Minnesota 101: A Visitor's Guide

So you're coming to Minnesota for a Wild game? Awesome! We'd love to have you in town. The X gets quite a few visitors, especially coming down from Canada, and so we get a lot of questions from would-be travelers. Hopefully this clears some things up.

Minneapolis and St. Paul
Yes! They are separate cities!

Minneapolis Skyline
Minneapolis
They're called "Twin Cities" for a reason: they are not the same. Minneapolis and St. Paul are distinct and unique cities, and although they make up one Metro area, you should know that they don't make up a continuous city. Their downtown cores are separated and you'll need to be able to move between them (unless you want to limit yourself to just one). Minneapolis is the bigger city, with a more interesting downtown full of skyscrapers and nightlife. St. Paul is a bit smaller, both in terms of population and urban density. It's sometimes compared (favorably) to European and Canadian cities for its layout, architecture, and cleanliness.


St. Paul
St. Paul
A lot of the things you might have heard about Minnesota are probably true. During hockey season? Yeah, it's pretty damned cold. "Minnesota Nice"––that unique form of passive-aggression we Minnesotans are famous for showing around strangers, Lutheran church congregations, acquaintances, and in-laws? It's a real thing, and you might run into it at your Wild game if you "step out of line" by doing things like cursing, booing loudly, cheering for your team, or showing emotion. Don't let it bug you, though! We really are nice people, and you'll probably just get everyone around you more into the game. Sometimes the Wild fans need a bit of encouragement to get pumped up about the team. Four years of utter mediocrity can do that, but it also happens in part because a lot of the spectators at games aren't Wild fans––they're hockey fans. Minnesota loves this game, and when we lost our North Stars (and, seriously, we are still bitter at former owner Norm Green) a lot of us started cheering for local schools and college teams instead of an NHL team. We'll still show up and cheer, but because of that history, the Wild aren't #1 in everyone's hearts.


Xcel Energy Center
Centre d'Energie Xcel
The Xcel Energy Center
Lucky you, you get to see a game at the best arena in the NHL! Well, if ESPN is to be believed, anyway. The wide concourses are awesome, the sightlines are perfect from every seat, and there's a lot of cool shit to see like the Zamboni organ, or hockey sweaters from every high school team in the state on display on the suite level.

Getting There
The Xcel Center is in downtown St. Paul. Unfortunately, St. Paul is not yet connected to Light Rail. Bus is an option––and your tickets let you ride for free for 2 hours before and after the game––but it's rather inconvenient. If you're not staying within walking distance, you'll generally want to drive to the game. In fact, you probably will want to have a car even if you're staying within walking distance of the X, so you have access to Minneapolis and to suburbs like Bloomington, where the Mall of America and airport are located. Driving to the Xcel Center is pretty simple; it's right off I-35E, very near I-94, and easily accessible by two of St. Paul's major roads, Sheppard Rd. and Kellogg Boulevard.

Parking near the Xcel Center can be fairly pricey on game nights ($10-15) but is generally fairly convenient, accessible, and readily available. The RiverCentre ramp is popular, since it is directly connected by skyway (that's an indoor tunnel over the street, for you southerners). I think the parking ramp at the Science Museum (directly across Kellogg Boulevard) is a nice alternative, as it is part of the same structure and is about a sidewalk block separated from the skyway entrance, and comes in $3 cheaper than the RiverCentre ramp. There's also a municipal ramp one block away (anyone know the prices?). Official parking at the Xcel Center is limited to season ticket holders with a parking pass.

There are also a few bars which offer their customers free parking and shuttles to the Xcel Center on game nights. Alary's, Bennet's, and O'Gara's in St. Paul all offer this service.

Seats and Tickets
A lot of people wonder whether tickets are tough to come by in hockey-mad St. Paul. We did sell out our first four hundred preseason, regular season, and postseason games as a franchise, but that streak came to an end in 2010-11, with attendance dipping as low as 16,000 on a few nights. Still, the arena averaged about 99% of capacity even with the weak on-ice product, so it's probably a good idea to get your tickets ahead of time, unless you're planning on a Student Rush night (M-W nights in 2010-11, but could change). Cheaper tickets, particularly the highly-demanded upper-level ends, tend to go pretty quickly, while "good seats" are pretty readily available. The official TicketExchange, where season ticket holders post tickets they won't use, generally has prices relatively close to face value, and is often a good option to find seats even if the game isn't sold out yet. Single game, face value tickets range from about $25-50 in the upper deck, $75-85 in the lower bowl, and $90-100 on the club level. Prices will be higher for certain "premium" games, depending on the night and the team in town.

In terms of seats, there aren't any bad ones. Nothing obstructed, nothing too far to see, nothing awkward or inaccessible. I've sat on the glass and in the last row of the upper-deck corner, and I'd almost go so far as to say I preferred the view from the cheap seats to being on-the-glass, as it gives a better view of the far end of the ice. As with any arena, the sides tend to be easier to watch from than the ends, though they're also a fair amount more expensive.

In The Cities
Where to Stay
Saint Paul Hotel on Rice Park
The St. Paul Hotel
If you're staying in St. Paul, there are a decent number of hotels right near the Xcel Center. If you're looking to stay somewhere swanky, The St. Paul Hotel is pretty famous––and visiting teams will often stay there. It's just a stroll through the park away from the arena.

If you rent/bring a car, it opens up a whole lot of other lodging options. There are tons of hotels in Minneapolis, but you could also consider staying in the suburb of Bloomington. Bloomington is home to the Mall of America and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and so there's a big cluster of chain hotels servicing the two. The area's directly connected to I-494 and lies just south of the heart of both cities. Getting to the X is a quick drive down 494 to 35E or MN-5.

Where to Eat

Matt's Bar
An important Minneapolis pilgrimage
Best Burger: This is a hotly contested title in the Twin Cities, and we can't give a definitive answer. But you can't mention burgers without mentioning the South Minneapolis delicacy: The Jucy Lucy. (Sometimes misspelled as "Juicy Lucy.") It's a cheeseburger with the cheese cooked inside, forming a magical molten cheese core, and it's absolutely heavenly. Two restaurants, Matt's Bar and the 5-8 Club, claim to have invented the Jucy, a controversy among devotees that lives to this day. Matt's is a bit more of a dive, a little bar that doesn't waste money on unnecessary things like silverware, or plates. 5-8 tries to be a bit more upscale, including spelling "Juicy" with an "i" and offering fancy alternate cheeses to stuff your Lucy. For our money here at FRB, it's gotta be Matt's. They make a phenomenal Jucy Lucy and the atmosphere just feels right. It's a Minneapolis institution and our pick for best burger bar.

There are lots of other great, more traditional burgers in the area, too. The Nook is a St. Paul burger bar institution. Burger Jones near Uptown in Minneapolis is good enough that an amateur pilot decided to illegally land his plane on nearby Lake Calhoun, because his burger craving just couldn't wait. Burger Moes is just two blocks from the X, and gets pretty packed on game nights. The American Burger Bar is a little bit farther but still walking distance, and tends to fly a bit more under the radar. If you happen to be in the Southwest Metro, a bit of a ways from the cities, The Lion's Tap in Eden Prairie is also a perennial favorite.

Best Italian Food: Just two blocks from the Xcel Center, Cosetta is a St. Paul institution, with phenomenal Italian food at bargain prices. If you're trying to go on game night, make sure to show up early––it's one of the busiest places in town.

Best Pizza: Cosetta actually makes pretty good pizza, too, but if you're looking for delivery, Davanni's is a local staple, and it's also served at the Xcel Center. Pizza Luce is a big favorite in the cities, both for dine-in and delivery. Punch Neapolitan Pizza is also fairly popular, though they don't deliver. In Uptown, Galactic Pizza is a hipster favorite, and your pizza will be delivered by a spandex-clad superhero on a scooter.

Best Poutine: Be warned, it's tough to find a good poutine here. If it's an important part of your hockey experience, make trip to Uptown and stop at Burger Jones. Ask them to hold the onions and bacon, and it's a pretty authentic poutine, with real (Wisconsin!) cheese curds and an excellent poutine sauce (rather than the thick gravy we Americans tend to slab on).

Best Fancy Food: Manny's Steakhouse tends to be the Twin Cities' go-to fine dining experience. It's your best bet if you want swank. The St. Paul Grill, connected to the St. Paul Hotel by the arena, is every bit as upscale as the hotel. If you want to be a bit hipper, there are lots of semi-upscale joints in Minneapolis's hipster mecca Uptown.

Hockey Bars: Luckily, we've got plenty of those. Tom Reid's Hockey City Pub, across Kellogg from The X, is a hockey bar through and through. Named after Tom Reid, a former North Star player and color commentator who now does radio calls for the Wild, it's quite popular on game nights. Eagle Street is also directly across the street from The X, and again is full of hockey fans on game nights. Great Waters Brewery is also a stone's throw from the arena, with good house brews. As mentioned above, there are also a number of good bars a bit farther from the arena which offer free shuttle service on game nights––Alary's (also known for their female waitstaff), Bennet's, and O'Gara's fit this bill.

While you're in town, definitely try some of the local beers. St. Paul's Summit makes pale ales which are extremely popular around here. Brooklyn Center's Surly is another ale brewery that many locals swear by as an alternative. New Ulm's Grain Belt lager is as German as the rural town where it's brewed, and is quite popular with drinkers of the lighter stuff. (It's also a bit cheaper.)

Also, know that liquor stores are closed on Sundays, and, for our Canadian friends, remember that the drinking age in this country is a whopping 21.

Late Saturday Night at Mickey's Diner
Mickey's is a St. Paul landmark
Coffee: Sadly, we don't have Timmy's down here. Sorry! You'll be hard pressed to find a half-decent donut shop in the area. Our coffee tends to come mostly from boutique shops similar to Starbucks––but locally-founded national chain Caribou Coffee is ubiquitous around here. Local chain Dunn Bros. is also quite popular, with better atmosphere and drinks and less corporate presence, though the locations are a bit more scattered.

Special Mention: Mickey's Diner Car is a St. Paul landmark, with an actual diner car building sitting in the middle of downtown St. Paul, and excellent, cheap diner food. It's also open 24/7. (And, yes, it is the one from the Mighty Ducks movies.)

What to Do
If we're being completely honest, the Twin Cities aren't super well-known for our attractions––especially during the winter. We're called the State of Hockey for a reason, though, so take the opportunity to play some open hockey at one of our many, many municipal rinks, or skate on one of hundreds of outdoor rinks, including one a few blocks from the X in downtown St. Paul. If you're a big shopper, there's always the Mall of America, with hundreds of stores and even an amusement park inside.

Hipsters and Indie kids will love Minneapolis's Uptown, widely considered one of the most hipster-friendly districts in the country. The Twin Cities are pretty well-known for their arts scene. We have the most theater seats per capita outside of New York, including orchestral performances at Minneapolis's Orchestra Hall, theatrical productions at theaters like the Guthrie (Minneapolis), Broadway touring casts at theaters like the Orpheum (Minneapolis) and the Ordway (St. Paul), as well as a swath of independent improv theater troupes in Uptown.

We also have quite a few concert stages and clubs, including the iconic First Ave, perhaps best known as the filming site for Purple Rain. Thanks to the music scene, we're also home to one of the best independent popular music radio stations in the country, the Minnesota Public Radio station The Current, so when you're driving around, listen to 89.3 FM instead of the usual ClearChannel garbage.

MSP's also home to quite a few museums. The Science Museum is directly across Kellogg from the arena, and provides fun hands-on demos.  The Minneapolis Institute of the Arts (MIA) is ginormous and varied (and free!), and the Walker Museum is one of the biggest modern art museums in the country (and home to Minneapolis's famous giant Cherry and Spoon statue).

And for the love of all that is good and holy, PLEASE don't call us "Minny."
Seriously. Nobody here calls it that, and we really don't appreciate it. It's not even clear if you're talking about the state of Minnesota, the city of Minneapolis, or any number of suburbs, lakes, or creeks (City of Minnetonka and its eponymous lake, Minnehaha falls and creek, and rural towns like Minnewashta and Minnetrista). Just. Don't. Do it. You'll look like an idiot and lose all your friends.

6 comments:

  1. Omg, THANK YOU for the "Minny" thing! Been trying to figure out why everybody else calls us that because it makes NO SENSE.

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  2. Agreed, it's one of my pet peeves.

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  3. Hey thanks for this 101...Coming from Montreal for the 3rd times, a lot of useful info for my next trips...Especially for the "Minny" definition...I promise, I will change that :o)

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  4. Everyone outside of Minnesota calls Minnesota "Minny".

    And, no, there no confusion as to what "Minny" refers to (Hint: It ain't Minnehaha Falls or Minnetonka...neither of which anyone outside of Minnesota even knows about). They are *clearly* referring to "Minnesota".

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  5. I'll add my two cents on "Minny". I think you'll just find that Canadians like to nickname cities, or anything with more than three syllables for that matter ... T-O, The Peg, Van City, Cowtown, The Chuck, Reeg, The Toon ... all our cities are nicknamed and it was only a matter of time before Minneapolis shared the same fate.

    Which is contrary to "Anonymous" who claims everyone is referring to Minnesota (never have I heard that, it's always Minneapolis).

    Must say I find it odd that it annoys the locals. "LA" isn't annoying, or "Vegas", or "KC".

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  6. I can't believe you didn't mention Tom Reid's poutine (which sounds like a euphemism, but I digress). I guess I'll need to try Burger Jones'.

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