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Rochester Revisited

An influx of international visitors has made the southern metropolis a shopping and dining destination

Rochester Revisited
Photo by Olive Juice Studios

It takes 1,000 brush strokes to hand paint the pattern on a Royal Copenhagen “Blue Fluted” dinner plate sold at the nordic shop (thenordicshop.net) in Rochester. In a fast-paced, “hurry up” world, slowing down to marvel at such craftsmanship feels like a luxury. But Rochester caters to many visitors who have time to spare. As home to the Mayo Clinic, the city draws more than 2 million people per year from around the world—many of whom could use a little retail therapy and a nice meal between medical appointments.

The city’s international draw has been a boon to locals, with new restaurateurs and retailers lending the former farm town a sophisticated feel. Pair that with an expansive, pedestrian subway/skyway system, and Rochester becomes a favorite sans-parka winter destination.

Where to Stay:

The Kahler Grand (thekahlerhotel.com), Rochester’s most historic hotel, opened in 1921, and its blazing red sign still invokes a film -noir backdrop after dark. Once considered Rochester’s premier accommodation, the Kahler has hosted Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Stewart, LBJ, and Ronald Reagan. It’s now in need of a face-lift, which it may soon receive after having been acquired by new ownership last year. Yet there’s still something alluring about the domed rooftop pool that offers expansive city views, as well as its affordable rates—standard rooms start at $69 per night.

Among the hotels dominating the surrounding blocks, The Doubletree (doubletree.com) is one of the most posh, with a clean Scandinavian aesthetic punctuated by crystal chandeliers and elaborate sculptures. Rooms have a cosmopolitan vibe with straight lines, dark wood, and gold accents, and rates are competitive for a standard room—though they can run into the thousands for a premier suite. To keep guests cozy, the hotel offers a new sauna and complimentary, fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies.

Where to Eat:

Pescara (pescarafresh.com) in the Doubletree makes good use of Rochester’s status as a FedEx hub, flying in fresh fish Monday through Saturday—one bite of the seafood omelet will make you forget you’re in landlocked territory. The dinner menu offers a mix-and-match selection of fish and sauces, from standards (tuna, salmon, cod) to more exotic fare for these parts (branzino, mahi-mahi, and Arctic char), all to be paired with everything from soy glaze to parsley gremolata. Some locals claim Pescara also serves the best steak in town.

Söntes (sontes.com), which specializes in upscale “Midwestern tapas,” sits on the corner of Broadway and historic Third Street, a cozy half-block caught in another era. Dim lighting sets the mood for romance—undoubtedly many engagements have taken place beside the restaurant's roaring fireplace. Söntes’ signature is its extensive wine list, which includes 40 by the glass and more than 100 by the bottle. Among the array of small plates, the fried duck egg and the braised lamb with herbed chèvre gnocchi are standouts.

Time off is rare for Mayo medical residents, who tend to spend their precious happy hours at Chester’s Kitchen and Bar (chesterskb.com) for sliders topped with potato chip–crusted cheese, The Loop (thelooprochester.com) for gourmet pizza piled with flank steak or pork belly, or the Taphouse (taphousemn.com) to sample its 50 microbrews on tap. And when they need a little caffeine to get through their next shift, they hit up bravo espresso (111 S. Broadway).

Where to Shop:

The shops at University Square (shopsatuniversitysquare.com), a micro Galleria, is home to an especially charming trio of sister stores: counterpoint, counterpoint home and CP³ (counterpointhome.com). Their splurge-worthy goods include an alien-inspired Q-Tip holder by Alessi, stacks of Marimekko pillows and fabric, handmade Cydwoq shoes, and chic-but-comfy clothing from the German line Oska. Meanwhile, the Nordic Shop (thenordicshop.net), which carries the nation’s largest selection of Dale of Norway sweaters, is outfitted for the Winter Olympics with the 2014 Sochi sweater.  

Hanny’s (hannys.com) beneath the Kahler Hotel is the destination for high-end brands such as Escada and Longchamp. But another subterranean shop, the Mayo Clinic Store (mayoclinic.org/mayo-store), is perhaps the city’s most unique. Its merchandise includes a large collection of Mayo cookbooks, light boxes to ward off seasonal affective disorder, all sorts of items required to prepare for a new baby, back braces and posture supports, and practically more pillboxes than a pharmacy has medications. This is Med City after all.

Phoebe Larson is a regular contributor to Minnesota Monthly.

Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

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Jan 23, 2014 06:28 pm
 Posted by  RochLiving

If you lived in Rochester, you would not have highlighted most of the things you did. Even as a visitor, some of them are not warranted. International visitors are generally here because they are sick. They do not frequent the posh Pescara or Sontes when they are here, they are sick afterall. The downtown places rarely see Mayo visitors unless they are here studying medicine, not the ones here being treated. You also didn't mention the high turn over in 'high' end businesses downtown because small business owners, thanks to articles like this, get big ideas to open these kinds of places thinking Mayo will bring them the cash. Well, in reality it doesn't. Mayo Clinic is a phenomenal medical facility. But honestly. How many people that are THAT sick, travel to a world known facility and then go shopping and look for swanky eats? Um...none. So while it is nice to have Roch on the map for these things, at least paint them in truth. Other than the hotels, the other businesses are supported by local people. Why, I'm not sure because most of those businesses spend their time trying to cater to a customer base that will never exist. Mayo patients that don't go out in subzero MN temps to spend $400 on a sweater!

Jan 23, 2014 08:30 pm
 Posted by  GoldenGoose

A wonderful article. Rochester does indeed get a variety of visitors and for all kinds of reasons. Travelers speaking in various languages can be seen enjoying the aforementioned shops and restaurants. The local residents like having a downtown where activities are fun and nonstop. There is something for everyone here. Thank you for the positive article!

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