exhibit an overall low key elegance. In essence, they’re kind of like a more rustic version of Ligne Roset.
As well, being so ideally positioned with the Mill District, massive factory windows frame captivating views of the century-plus-old industrial landscape that surrounds the hotel – visually connecting guests with the architectural heritage of the city.
One surely needn’t even leave the hotel for quality sustenance, with the Bacon Social House and Umbra restaurants located right on the premises. But a few absolute standouts gave us a genuine sense of the current Minny dining zeitgeist. Brenda Langton, for one, was an exalted pioneer of vegetarian cuisine; but her latest, Spoonriver, is a cozy, sophisticated spot with plenty of meat on the menu. Simplicity reigns, and rustic / Asian influences mean indulging in everything from tempeh udon salad to Sunshine Harvest grass fed beef.
Over in the happening North Loop hood, Chef Ann Kim’s Young Joni is a total scene, with a hipstery waitstaff serving up to-die-for Korean BBQ pizza, bibim grain salads, and kimchi oxtail sugo meatballs. The photo booth is located just outside the bathrooms, making for some amusingly awkward encounters.
But what seemed to us to be one of the city’s most populated weekend rituals, was Sunday brunch at Spoon & Stable, also in the Mill District. Industrial-farmhouse-chic provides the stunning scenery for decadently prepared duck egg omelettes and bison tartare. And the crowd is as interesting as what’s on your plate.
Back at the Canopy, don’t expect to bump into Moby or Morrissey at the Bacon Social House. Indeed, there’s piggy art all over the walls, and an excellent weekday happy hour that pairs Blood Orange IPA and Hogwash rosé with bacon deviled eggs and bacon sliders. And bacon and bacon and bacon.
But the hotel’s signature restaurant Umbra finds rocker chef Kevin Aho bouncing between bourguignon sliders, beets carpaccio and fettuccine frutti di mare without missing a beat. The Pirate Jenny cocktail, with habanero-infused Tattersall Aquavit, carrot & lime juices and Grand Marnier, is the unmissable specialty of the house. We had several, before finishing up the night at Betty Danger’s Country Club, a bar, complete with ferris wheel and shuffleboard table, just waiting for a David Lynch movie to star in. SO very Minneapolis. As was the next morning’s hangover.
Top image: Spoon & Stable; bottom two images: Umbra