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Minneapolis is known for being cool in many senses of the word, including its frigid winters, inherent Scandinavian flair, and its sincere small-town-on-the-rise vibe. Between clean-cut cityscapes and a plethora of greenery and waterfronts, the Twin Cities scenery, which Minneapolis shares with Saint Paul, Minnesota's capital, is unlike that of any other American metropolitan area. (You'll be glad to have all those bike trails at your disposal after tasting your way through Eat Street, a neighborhood boasting over 50 different cuisines in just 17 blocks.) Local darling Eric Dayton—the mind behind triple-threat ventures of Askov Finlayson menswear boutique, Marvel Bar, and award-winning restaurant The Bachelor Farmer—tells us about the breweries, third-wave coffee shops, museums, and more that make the two cities worth visiting in any season, as only the Mill City–born-and-bred businessman can.
What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived there? I’ve lived in Downtown Minneapolis along the Mississippi River for a little over a decade, starting in my 20s and now with my wife and our son. The river is the heart of the city, and I’m close to everything, including my own businesses.
Where do you put up friends visiting town? We usually recommend the Aloft Hotel, as it’s near our home and a good value (900 S. Washington Ave.; 612-455-8400; starwoodhotels.com).
Where is the best place to find your hometown’s signature dish? You can’t come to Minneapolis and not have a Jucy Lucy (burger with cheese inside the patty as opposed to on top) at Matt’s Bar (3500 Cedar Ave.; 612-722-7072; mattsbar.com).
What is your favorite restaurant to take visitors? Well, my bias here is obvious, but of course my wife and I always bring friends from out of town to Marvel Bar (50 N. Second Ave.; 612-206-3929; marvelbar.com) for drinks and then The Bachelor Farmer (50 N. Second Ave.; 612-206-3920; thebachelorfarmer.com) for dinner.
Where can you find the best cocktails? Beer list? Wine list? When I’m not at my own places, I like to support the local breweries and distilleries. Many have their own tasting rooms, and some personal favorites are Fulton (414 Sixth Ave. N; 612-333-3208; fultonbeer.com) and Able (1121 Quincy St. NE; 612-405-4642; ablebeer.com) for beer, and Tattersall for excellent cocktails made with their own spirits (1620 Central Ave. NE; 612-584-4152; tattersalldistilling.com). Lastly, for wine, two former members of our team recently opened an amazing neighborhood spot called Gyst (25 E. 26th St.; 612-758-0113; gystmpls.com). They specialize in hard-to-find natural wines and I just sit at the bar and let them choose for me.
Where would you choose to splurge on a night out? If my wife wants to get me away from work, we’ll usually go to Restaurant Alma (528 University Ave. SE; 612-379-4909; restaurantalma.com) or Spoon & Stable (211 N. First St.; 612-224-9850; spoonandstable.com). Both chef / owners (Alex Roberts and Gavin Kaysen) are close friends of ours, and in addition to being very talented, they’re great guys.
Related: See Gavin Kaysen's Guide to French Food »
What is your go-to after-hours bar? 112 Eatery opened in 2005 and has already achieved Minneapolis institution status in my mind. It’s a great restaurant, but with more of a bar atmosphere, and it’s been one of the most influential places in terms of driving the evolution of the local dining scene. They have excellent food and serve late, so if you can snag one of the seats at the small bar around midnight, it’s hard to do much better than their Chinese fried eggs and a martini (112 N. Third St.; 612-343-7696; 112eatery.com).
What’s the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon in town? I would stop by one of our incredible museums; my favorite is the Minneapolis Institute of Art with their vast encyclopedic collection (2400 Third Ave. S; 888-642-2787; artsmia.org). From there, you can walk over to Eat Street, which is lined with a diverse range of excellent restaurants representing many different cultures, as well as several very good bars. It’s the perfect area to hop around for a few hours.
What is your Sunday morning routine in your neighborhood? We usually get up and walk along the river to have breakfast at our new café (200 N. First St.; 612-206-3920; thebachelorfarmer.com), which is adjacent to The Bachelor Farmer. My son is three, and he likes to pick all the blueberries out of his scone and eat just them. He also gets what we call a “Hugo coffee”: it’s steamed milk with honey and cinnamon. From there we’ll usually walk around the North Loop and then head toward the Mill City Farmers Market (704 S. Second St.; millcityfarmersmarket.org) next to the Guthrie Theater (818 S. Second St.; 612-377-2224; guthrietheater.org), which was designed by Jean Nouvel and is one of my favorite buildings in the city.
Where is the best brunch? It’s not “brunch” in the fancy sense, but another can’t miss here is Al’s Breakfast. It’s a total legend where you grab one of only a handful of seats at the counter and watch them make their famous pancakes right in front of you (413 14th Ave. SE; 612-331-9991).
Related: The Best Restaurants in Minneapolis »
Where do you go for the perfect cup of coffee? Outside of our café, I think both Dogwood (multiple locations; dogwoodcoffee.com) and Spyhouse (multiple locations; spyhousecoffee.com) do a fantastic job.
What’s your favorite view in town (that tourists might not know about)? I love the view of Minneapolis from the Stone Arch Bridge. You’re standing right in the middle of the Mississippi and the way the downtown skyline lines up from that vantage point is perfect.
What’s your favorite path or trail to follow on a walk? One of the defining features of Minneapolis is that we have a chain of beautiful lakes right in the heart of the city. They’re all great for walking and each is roughly three miles around. So depending on how much energy you have, you can choose to do one or more.
What are your favorite offbeat cultural attractions? Most people think that everyone here has blond hair and blue eyes, and it’s true we have a lot of Scandinavian heritage in Minnesota, which is really well presented by the American Swedish Institute (2600 Park Ave. S; 612-871-4907; asimn.org). They have an incredible campus that beautifully combines a historic mansion with a modern new addition. However, there’s a lot more diversity here than folks realize, and a great way to experience some of it (and try some delicious Hmong food) is to visit the Hmongtown Market in Saint Paul (217 Como Ave.; 651-487-3700; hmongtownmarketplace.com).
What’s your favorite shop or boutique? Well, again here I’m biased toward Askov Finlayson for men (204 N. First St.; 612-206-3925; askovfinlayson.com), but for women I really love a shop called Idun in Saint Paul and can always find something great there for my wife (495 Selby Ave.; 651-348-6104; shopidun.com).
What’s the ultimate souvenir from your town—something you can only get there? If you have the time, the ultimate Minnesota souvenir might be an entry permit for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area along our border with Canada (bwca.com). It’s one of the country’s great remaining pristine wildernesses, and well worth the drive North to do some exploring.
What’s the best-kept local secret? In a way I think the whole city has been something of a best-kept secret, but we’re working on changing that. If I had to pick just one thing, though, it might be our winters. People only think to visit during the summer months, but there’s nowhere in the country that does the cold better. Between outdoor pond hockey tournaments, city-wide cross country ski races, and very warm hospitality, January and February might just be the best months to come see what Minnesota is really about.
In our Hometown Guides series, we're seeking the best restaurants, bars, vistas, and things to do in a given place from the people who know best—the artists, designers, chefs, and store-owners who live there. See more Hometown Guides »
Image Credits: John Reed Forsman, Courtesy Tattersall Distilling Company, Brandon Werth