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Best of the Cities 2007

101+ reasons to celebrate life in the twin cities—from pub trivia to pizzas, sushi to shopping

Best of the Cities 2007
Photo by AERO-METRIC

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Amusements & Distractions

Movie Theater

The lounge at the Heights Theatre holds a grand piano and antique chandeliers. The auditorium boasts a proscenium, two sweeping curtains, and a Wurlitzer that rises out of the orchestra pit before shows on Friday and Saturday evenings. The projector is equipped to run silent films and new releases, in black-and-white or Techni-Color. But the best thing about the Heights is that it makes a night at the movies a special event: hurrying into the plush lobby before the film; waiting for the curtain rise in the popcorn-scented darkness. There’s even a DQ next door where you can get a Slurpee and argue about auteurs. All this, and you’ll still spend less than twenty bucks. 3951 Central Ave. NE, Columbia Heights, 763-788-9079, www.heightstheater.com

New Sport

Minnesota’s professional men’s lacrosse team, the new Minnesota Swarm, dressed in blue and gold, plays eight home games between January and April. The National Lacrosse League games draw a rowdy crowd: 14,144 people at last year’s finale against the Arizona Sting. Don’t know from lacrosse? Think hockey, with a ball and turf instead of pucks and ice. The fancy stick handling and bloody brawls are the same. Xcel Energy Center, 175 Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, 651-602-6000, www.mnswarm.com

Romantic Ride

You don’t need to be in love (or in Venice) to experience a summer evening gliding in a gondola. On Lake Calhoun, visitors can enjoy a ride in one of the elegant black vessels without leaving the shadow of Minneapolis’s skyscrapers. The boat and its gondolier are available to rent every night during the warm season. Weather, water, and mood permitting, you might even swan over to Lake of the Isles, where Venetian-like lagoons and bridges await. Rates: $15 per person for 25 minutes; or $50 an hour for two people, plus $15 for each additional guest. Available evenings and weekends during summer, by reservation. Lake Calhoun Boathouse, 3000 E. Calhoun Pkwy., Mpls.

Photo by David J. Turner

Comedy

Today, Brave New Workshop is known for its mainstage sketch-comedy shows. But it first became famous, in the 1960s, for its late-night improv performances, held in the wee hours of the weekend (presumably when all the squares were asleep). The gags are still going strong: at 10 p.m. on Fridays, midnight on Saturdays. Tried-and-true mainstage cast members juggle audience suggestions with spur-of-the-moment inspirations. Anything goes in these shows, and often does. The $1 ticket price is no joke, though, and true comedy fans know the bargain they’re getting—they begin lining up a half hour before the yuks begin. Brave New Workshop, 2605 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., 612-332-6620, www.bravenewworkshop.com

Urban Run

Minnesota’s European settlers slogged through their first winters at the convergence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers—so you should at least be able to survive a short jog here, on the Big Rivers Regional Trail. There’s no getting lost  on this flattish, four-mile jaunt: Hugging the left side of the paved path are sandstone bluffs dotted with swallow caves and crimson sumac; to the right is the American Nile—and panoramic views of Fort Snelling and the erstwhile camps of the Dakota. Marathoners and other long-leggeds can cross the Highway 55 bridge and reach the fort, or double back to Harriet Island. Confidential to laggards: Downtown Mendota, less than two miles from the start, overflows with beer. Sibley Memorial Hwy. and Lilydale Rd., Lilydale

Bike Path

If the U.S. Census is to be believed, Minneapolis ranks second among major cities—behind Portland—in the percentage of bike commuters. (Honolulu, which ranked number nine, should probably demand a recount in, say, the month of February.) But what we like in a bike path is a route that starts nowhere and ends nowhere. The Cannon Valley Trail fulfills the criteria. It’s a pure joy ride, nearly 20 flat miles that flank the river on an old rail bed. In the high season, there’s a $3 usage fee, which goes to keeping the pavement as smooth as Norm Coleman’s stump speech. And like the senator’s Iraq policy, you can reverse direction at the halfway point, in tiny Welch, and hope that no one notices. Cannon Falls to Red Wing, www.cannonvalleytrail.com

Architecture Guide

Minnesota buildings designed by Graves, Pelli, and Nouvel have caught the eye of the international press. But the most significant addition to the Minneapolis–St. Paul architectural scene in recent years is actually a book: The AIA Guide to the Twin Cities spotlights 1,500 buildings of note, from the state capitol to suburban cinemas. St. Paul author Larry Millett writes with an unstuffy tone and an eye for telling detail. And he isn’t afraid to call Galtier Plaza a financial “sinkhole” or to point out that the windows in the now-defunct Ramsey County jail once allowed miscreants to “moon” boaters on the Mississippi River. www.mhspress.org

City Park

The parking area will fit 14 cars, but on the sunniest Sunday in September, you won’t see more than two or three other souls in the lot. There are probably black-op sites that get more visitors than the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, a 27-acre greenspace wedged in between St. Paul’s Lowertown, Dayton’s Bluff, and the Mississippi River. Granted, it’s a work-in-progress, a native prairie growing out of the concrete jungle of an abandoned rail yard. Just don’t tell the fauna—like the red-tailed hawk, big as a mailbox, hopping in the lower limbs of an oak—that this isn’t authentic nature. And the flora? Every unvanquishable weed you’ve ever cursed on your front lawn grows magnificently here. Fourth St., off Commercial St., St. Paul

Photo by David J. Turner

Place To Meet Single Men

Where can a lass meet a lot of single men outside of bars, comic-book stores, or jail? Try a rock-climbing class, which tend to attract larger proportions of male participants than many clubs or social groups. (At Vertical Endeavors in St. Paul, one of the country’s finest climbing facilities, guys comprise roughly 50 percent of attendees—and staffers say several pairs of climbers have fittingly gone on to tie the knot after meeting in classes.) Let’s face it: These men are buff, confident, and self-reliant—not to mention pretty good with their hands. Vertical Endeavors, 845 Phalen Blvd., St. Paul, 651-776-1430

Place To Meet Single Women

The Minnesota Opera’s Young Professionals Group, which enjoys discounted tickets to operas and post-show cocktail parties, is about 70 percent female. But divas they’re not. At recent YPG events, attendees from among the group’s 160-plus members included lawyers, scientists, and other sober-minded professionals—many of whom recently moved to town, almost all in their twenties and thirties. They seemed to prove that not everything about opera involves deception, sleeping with gods, and Rubenesque proportions. But that’s for you to find out. www.mnopera.com/ypg

Geek Hangout

Robots are supposedly incapable of emotion. But the cool toys at Robot Love, a store loaded with cultish collectibles, are certainly capable of eliciting emotional responses—at least from Japanese-action-figure fans. Hipster artists whose works have been shown at Soo VAC and the now-shuttered Ox-Op gallery sell their freakish figurines in this house of love. And fans of anime-inspired “low-brow” art flock to it like it’s the second coming of Obey. 2648 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-871-9393, robotlove.biz/Robot_Love_index.php

Family Drama

On select Saturday afternoons, the Guthrie Theater hosts Target Play Dates, each thematically linked to the play currently being staged. Kids ages 4 to 11 attend a free theater workshop that incorporates acting, storytelling, movement, and music. The rest of your troupe sees that afternoon’s matinee for $15 each (tickets normally $34 to $54). Call for dates, times, and additional details. Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second St., Mpls., 612-377-2224


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