All the reasons to visit Minneapolis
This time last year I was enjoying one of the most exotic and unforgettable 'Escapes' imaginable, no, not Chilean Patagonia or the straits of Magellan but the equally mysterious and wonderful world of the deepest American Midwest. Accompanying my teenage son to visit a schoolfriend on their lakeshore house for the 4th of July holiday weekend, we had the rare chance to really explore the state of Minnesota, exactly the sort of place which is all the more exciting to discover precisely because it is so unthinkingly dismissed by Americans of both NY and LA.
Arriving in Minneapolis we marveled at the cleanliness and charm of this spotless city, which, like so many of these Midwestern havens is in fact absolutely filled with fascinating characters and local legends. Thanks to the generosity of one of the city's best known cultural mavens, Mr George Sutton, a movie actor, avant-garde performer and dance patron previously long resident in Paris, we were able to stay at the Minneapolis Club, the city's grandest gentleman's private establishment, and toured the city hotspots. These included not only the fabled museums, such as the Walker Arts Center, but also the Jungle Theater, a long-running favourite of this theatre-mad town. Here we were lucky enough to meet its director Bain Boehlke, who set it up with Sutton back in 1991 and even generously offered this old thespian a part, playing the Colonel, in the play Journey's End for next summer!
And as it happened the artist Duncan Hannah, a fixture of the modish Manhattan downtown scene, was back visiting his hometown and I was thus able to confer with him on an exhibition of his work I was curating for later that year at Castillo/Corrales in Belleville, Paris. Right across the street from the Minneapolis Club we were able to visit Peter's Grill, a celebrated slice of Americana, which by chance was closing it's doors that very day, tragically, after continuous service since 1914, all amongst the most splendid period décor.
Food can actually be excellent in this part of the world, as I discovered on touring the now very fashionable North East section of the city with Wendy and David Coggins, seasoned veteran travellers and worldly bon vivants who maintain an extraordinary studio space in this once-industrial part of town, a vast Aladdin's Cave of treasures hidden by the ever-flowing river. We ate at the Modern Café, whose window boasts a most tempting trio of alliterative specials; MEATLOAF MALBEC MALLARD which did not dissapoint.
The pleasures of Minneapolis and neighbouring St Paul are not only historic, for example the birthplace of Scott Fitzgerald, which hints at the wealth and glamour of the past, but also rural, cycle tracks now limn the city, and some of the most glorious countryside in America is right at your doorstep.
Thus driving north into the famous lake country (most Minneapolis folk have at least a shack "up North") we passed St Cloud prison, an altogether frightening bit of architecture celebrated in Dylan's song Walls of Red Wing, and were soon lost amongst the peace and beauty of these countless thousands of lakes. There could be nowhere better for a real classic all-American Fourth of July than one of these lakeside holiday houses, usually remaining in the same families for at least a century, and I joined my son on Gull Lake for the full BBQ festivities, his friends actually being Australians based in Singapore, far more typical for Midwestern families than you might imagine.
Driven East to visit Madeline Island, taking an antique ferry to cross Lake Superior, I thus found myself in one of the loveliest old-school bohemian holiday resorts in all the Midwest, as famed for its artist residents and perfect weather, as for long nights of raucous revellry at the notorious Tom's Burned Down Café.
One thing not to miss in this part of the world is Duluth itself, a sort of down-at-heel San Francisco hidden on the edge of Lake Superior, where I not only visited the birthplace of Bob Dylan, a classic wooden cottage, but got to tour the wonderful Kitchi Gammi club, founded in 1883 for the grandest of the area's grandees, and now a sublimely melancholic survivor from another era; beg, borrow or bluff your way into a room here at all costs, not least for their specialty 'horseradish melba toast', to be nibbled whilst watching the lonely freighters out on Lake Superior.
Yes, my next stop will surely be Minnesota again, not just for my long-awaited return to the stage at the Jungle Theater, but also to more thoroughly explore the historic bars, hotels, restaurants and clubs of this unique place, but only so long as it remains a well-kept secret. For on my flight back to Paris what should be emblazoned on the cover of Air France magazine but; "MINNEAPOLIS; TEN REASONS TO VISIT!"