St. Paul's Hidden Gems

St. Paul Cathedral. Photo by Todd Buchanan.

Over the years, St. Paul has garnered the unfair reputation of being Minneapolis’ smaller, stodgier sister. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked something along the lines of, “Minneapolis is the cool one, right?” by out-of-towners. Yes, St. Paul may have fewer microbreweries per capita, but it matches Minneapolis in character. Apart from the well-known local institutions—your Café Lattés and Cossettas—there are countless under-appreciated gems that deserve to join the ranks of the capital city’s must-stop attractions. Here are a few to consider on your next trip across the river.

Cold Front: Nestled in St. Paul’s Highland neighborhood, this unassuming café is part artisan coffee bar, part old-fashioned soda shoppe. If the friendly service weren’t enough, you’ll keep coming back for their meticulously crafted drinks, made using Dogwood Coffee and Gray Duck Chai. The syrups used at their soda fountain are crafted in house, and they make a pretty mean egg cream too.

Gypsy Moon: This Mac-Groveland shop, located just across the street from the St. Kate’s campus, is filled with a constantly rotating selection of artisan-made goods. Featuring everything from locally made jewelry and seasonal women’s apparel to garden and home décor, the store has a cozy and welcoming aesthetic that befits its thoughtful merchandise.

Three Sisters Eclectic Arts: Recently relocated from Lowertown to Grand Avenue, this artsy boutique sells locally made gifts and artwork and has built close relationships with a number of local artists and artisans. With their shop, owners Valerie Anderson and Lindy Snyder pride themselves in supporting the local arts community by providing up and comers space to showcase their work alongside established favorites.

Saigon: This University Avenue spot, now stylized as iPho by Saigon, has perhaps the best pho of the Twin Cities’ many Vietnamese eateries. But on top of their delectable broth and multitude of accouterments, their service is great. The wait staff is extremely friendly, knowledgeable, polite, and prompt, making for a dining experience that matches their food. If you go, be sure to try their (strong) French Vietnamese coffee, prepared with sweetened condensed milk to put it just over the top.

Ax-Man Surplus: A self-proclaimed “surplus store,” the University Avenue warehouse buys and sells surplus merchandise from industrial companies, arts and crafts businesses, and everything in between. Their wide-ranging, often bizarre products encapsulate decades of changing markets, and they acquire many failed or off-the-market products that you can find nowhere else. Items I have found include lanyards from a long-ago corporate retreat and “Slovenian Hooks.”

The Bearded Mermaid Bazaar: Purportedly an antique store, this West 7th shop carries furniture, home décor, and other curiosities from the 1920s-’80s. The appropriately grunge-y vibe gives one the impression upon entering that it is not the place to buy Persian rugs or stained glass lamps. Their unique offerings should imbue any home with plenty of personality.

Read more: Mpls vs. St. Paul