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Best of the Cities

The spiciest curry, the stiffest drink, the greenest dry cleaner, the hippest adult entertainment (it’s not what you think), and the movers and shakers who make the Twin Cities a better—and more interesting—place to live. They’re all right here, in our annual best-of-the-best guide.

Best of the Cities

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FUN

Urban Retreat

The stunning transformation of Minneapolis’s art-deco wonder, the Foshay Tower, into the W Minneapolis will leave you wondering what city you’re in. The redo includes futuristic furnishings and sleek design, but it also pays homage to the best historical elements: Images of the iconic building are engraved on elevator doors and the marble in the arcade lobby has been restored. For a real kick, stay in the one of the black, white, and hot-pink luxury suites (the “Wow” suite, for example, features a deejay booth). There are plenty of nods to the hotel’s Roaring Twenties origins, including a hidden speakeasy off the lobby bar. Want a view with your hooch? Order a signature “Epiphany” cocktail with elderflower liqueur, pear vodka, and champagne and take in the view from the 30th floor observation deck. Is this really Mill City? 821 Marquette Ave., Minneapolis, 612-215-3700, whotels.com/minneapolis
 

Holiday Show

Like roasted chestnuts on street corners and créches outside the courthouse, Yuletide letters seem destined for extinction. (Even Granny’s on Facebook now.) But Tod Petersen puts a pile of his mother’s annual holiday missives to good use in Theater Latté Da’s A Christmas Carole Petersen, lampooning their folksy tone and breezy banality in song and story. His recollections of Christmases at the family home in Mankato run the gamut from gay-appareled to Grinchy, but in the end, the reason for season is starry-night clear: It’s about making your mother happy. November 28 to December 21. Ordway Center, 345 Washington St., St. Paul, 651-224-4222

Party Additions

Two local artists have been sharing their talents with the public by creating art in front of a crowd. Both Patrick Kemal Pryor and Drew Beson perform to music—Pryor usually paints cool abstracts to jazz-influenced pop, and Beson has collaborated with deejays, producing colorful, sometimes comical works to go with the tunes. The two have been popping up at fundraisers and events—and will often sell the art-in-progress on the spot. Don’t want to wait for the next nonprofit fete? Pryor hosts monthly “music sketch improvisations” at his studio in northeast Minneapolis, and Beson creates new performance videos each week, viewable on his website. patrickpryor.com, drewbesonart.com

Animal Attraction

Cold and remote, the eastern coast of Russia probably feels a lot like Minnesota most days. But Kamchatka is also populated with such beasts as wild boars, Amur leopards, sea otters, and grizzlies, creatures that haven’t
been sighted in the North Star State—until now. All four species are part of the Minnesota Zoo’s new exhibit, Russia’s Grizzly Coast, which treats visitors to a walk on the wild side that features not only animals, but also bubbling mud pots and lava tubes. Minnesota Zoo, 13000 Zoo Blvd., Apple Valley, 952-431-9200, mnzoo.com
 

Sunday Outing

The grass is always greener at Edina’s Centennial Lakes Park. The lawn is also lush, well-watered, and perfectly manicured, making it a magnet for some seriously competitive but oh-so-civilized croquet matches. Each summer, as part of the park’s summer-long tournament season, experienced mallet swingers stride the lawns in crisp white slacks and tall hats. But rank amateurs can rent courts, too, for $15 an hour. Just don’t leave any divots. Centennial Lakes, 7499 France Ave. S., Edina, 952-832-6789, centenniallakespark.com
 

Geeky Date

There’s no room for cynicism about your prospects at the 331 Club’s semi-monthly Grown Up Spelling Bee. On a recent Saturday night at the northeast Minneapolis bar, a fellow named Greg starts off with the letters “C-I-N,” before the hostess, “Jess the Spellbinder,” tosses him off the stage. It’s a silly, sloppy affair: For an $8 entry fee, contestants surrender their car keys and win a shot of Jameson or Stoli after each successful round. By the fourth round, a word like “inebriety” poses a stern challenge. 331 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis, 612-331-1746, 331club.com

New Drink

Hemingway got it wrong when he described absinthe as “opaque, bitter, tongue-numbing, brain-warming, stomach-warming, idea-changing liquid.” It’s not opaque. It’s green, lurid green, so eye-catchingly beautifully sparkly “GO!” green that the color alone will make you understand its appeal to Baudelaire, Verlaine, Munch, Strindberg, Van Gogh, and others. An entire generation of artistes nearly drowned in a pool of the stuff before governments in Europe and America banned the licorice-flavored liquor. The hallucinations allegedly caused by the “green goddess” have since been disproved by science, and last year absinthe was approved for import by U.S. officials. So indulge your inner Bohemian: Order a shot at Nick and Eddie, dissolve a sugar cube into the glass (a process known as louching), pour it over ice, and sip slowly. The muse—at 124 proof—will arrive soon enough. Nick & Eddie, 1612 Harmon Pl., Minneapolis, 612-486-5800, nickandeddie.com

Biking Guide

Ever wish you had a historical-society tour guide with you on every bike trip? Road Biking Minnesota, an installment of the popular Falcon Guides, is that chirping know-it-all. Sample the 71- or 33-mile tour around Austin, for instance, where author M. Russ Lowthian reels off a history of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad; pays fitting tribute to the Rydjor Bike Shop and its old-time two-wheel wonders; and namechecks Chief Taopi, who aided whites in the Dakota War. Even the proudly ignorant will find information in these 41 routes that a GPS won’t provide. There are detailed landmark instructions, traffic hazard reports, and even restroom locations. falcon.com

Way to Reach Broadway

Let’s face it: The shower is no place to kick-start your singing career. The MacPhail Center for Music’s Singing Basics for Adults class probably isn’t either, but at least you’ll be able to practice your arpeggios without getting soap in your mouth. The program’s weekly sessions cover everything from what teacher Andrea Leap calls “an owner’s manual” for the voice, to repertoire preparation and issues like stage fright. As for experience, those piano lessons you took in the third grade will do: Small class sizes ensure that every student improves significantly, regardless of previous training. “Singing is just small-muscle athletics, with some artistry thrown in,” Leap says. “It’s like anything else: If you work at it, you get better.” 501 S. Second St., Minneapolis, 612-321-0100, macphail.org

Public Garden

The path to spiritual serenity is a long and treacherous one, but if you can withstand the throngs of screaming children and the humid chambers of Jurassic Park–style plants in Como Park’s conservatory, your destination—the Como Ordway Memorial Japanese Garden—will reward you. A gift from St. Paul’s sister city, Nagasaki, in 1978, the garden was designed in the chisen-kaiyu (strolling pond) style and is painstakingly naturalistic—great care is taken to create a sense of unplanned perfection. Plant yourself on a bench and watch the dragonflies skip lazily over the azalea-dotted pond. Revel in sunlight pouring through the Austrian pines pruned to a “windswept” aesthetic perfection. Achieving a Zen-like state is not so difficult after all. Como Park Conservatory and Zoo, 1225 Estabrook Dr., St. Paul, 651-487-8201, comozooconservatory.org

Cooking Class

Even the deftest Western cooks can find themselves in foreign territory when it comes to dishing up raw fish, but the Crash Course in Sushi at the Cooks of Crocus Hill can change that. Chef Jonathan Kaye relays the fundamentals of making maki (rolled sushi) with dried seaweed, vinegared rice, and the day’s catch. When that’s done, he’ll even show you how to prepare vegetable tempura with maple-soy dipping sauce. At the end of the three-hour class, you’ll have a mean spicy-tuna recipe to add to your dinner party repertoire. Or, at the very least, you’ll know how to order like a pro the next time you’re in Tokyo. 877 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-228-1333; 3925 50th St., Edina, 952-285-1903, cooksofcrocushill.com

Tour

Take a cue from the out-of-towners on this one: There’s more to the Guthrie Theater than even the regulars have seen. Luckily, the staff is willing to divulge, if you take 45 minutes of your morning for the backstage tour. After learning why the proscenium theater is so, well…red, you’ll go backstage and get the lowdown on the costume shop and gargantuan scene shop. The cheery, expert guides will keep you engaged: They throw out too many nuggets of information to even let you think about checking your watch. So, if the Guthrie’s skyway doesn’t lead to the parking ramp, where does it go? Just ask your guide. 10 a.m., Friday to Monday. Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis, guthrietheater.org
 

View of Downtown Minneapolis

Tired of staring at your computer screen? Take a break and head to Water Power Park to find a sight for sore eyes, with no harsh fluorescence. You actually get two dynamic views in one place at the 1.4-acre park, which Xcel Energy opened across from St. Anthony Main in June 2007 as a condition of continuing its hydroelectric projects. First, marvel at the strikingly modern downtown skyline as you enter; then, meander along to the farthest platform for the definitive close-up of the historic St. Anthony Falls. The park’s fenced-in gravel paths aren’t the best for picnicking, but you can pick up tidbits about water-power history on panels scattered throughout. 206 Main St. SE, Minneapolis, waterpowerpark.com
 

Mini Golf

At Big Stone Mini Golf, even the putting greens feel somehow miniaturized, dwarfed by towering sunflowers and bizarre sculptures that loom overhead. Tucked away off County Road 110 near Minnetrista, Bruce Stillman’s eccentric course is more like an interactive art installation in the middle of a field than your typical kitschy, highway-side mini golf. After completing the course (not an easy feat—the sculptures seem to have a preternatural agency over golf balls), take a stroll through the surrounding sculpture garden, cook up some mini-golfer’s fare at the fire pit, or engage in a staring contest with the resident goats. Off County Rd. 110, Mound, 952-472-9292, bigstoneminigolf.com

Art Lessons for Kids

The remark “My kid could paint that!” may not go over so well in a gallery at the Walker, but at an Abrakadoodle class at Kiddywampus, your child really will be drawing inspiration from the masters of modern art: The lessons, specially developed for ages 20 months to 12 years, are structured around the techniques, styles, and mediums of famous artists. But don’t worry if your little Jackson Pollock gets carried away with the paint-throwing activity—the studio uses only washable, nontoxic, Crayola products. 4400 Excelsior Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-926-7871, kiddywampus.com

Podcast

What do M&Ms and voting have in common? For Minnesota Public Radio’s Electionwise podcast co-hosts Molly Bloom and Curtis Gilbert, a handful of the colorful candies serves as a clever analogy for polling accuracy in estimating voter turnout on election day. This may seem like a rather lighthearted take on election issues, but that’s the point: Electionwise, which answers one audience-generated, election-related question per six-minute episode, is part of MPR’s Engaging Americans initiative. The podcast’s humorous edge, combined with comprehensive explanations about issues like candidates’ stances on abortion or immigration, promotes listener involvement in public broadcasting and the presidential race itself. Call in or e-mail your nagging campaign questions, and tune in to the podcast weekly for the answers. minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/podcasts/electionwise
 


Do-Gooder Gigs

VOLUNTEER ENDEAVORS THAT WILL KEEP YOU INVOLVED—AND INSPIRED

Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon
Whether you pass out water cups or finisher’s medals, there’s something spectacular about spending a beautiful fall morning helping more than 10,000 runners from around the world. You’ll be inspired by the men and women of all ages (and sizes) who put one foot in front of another to achieve a dream that’s exactly 26.2 miles long. 763-287-3888, mtcmarathon.org

Science Museum of Minnesota
The Science Museum of Minnesota offers plenty of incredible exhibits, but it’s the volunteers who bring them to life. Help kids (of all ages) understand everything from dinosaurs to static electricity. You don’t have to have a degree in the field—extensive training is provided. And the perks, including free tickets and store discounts, are a nice touch. 651-221-4703, smm.org

Gardening on the Greenway
Skyrocketing gas prices have made the Midtown Greenway a veritable freeway of cycling commuters. And most of them appreciate the dazzling displays of flowers and greenery that line the paths between Lake of the Isles and the Mississippi River. Help maintain these natural spaces by planting, weeding, and composting. 612-879-0106, midtowngreenway.org

American Hiking Society
If gardening is too tame, consider a volunteer vacation with the American Hiking Society. The organization helps maintain a network of trails in the Boundary Waters and regularly offers weeklong excursions that include trail work, canoeing, and fishing. Alliance organizations in Minnesota serve trails in other parts of the state. 800-972-8608, americanhiking.org
 


Work it Out

OUR TOP PICKS FOR GETTING FIT WITHOUT THE DRUDGERY. ENDORPHINS INCLUDED.

Boxing

Located in a warehouse in north Minneapolis, Uppercut Boxing Gym offers classes that focus on different aspects of fitness and self-defense, including cardio conditioning, sparring, endurance and agility, and technical training. For those who think they’ve found their inner Million Dollar Baby, Uppercut provides opportunities to compete in amateur and professional rings. 1324 Quincy St. NE, Minneapolis, 612-822-1964, uppercutgym.com
 

G-Werx

Local fitness buff Phil Martens invented a workout machine and opened a successful gym devoted to using it. The G-Werx provides a full-body workout tailored to your individual fitness level. At 501FIT, small, 10-person G-Werx classes supervised by professional trainers promote accountability and motivation, while still maintaining workout autonomy. 501 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612-767-4415, 501fit.com
 

Power Lifting

The bright yellow weight machines and adjoining tattoo parlor lend the Press Gym a power-fitness atmosphere that doesn’t bother with what staff member Dan calls “all that fancy stuff.” For those interested in more than showing off how much they can bench-press, the gym offers kettlebell and “butt and belly” classes, and hosts the Warriors Cove mixed martial arts studio. 2900 Rice St., Suite 150, Little Canada, 651-697-9002, thepressgym.com
 

Cycling

The open road may be exhilarating, but how often do you get to bike and sing karaoke when you’re outside? Pedal Studio’s devotion to stationary cycling just may convert you to the Great Indoors. No membership is required; register for single classes—ranging from strength-building and endurance to “Karaoke” and “Yoga”—or purchase multi-session or monthly passes. 21 Fifth St. NE, Minneapolis, 612-644-5900, pedalstudios.com
 


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