Geek Weekend: Minneapolis-Saint Paul, MN

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We’ve been getting requests from various citizens to feature their respective cities in our new Geek Weekend feature here on CrunchGear, so when a request came in for the Twin Cities, John asked me to write it up and I thought, “Oh, great. More work.” “Perfect! I grew up there! I know where geeky stuff is located!”

Background Info: The Twin Cities denotes the capital city of St. Paul, MN and the larger, more cosmopolitan city of Minneapolis, MN. Together the two cities are home to roughly 2.5 million people.

There’s always been a friendly little rivalry going on between the two cities, with some people from Minneapolis viewing people from St. Paul as more blue-collar and rough-around-the-edges, while some from St. Paul think people from Minneapolis are yuppies. I’ve lived in both cities and they’re both nice places. Overall, the rivalry is pretty silly, but it’s there. Look hard enough in any city, though, and you’ll find both a-holes and nice people. No different in the Twin Cities. Everyone’s pretty nice, overall, though.

Minneapolis features a relatively large downtown commercial district. It’s home to the Target Corporation, the Target Center (home of the Timberwolves, concerts, etc.), the Metrodome (home of the Twins, the Vikings, and monster truck rallies) — soon to be replaced by the new outdoor Target Field, and First Avenue, a little music club that’s seen a fair amount of pretty big acts.

St. Paul has the Xcel Energy Center (home of the Wild, concerts, etc.), the St. Paul Saints minor league baseball team (owned by Bill Murray), the Science Museum, and the capital building.

The gigantic University of Minnesota (50,000+ students) sprawls across both Minneapolis and St. Paul. The two cities’ downtown areas are about ten miles apart.

Where to Buy Gadgets: When you realize that you’ve forgotten something important at home, I can recommend the following places based on firsthand experience.

Micro Center: Where I spent most of the past five years of my life before I moved to Boston. This place is located a few blocks from the home I used to own. It’s a great place for cheap cables and the staff is relatively helpful without being pushy. You can walk around in here for an hour or so before anybody bothers you. They have some name brands at decent prices and a fair amount of gray market-type stuff that you’d find on the internet.

General NanoSystems: Very knowledgeable and helpful staff, excellent prices, kind of like a mom and pop computer store that’s able to compete with other retailers. Similar to Micro Center but more local. Very cheap cables — probably the cheapest you’ll find.

FirstTech: All Apple, all the time. These guys are the kings and queens of Apple sales, training, and tech support in Minneapolis. Located right on Hennepin Avenue in the middle of trendy Uptown Minneapolis, it’s not a huge store by any means but they’ve got it all and they know their stuff.

Best Buy — Store #5: Of the trillions of Best Buy super stores, Store #5 is still standing. One of the original Best Buy stores (back when it was called Sound of Music), legend has it that Store #5 was a present from original Best Buy CEO and founder Dick Schulze to his wife. She’d forever get all the revenue generated by the little store that could.

Store Five

It’s seriously a sight to behold, especially if you’ve only been in the gigantic Best Buy stores before. Store #5 can’t be more than a couple thousand square feet, everything’s packed to the rafters, and the aisles are uncomfortably tight.

Little known fact: Store #5 is where I worked in high school — it was my first job ever. I sold computers, earning $5.38 an hour. I spent my entire first paycheck on a Super Nintendo.

Where to Eat and Drink: First thing in the morning, you’ll want to pick up a coffee at local legend turned #2 coffee company behind Starbucks, Caribou Coffee. They’re everywhere, even moreso than Starbucks.

If #2 is still too big for you, try local legend turned… um, still local legend, Dunn Bros. They’ve got some strong coffee there and many locations have morning coffee on the honor system — pour your own and pay a buck. And don’t leave without trying the gigantic Rice Krispie square. It’s big as your head.

For breakfast, head over to Linden Hills and eat at Zumbro. Nothing geeky about this place, but it has the best, most consistently-delicious breakfast in the history of eating. Get the “Eggs Etc.” over hard with bacon and sourdough, plus a single pancake. You’ll never have a better breakfast. Tell them Doug from Boston sent you. I eat there every time I’m in town.

You can also try Cafe Twenty-Eight, which is right down the street and very delicious as well. Get the farmer’s breakfast. If it’s lunch or dinner time, get the bacon cheeseburger and a local beer — Surly Furious is my favorite. Surly is relatively popular in the Twin Cities and the guy who owns it also owns Cafe Twenty-Eight.

And any geek worth his or her salt will do a fair amount of eating and drinking at the Chatterbox (two locations in Minneapolis, one in St. Paul). Great food, excellent beer selection and — wait for it — old school video game consoles and vintage board games at every table. Snag the NES table and rent just about every Nintendo game all night for $1 apiece. There is NO better way to hang out for hours on end, as far as I’m concerned.

Chatterbox

After you’ve had your fill of retro gaming and beer, head over to Northeast Minneapolis and go low-tech at Nye’s Polonaise Room. Home of the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band” and live piano karaoke, Nye’s was voted the Best Bar in America by Esquire Magazine. The look and feel of the place hasn’t changed in… well, ever, and the drinks are cheap and strong.

Once you’ve stumbled back home, make sure to call in for late-night food from Galactic Pizza — which I could have sworn used to be open until 3AM, but it now seems that they’re only open until 1AM on the weekends. Oh well, do it anyway. Know why? Because they deliver in three-wheeled electric pods while dressed as superheros. It’s outstanding.

Galactic Pizza

Daytime Activities: Aside from eating your way through the Twin Cities, there’s plenty of other fun stuff to do throughout the day.

Here’s a curveball to get things started; head over to the St. Paul Curling Club. Remember Curling? From the Olympics? Like bowling on ice, kinda? The St. Paul Curling Club is the largest curling club in the country and makes for a great way to kill a few hours on a hot day. Bring some friends and have a few beers afterwards. It’s fun, I promise.

While you’re over in St. Paul, check out the Science Museum of Minnesota — especially if you have kids with you. There’s a lot of fun stuff for them to do there and almost everything is interactive in some way. Let them run around and play while you relax and take in a show (or nap) in the Omnitheater.

science museum

Round out the afternoon with a visit to St. Paul’s Fort Snelling. You’ll see old-timey reenactors blasting cannons and muskets at each other. Sure, it’s a bunch of stuff from the early 1800’s, but there’s still some cool old war technology and weaponry there.

For some straightforward Chuck-E-Cheese-style gaming, but for adults, head to downtown Minneapolis’ Block E and visit Gameworks. There’s a pretty decent bowling alley inside, too. Try to go during the daytime, if possible. That whole area gets a little dicey at night (unless they’ve cleaned it up by now).

Just outside of the Twin Cities sits Valleyfair, Minnesota’s answer to Six Flags, Disneyland, and various kid-friendly waterparks. Admission costs almost $40 per person but you can get a four-pack of tickets for $25 apiece. Use the money you save to buy half of a small drink once you’re inside the park.

Also just outside of the city, Grand Slam is a pretty fun place for the kids. There are batting cages, an 18-hole miniature golf course (pirate themed!), laser tag, go karts, and video games.

And, of course, I have to mention the Mall of America. Don’t go to the Mall of America. Walk around your local mall 60 times in a row to get the same effect. If you’re dead set on going, there’s an amusement park in the middle of the mall with overpriced, non-thrilling rides for the kids and an underwater aquarium, which is actually kind of cool. Go in the middle of the week if you can. Weekends there are an absolute madhouse.

If you’re looking for some exercise, there are plenty of lakes with excellent walking, running, and bike paths. In the city, you can scoot around Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, and Lake of the Isles — they’re situated within blocks of each other. Lake Harriet is a nice walking lake with a big bandstand and ice cream for the kids, Lake Calhoun features some very beautiful Scandanavian eye candy (both men and women), and Lake of the Isles is a little quieter but has some pretty enormous houses for architecture buffs.

Finally, make sure to check out the Brave New Workshop on Hennepin Avenue in Uptown Minneapolis. Founded by Dudley Riggs in 1958, it’s the longest running satirical theatre in the country specializing in political and social satire. I spent the better part of my twenties there honing my improv skills and acting in various shows. Now I fumble my way through video reviews of gadgets. Same basic difference.

Other Good Geeky Shopping:

Other Geek-Friendly Bars and Restaurants:

Local Tech Businesses:

Anything Else?

I’m bound to have forgotten more than a few great places. Drop your recommendations in the comments — there’s plenty to see and do in the Twin Cities.

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