Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Hotel Review: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

PREFACE

After a two-night stay in Banff I’d originally intended to make only the short forty-five minute drive to Lake Louise for a sightseeing detour however  eventually opted to convert the visit into a one-night stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise to try and cram in as much that this historic hotel and scenic destination have to offer as I could. 

all photos by author

HOTEL HISTORY

In the summer of 1882 renowned Rocky Mountain guide and outfitter Thomas Wilson was surveying in advance of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) being built through the mountains and was camped with a group of Stoney Nakoda near the current site of Lake Louise Village when he heard the rumble of avalanches. Wilson learned that the noise was coming from the snow capped mountains above Ho-run-num-nay, the “Lake of Little Fishes’’ and was guided to it on horseback becoming the first white man to see what he named Emerald Lake because of its “blue and green water.’’ The snowy mountain was named for Queen Victoria while the lake (and province) would be renamed in honour of her fourth daughter, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta who was married to the Marquess of Lorne, Canada’s fourth Governor General. 

The original Chateau Lake Louise was a one-story log cabin built in 1890 and intended as “a hotel for outdoor adventurist and alpinist” in the words of CPR president William Cornelius Van Horne. A 1924 fire destroyed the Rattenbury Wing and was replaced a year later by the current Barrot Wing. The Painter Wing built in 1913 is the oldest surviving section of the current hotel while the Mount Temple Wing, opened in 2004, is the newest. The hotel was used only seasonally in the Summer until it was winterized in 1982.

Guests checking in to the hotel are given a resort map which shows the various resort wings but an online PDF version may be found here.

COVID-19 PROTOCOLS

To limit the traffic to the Fairmont Chateeau Lake Louise are greeted at the gates on the driveway from the main road and their names checked against a master rooming list. Typical questions about whether virus exposure or a confirmed diagnosis are asked before directions to the self-park underground parkade are given. I was advised that since valet service was suspended I could park in any of the parking spots even the ones nearest the lobby marked “valet”. 

As well guests are given a plastic bag with a welcome letter from the hotel along with a short questionnaire to be completed regarding recent travel, health status and any COVID exposure or positive tests. A wellness packet with disposable face masks, hand sanitizer, gloves and wet wipes is to be handed out although I didn’t receive one. Other virus precautions being taken include rooms are left empty for forty-eight hours after check out and thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before the next guest arrives with even the TV remote wiped and sealed in a plastic bag.  Housekeeping is limited to every third day and room service is left at the door to avoid contact.

Curiously in the welcome letter, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise only “strongly encourages” non-medical masks be worn by guests while indoors which contrasted to my stay the previous two nights at the Fairmont Banff Springs where staff were insistent guests don face masks and had a temperature check each time they entered the lobby. As a result of the more mask optional approach, the wearing of face masks in indoor public areas in Lake Louise was far lower with a third to half the guests going without. The routine screening mentioned in the Chateau Lake Louise welcome letter of all guests each time upon entering the hotel which may include temperature checks was not in evidence that I saw.  

Lobby

A short walk from the parkade your emerge into the main lobby which has a stately Victorian feel, less rough rock as at the Fairmont Banff Springs and more smooth surfaces with rich wood accents on the second floor railings and grand staircase banisters.

As I arrived in the morning my room wasn’t ready so I set off on the 2.4 KM round trip hike to the Fairview Lookout which has a gentle 165 meter elevation rise. The views of Lake Louise and the hotel from the lookout on a sunny Summer day are simply spectacular and deserved to be savoured. The colour of the lake at this elevation looks more uniformly green that the greenish-blue seen from ground level.

ROOM

Upon my return to the front desk I found I’d been generously upgraded to Room 582, a Junior Suite with one king bed plus a twin sofabed in the living area but this room category is also configured with two queen beds  plus the sofabed. At 420 square feet, the Junior Suite fits families and couples alike.

While devoid of air conditioning an efficient and quiet ceiling fan and windows that open to allow in fresh mountain air help keep the room cool in warm Summer months.  

The bathroom has a slightly dated vanity but otherwise is an outstanding oasis with a deep soaking tub and separate shower.

A collection of mini-Le Labo Rose 31 shampoo, conditioner and body wash bottles are lined up along the shelf above the sink and while completely befitting a luxury hotel recently awarded fifth place in Travel + Leisure’s 2020 “Top 10 Resort Hotels in Canada” many upscale hotel chains in recent years have switched to wall-mounted, refillable dispensers instead of the tiny, non-recyclable bottles to reduce their plastic footprint as part of  environmental initiatives. 

The view from the room in the Glacier Wing is of the Mount Temple Wing and circular driveway in the foreground and mountains in the background. Lake view rooms command a noticeable price premium.

Hotel

The front terraces with the magnificent view of Lake Louise are a guest-only zone as the signs remind the public walking along the paved lakefront walkway.

A number of big, comfy Muskoka chairs arranged around the outdoor terraces quickly became a favorite spot to soak in the natural beauty that’s all around on a sunny July afternoon.

After a day of hikes, I thought a dip in the pool before dinner would be refreshing so called to ask whether change rooms were open and was advised that they weren’t due to COVID protocols so guests are asked to change into their swimwear in their rooms and wear a robe and slippers to the pool level. There’s also a capacity control on the number of swimmers allowed in the poll at one time and so you have to reserve a specific time for a dip from time slots available.

The indoor pool itself is a let down as it’s small, shallow with the “Deep End” only 1.5 meters, with a decor seemingly stuck in the 1980’s. I can appreciate that few if any guests come to the Chateau Lake Louise for the pool however at luxury hotel prices the expectation of a better pool is not unreasonable so perhaps an upgrade is coming in the near future.

Note the hot tub and steam room remain closed due to provincial health regulations.  

DINING

The Lakeview Lounge offers both indoor and outdoor patio dining with the signature view of Lake Louise. Lunch is served Noon – 5 PM and dinner from 5 – 9:30 PM. 

 

I opted for a flatbread with chorizo sausage and blue cheese and a pint of local beer which were both of high quality and made for a fine light dinner.
 

Those hotel guests aged five and under eat free off the Children’s Menu.

Tables in the upscale lobby lounge have a QR code in the corner so patrons may access online menus however printed copies are also provided.

Dining on the patio is upon request as it’s a popular scenic venue on a warm sunny day. Reservations made be made in advance to guarantee availability but table location remains upon request. 

The Fairview Bar & Restaurant has an Art Deco feel with an elegant bar with dark marble and soaring arched windows to view lake Louise and the venue’s namesake peak, Fairview Mountain, just across the lake, a portion of which I’d hiked earlier in the day. 

Breakfast is served from 7 AM to 11 AM while lunch & dinner service runs Noon – 9 PM. Luxury hotel dining rates apply with breakfast running $21 – $25 and dinner entrees $38 – $51 plus starters, dessert and drinks. 

The Chateau Deli offers a variety of hot meals, home-made soup, fresh salads, sandwiches, baked goods, pastries and desserts to sit and enjoy or take-out.

The jumbo croissants are almost a meal unto themselves but can be had as a cold ham & cheese sandwich packed for a mountain hike or day of sightseeing. The price of $13 for a cold sandwich is a high but there’s a lack of convenient off-site options and the portion size large so it made for a hearty bag lunch.

Espresso, cappuccino or specialty coffee are brewed at the Chateau Deli which is licensed so has a good selection of beer and wine also available daily from 7 AM to 9 PM.

The Poppy Brasserie and Alpine Social remain closed however while the signature Walliser Stube is open nightly for dinner 5:30 – 9 PM offering a large dose of traditional Swiss alpine chalet warmth even in Summer with big wooden beams and reportedly the best fondue outside of Switzerland. Wine lovers will marvel at the floor-to-ceiling 500 bottles wine “library”.

PROGRAMS AND ACTIVITIES

There is a mix of complimentary and paid programs at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise from the complimentary wellness yoga programs to the mountain adventure hikes and canoe rental from the much photographed boat dock available at a small cost.

A Summer 2020 destination guide PDF may be found here.

A complimentary shuttle bus to nearby Moraine Lake is operating however due to COVID social distancing capacity caps runs with about a dozen passengers instead of the normal load of double that number so advance reservations are required. I confirmed my 9 AM departure and 11:45 AM return through the Concierge desk which was perfect as I was checking out upon my return and driving for home. 

The weather cooperated and the short morning visit to Moraine Lake produced picture postcard perfect views of this familiar mountain lake. 

SUMMARY

Beyond a somewhat inconsistent COVID protocol application, there’s little to find fault with at this iconic luxury-by-the-lake resort as the staff is very attentive both before and after my arrival, patiently answering my questions and delivering quality service while the upgraded accommodations are spacious and well appointed and the surrounding natural beauty simply stunning. Even if it was but for one night the thrill of staying in such a landmark hotel is one I’ll not soon forget, much as I’d like to for the rest of 2020.

Pros

  • Front and center location on super scenic Lake Louise
  • Variety of spacious rooms and suites; most with mountain views while lake views available at a price premium
  • All restaurants have kids’ menus with tikes under 5 eating free
  • Many outdoor year ’round activities for all ages 
  • Wellness center with spa
  • Complimentary shuttle to nearby Moraine Lake 
  • Loads of conference and event space for weddings and corporate functions 

Cons

  • Most rooms in historic buildings lack air conditioning 
  • Resort dining can be pricey with few local off-site alternatives  
  • Small, dated indoor pool
  • $15 per room per night resort fee

Hotel Review: Fairmont Banff Springs

PREFACE

In this terribly tumultuous year cased by the COVID-19 virus, the closure of Canada’s borders to international travelers decimated the country’s tourism and hospitality sector and nowhere has this impact been felt more than in Alberta’s Rocky Mountain resort towns whose businesses count on the peak Summer season to make up the bulk of their yearly revenue.

After being totally shuttered for almost three months due to the virus  hotels, shops, and restaurants throughout the province were allowed to reopen in a careful phased process in June as virus levels fell. The lack of international visitors forced resort towns such as Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise to look to Alberta residents to help salvage some of the season by  offering an escape within driving distance for those looking for a change of scenery following months shut-in due to self-isolating public health measures.

I joined the tide of Albertans flocking to the mountain parks as it’d been years since I’d visited and after some tough months in the travel industry felt a two-night stay at the historic Fairmont Banff Springs would be a useful reset and renewal opportunity as well as a small way to help support the hospitality industry in Banff National Park.

all photos by author

HOTEL HISTORY

The Fairmont Banff Springs is an imposing structure set against a backdrop of picture-postcard perfect peaks and emerald green forests becoming a popular destination since opening its doors over 130-years ago.

Affectionately known as the “Castle of the Rockies” it’s almost impossible to overstate the hotel’s role in making Banff National Park the world renown UNESCO World Heritage Site we know today as its history starts with its opening in the Spring of 1888, a scant year after Canada’s first Prime Minister John A. Macdonald enlarged a reserve around the hot springs at Cave and Basin making it a public park known as “Rocky Mountain Park”, the young nation’s first national park.

Canadian Pacific Railway president William Cornelius Van Horne was quick to recognize the untapped tourism potential of the rugged Rocky Mountains and set about building what he called “a haven of peace in the midst of the wilderness”. Van Horne’s statue stands in a traffic roundabout with his most famous quote “If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists” on a plaque at its base. 

LOBBY

Due to COVID-19 virus prevention protocols, staff greet guests entering the lobby taking their temperature and kindly asking that they don their own face mask and provide a disposable mask should they be without one. Except when eating or drinking or in the spa or pools guests are asked to wear a mask at all times within the hotel. 

To say the lobby has presence is an understatement as the solid grey stone and rich woodwork lend a castle-like feel imparting a sense of the hotel’s rich tradition as a powerful first impression.

Elegant banisters and the wide marble Grand Staircase lead up to ballrooms, lounges and restaurants on the Mezzanine Level 1 floor.

Click Here for Lobby 360 Degree View

Guests are given a hotel map called Key to the Castle upon check-in along with their room key cards to help navigate the various levels and wings of the sprawling resort hotel complex. An PDF version of this map is available  here

ROOM

Upon an early afternoon check-in I was generously upgraded to a Fairmont  Mountain View Room with queen bed and appreciated both the early check-in and room with a view.

Room #877 is a cozy size at 175 square feet so perfect for solo guests or couples and feature one king or queen bed or two twin beds. The rooms are located throughout the hotel and have updated contemporary furnishings and tech-friendly ports and plug-ins that help keep the room current but there are small signs that this building dates back to 1928 such as the closet layout and vintage corner bathtub shower rod. 

The alcove created by the upper floor turret features a ledge making for a perfect spot to perch to soak in the sumptuous views of the Bow and Spray Rivers and Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course. The bottom window opens to allow in fresh mountain air.

 

A TV cabinet houses tea & coffee maker, small drawers and a mini-fridge mercifully empty of overpriced sodas, beers, liquor, and nuts. Missing was a bottle opener/corkscrew however a quick call had one sent up to the room in short order.   

As part of Fairmont’s COVID-19 prevention protocols, guest rooms include a sealed bag with a small hand sanitizer bottle, latex gloves, wet wipes and a pair of disposable face masks while the TV remote is disinfected and wrapped in plastic. As a further precaution, guests rooms are left empty for forty eight hours after guest check-out, housekeeping is reduced to every third day and high-touch surfaces wiped and sanitized before the next guest’s entry. 

The bathroom has a retro style with marble surrounding the deep soaker tub and shower. Somewhat curious was the collection of small Le Labo Rose 31 shampoo, conditioner and body wash plastic bottles on the compact vanity considering most large hotel chains have moved on from these in favor of refillable wall-mounted containers due to environmental concerns.

Click Here for Fairmont Room 360 Degree View

Note that while room #877 has air conditioning some rooms do not however as it’s rarely scorching hot in the mountains it’s not an issue.  

As the least expensive Fairmont Room and Fairmont Mountain View Room are the same size the only difference is the views which are worth a small upgrade in price unless you are willing to gamble on receiving a free room upgrade.

Small families will find the slightly larger Deluxe Mountain View Room category a better fit as they offer one king, one queen, two queen or two double beds plus a sofabed or rollaway.

DINING

The Rundle Bar reopened 3 July, 2020 after an extensive six month, $5 million renovation project to update the space which was originally designed and utilized as the hotel’s front lobby from 1928 to 2000.

The renovated space boasts an impressive main bar on the lower level equipped with a rolling library ladder and custom bronze and woodwork, a new cocktail bar on Mezzanine II with scenic Cascade Mountain views and a dedicated stage between the two levels for live music played on a grand piano. 

The signature Afternoon Tea experience has also returned to the renewed Rundle Bar from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. daily with a traditional menu of light bites to continue the 132-year-old ritual at the Banff Springs.

Also worth checking out is the “Rundle Rush Hour” daily 4 – 6 PM which features signature cocktails at $10 and select wine & beers starting at $6

The Vermillion Room uses the term Bar & Brasserie to describe itself as it functions as both a casual French inspired restaurant as well as a cocktail lounge. 

The couple occupying this table are doing double duty advertising a local shop while keeping it out of use for social distancing purposes. 


The large 250-seat Vermillion Room opened in May, 2018 after an extensive renovation converted the space from what had been the Bow Valley Grill.

Click Here for Vermillion Room 360 Degree View

One of the most popular places on a sunny Summer day at the Banff Springs is the Lookout Patio thanks to its stunning panoramic mountain views.

Seats at patio tables can’t be reserved in advance so it’s first come, first served service from 11:30 AM until sunset. Known as Banff’s best patio the food menu is Mexican Cantina with tacos, carnitas, and chips & salsa which perfect for sharing while admiring the scenery.

While most hotel restaurants have reopened with social distancing measures in place and room service restored a number have remained closed including Stanley’s Smokehouse, Castello Italiana, Grapes, Waldhaus Restaurant and Ramsay Bar.

HOTEL

Mount Stephen Hall is the smallest of the three hotel ballrooms however its massive windows flood the space with tons of natural light while the wood paneled ceiling and marble floors lend a medieval mood making it the most popular venue for special corporate banquets and wedding receptions. 

The great hall is flanked by knights in shining armor who are suitably wearing face masks to combat modern viral menaces.  

Click Here for Mt. Stephen Hall 360 Degree View

The heated outdoor pool proved a popular place with families in the early evening when it was fairly crowded so I waited until 7:30 PM for my dip as the pool empties out ahead of its 8 PM nightly closure. 

 

The indoor pool was a quieter place with loads of available loungers. 

The pool change rooms at the Fairmont Banff Springs remain open despite COVID concerns but I bypassed this awkward transition zone by donning swim trunks in my room and wearing a robe to the ground floor. Pool towels are provided. 

The indoor and outdoor pools are open from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM on Fridays and Saturdays and from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM from Sunday to Thursday.

Spa devotees may access the Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Banff Springs which went through a $3.5-million redevelopment finished in February, 2020, its first major renovation since opening day in 1994. With over 40,000 square feet and 27 treatment rooms it has become the largest Willow Stream Spa in the world.

Mandatory masks, temperature checks and increased cleaning are but a few of the new operational standards implemented since re-opening in June. Additionally, service providers wear masks, aprons and face shields during your treatment. Note that spa mineral pools will remain closed. 

ACTIVITIES & PROGRAMS

The Fairmont Banff Springs has a number of guided Summer hikes, bike rides and wilderness walks available to hotel guests in its Cultural Programs and as I always enjoy a bike ride on a warm July day I signed up for the two-hour Cultural Bike Tour prior to my arrival at the hotel. I arrived to the activities center near the tennis courts and stables to find I was the only tour participant and so expected it to be cancelled however it went ahead with just me so enjoyed a private tour which on this day wound around the two Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Courses, the eighteen hole Stanley Thompson Course and the nine hole Tunnel Mountain Course with stops along the way to learn about the mountain landscape and wildlife.

During a break at golf course clubhouse I smiled at the view of Tunnel Mountain having hiked to its summit earlier in the day. 

The ride around the golf courses is on paved roads which are almost devoid of traffic making for positively pleasant pedaling. 

video by author

A PDF of the weekly Summer activities calendar at the Fairmont Banff Springs is available here.  Most of the tours require advance registration but are complimentary to all hotel guests. 

PARKING & TRANSPORTATION

Valet parking is $43 per night while self-parking is $29 per night with both enjoying in & out privileges. Those wants to avoid those fees may opt for  free four-hour street parking between 8 AM and 9 PM along one side of Spray Avenue, the road leading up to the Banff Springs from town. There are a limited number of street parking spots but I didn’t have a problem parking here during my stay. The spots nearest the tennis courts are a few minute walk to the hotel lobby and overnight parking is permitted however monitor the time you’re parked here as the town actively issues tickets for vehicles over the posted four-hour limit.

While having a car to explore in and around town is handy, it’s not crucial as the town’s main street, Banff Avenue, is a scenic 15-minute walk from the Banff Springs however as hotel guests receive complimentary Roam public transit rides those wanting to avoid the walk or going further around the town can board the bus on Spray Avenue near the hotel lobby. 

LiveCam View of Fairmont Banff Springs

SUMMARY

I was lucky enough to enjoy ideal warm and dry Summer weather during my stay and used it to spend most of my time outdoors with hikes or bike rides and while I tried to take in as much of the hotel as possible it’s like a village with many corners and corridors. Many entrances including the separate Signature Suites guest check-in have been closed for the time being so some parts of the hotel have an eerily empty feel.

In many ways visiting the Fairmont Banff Springs this Summer is the best of times and the worst of times as low hotel occupancy levels have meant record low room rates to try and encourage more locals to stay however with many areas closed or with limited service it’s not the same place it would be in another peak season. 

I’m glad I was able to experience this historic hotel for the first time and found the virus precautions the closures didn’t adversely impact my stay but would like to return in future to compare it to a “normal” year when the castle is fully open and in all its glory. 

Pros

  • Iconic castle-like landmark in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Banff National Park 
  • Short walk into main street of Banff town site
  • Heated outdoor pool with valley views plus indoor pool
  • Nine and eighteen-hole golf courses
  • Guided hiking, walking, bike and snowshoe tours for guests
  • Wide variety of restaurants and lounges from fine dining to casual fare, many with scenic views
  • Large, modern spa

Cons

  • Not all rooms have air-conditioning
  • Least expensive Fairmont rooms “cozy” i.e. small 
  • Nightly “Resort Experience Fee” 

Ninth Ward Rebirth Bike Tours, New Orleans

Preface

I returned to this unfinished blog article after seeing the empty streets of New Orleans historic French Quarter in TV new reports as the city faces another calamity in the form of the COVID-19 virus along with the rest of the planet.  I had meant to finish this article in the months since my visit to “The Big Easy” however working seven days a week left little leftover free time, at least that’s my excuse to have avoided its completion, but now that circumstance has forced a societal dead stop and my self-imposed isolation it seems an auspicious  time to reflect on past travels while looking forward to many others.

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It’s possible to think of New Orleans without Hurricane Katrina but it the two have become inextricably linked to the point where there’s a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ for visitors like myself who toured the southern city pre-August, 2005 and since. And yes, if all you see now is the cozy confines of the horribly historic French Quarter it would seem there was no catastrophic calamity as this district was spared the worst of the storm’s wrath but just across a civic as well as a racial and socioeconomic boundary Katrina’s scars can still be seen for those who care to look.

In planning my return visit, I wanted to escape the tight tourist bubble that surrounds the genteel Garden District with its antebellum mansions and the raucous alcohol-fueled unreality of Bourbon Street to see more of “The Crescent City” and learn about what really happened when the full force of a category five hurricane bore down on New Orleans.

To get a sense of the city’s low-lying topography this map shows New Orleans precarious position between two bodies of water: Lake Pontchartrain and the mighty Mississippi with canals that run between the two.

Source: Open Street Map, data.nola.gov

The four-hour ride on comfortable cruiser-style bicycles was blessed with beautiful blue skies starts with a leisurely spin through the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods known for their colourful Creole cottages, street murals, local galleries and a wealth of trendy cafes and local restaurants that have flourished post-Katrina.

photo by author

photo by author

video by author

The Lower Ninth Ward is cut off from the rest of New Orleans by a shipping channel, the Industrial Canal, which was a five-year project completed in 1923 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

photos by author

During Hurricane Katrina storm surge forced up the canal caused a catastrophic collapse of the concrete levees in several sections including the spectacular failure of a quarter-mile length sending millions of gallons water and even helpless barges spilling into the ward. Houses were pushed off their foundations by the water which topped 12 feet deep in places, for weeks in some areas. Plaques mark the spot where the levees broke.

photo by author

Our tour guide Kathy pointed out the storm’s scars that have been intentionally left as a reminder of Katrina as the search & rescue squads searching for survivors used spray paint to mark buildings with the date, 22 September,  the FL2 code of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) team and a zero indicating the number of casualties.

photo by author

Among the Lower Ninth Ward residents rescued from their rooftops in the immediate aftermath was famed singer and New Orleans native Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr.  who’d refused to evacuated as the storm bore down as his wife Rosemary was in poor health. Family and the community feared Domino was among the storm victims as he hadn’t been heard from since before Katrina made landfall however CNN reported his evacuation by Coast Guard helicopter.  “We’ve lost everything” is how he summed up his situation a day after being rescued making his like many families in the ward who escaped with little beyond their lives.

photo by author

Seeing the house helps put the height of the flood waters into perspective as all but the roof would’ve been submerged.

Adding insult to injury areas that were cleaning up from the devastating Katrina flooding were inundated again barely a month later when an even more powerful storm, Hurricane Rita, struck the area.

There are scenic stops during the tour including this skyline view of New Orleans and the mighty Mississippi taken from atop a levee.

photo by author

photo by author

Riding through the neighborhood gives ample evidence of how few homes have been rebuilt and how many empty, overgrown and abandoned lots remain.

video by author

One home that remained as a local cultural landmark is the House of Dance and Feathers, a living history museum run by its founder Ronald W. Lewis and dedicated to preserving the real New Orleans street culture.

photo by author

I learned about the many social social clubs or “tribes” of  Mardi Gras revelers who parade in elaborate costumes inspired by Native Americans.

The small museum, now temporarily closed to the public, is packed to the rafters with brightly-coloured costumes and intricate beadwork worn in past parades by Mardi Gras Indians.

photo by author

Mr. Williams and our tour guide Kathy helped share the important musical and cultural role of  the social clubs that celebrate with parades during the Mardi Gras season. In a booklet the lifelong Lower Ninth Ward resident explains the museum’s role.  ” I want to educate the world about our great culture, how we do this and why we are so successful at it even though the economics say we ain’t supposed to be

Mr. Williams role as educator sadly ended with his passing March 20th,  2020 at age 68 due to the coronavirus or COVID-19 but underlying medical conditions were mentioned during my visit.

The loss of a local luminary would normally call for a large funeral procession complete with bands and dancers draped head-to-toe in the costumes he helped create but local health regulations kept it to a small handful of family and close friends to prevent the virus from spreading. In true New Orleans tradition I’m sure Mr. Williams passing of those of others due to the virus will be marked with a more fitting send off post-COVID-19.

For a cycling Canadian eager to experience the “real New Orleans” Mr. Williams warm welcome during my short visit and taught me much as did the input throughout the ride by Rebirth Bike Tour leader Kathy.

Rebirth is the core of what the bike tour company aims to show visitors as despite Katrina’s deluge destroying a large part of this community it’s centuries old roots run deep and a slow but steady rebirth is well underway.

Ninth Ward Rebirth Bike Tours requires a minimum of  2 participants for the four-hour tour which starts most days at 9:30 AM. Contact the company in advance for reservations

Winspear Centre Edmonton Behind-The-Scenes ‘Overture’ Tour

The name of the free tour of Edmonton’s Francis Winspear Centre for Music could not be more apt as Overture is French for ‘opening’ and a common classical music term as well as the name of a monthly tour of one of Canada’s great concert halls as it opens its doors to the public.

I joined a small group taking the opportunity an open door policy presented to walk the corridors and peer into musical archives which are normally off limits to the public. The Noon tour begins with a few light bites in the lobby before an able and amiable guide  such as Turlough welcomes guests in the lobby with its soaring Tyndall stone donor wall.

photo by author

Front and center on the donor wall is a red dress which is part of the REDress project which began as a public art installation by Winnipeg artist Jamie Black in response to the missing and murdered Indigenous women epidemic in Canada and the U.S.  There are other dresses throughout the Winspear including along the backstage corridors where the striking colour contrasts with black & white photos of past performance pinnacles.

photo by author

The centre, opened in 1997, is home of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO) and is named for Dr. Francis G. Winspear a noted local accountant who helped found both the ESO and the Edmonton Opera and donated $6 million to the construction of the facility which remains the single largest private donation ever to a performing arts facility in Canadian history. A bust of Winspear stands politely to one side in the lobby greetings guests with his smiling countenance.

photo by author

There are hidden stories in plain view scattered around the Winspear including a plaque to commemorate the time capsule buried at the time of the facility’s construction in 1997 which will be opened in 2095, the  300th anniversary of the founding of Fort Edmonton.

photo by author

I must’ve walked by this innocuous marker at least a dozen times while attending performances at the Winspear and missed its relevance.

There are other less visible stories that make the Winspear a local landmark including the creative solution to a sound problem as the acoustic experts early on in the construction process identified a steady rumble as regular as clockwork every 5-minutes as LRT (Light Rail Transit) trains pulled into Churchill Station located directly below the concert hall but after a meeting  with city staff the solution was to slow the speed of the trains entering the subterranean station thereby reducing the resulting rumble. Churchill Station is the only Edmonton LRT station with such a speed zone although as a frequent rider it’s not something passenger appreciate.

The Valley Line LRT route currently under construction passes right next to the Winspear Centre at ground level on 102 Avenue however the tracks are cushioned with rubber dampeners so won’t transmit unwanted vibrations into the facility.

The visit to the music library shows illustrates how all the sheet music is printed for each of the 56 members of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra for each score as well as the back catalog of past performances stored on floor-to-ceiling archival shelving.

photo by author

photo by author

The concert hall has a seating capacity of 1,716 people and is  tall and rectangular with stepped, curved balconies and terraces.

photo by author

photo by author

When the Winspear was built there was only enough funds to complete the concert hall itself leaving a chunk of land immediately east undeveloped until plans were drawn up in recent years to build a 41,000 square foot multi-purpose facility which includes  a 550-seat flex-use midsize acoustic hall called the Music Box, a 64-space not-for-profit YMCA childcare centre, underground and street level parking, multi-functional spaces and commercial space.

photo by author

The expansion construction is scheduled to begin in January 2020 and be complete in 2021. A grand opening will be held in 2022 to mark the Winspear’s 25th anniversary.

In 2002, the Davis Concert Organ was installed at the centre and is still Canada’s largest concert hall pipe organ. Built by Orgues Létourneau of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, the organ has 96 stops, 122 ranks, and 6,551 pipes ranging from the size of a city bus to the size of a finger ans is named after the organ donor, Dr. Stuart Davis, in memory of his late wife Winona.  Davis , a retired University of Alberta chemistry professor and longtime symphony subscriber, donated $2 million in Nortel shares, which crashed less than a week after the Winspear cashed them in.

The tour includes a stop to hear the musical majesty of the organ with a short recorded recital.

video by author

Hearing the pipes fill with air as the organ warms up and peeking into the towering instrument is a privilege few are able to experience so I would highly recommend joining a future Overture tour.

Hotel Review: Residence Inn New Orleans Downtown

The Residence Inn New Orleans Downtown is a quirky but cool hotel centrally located in the historic Warehouse District making it an ace base from which to explore the heart of “The Big Easy” on foot.
Located a short walk  to the World War II Museum, Julia Street Cruise Terminal, Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Garden District with its antebellum mansions and the French Quarter with boisterous Bourbon Street and iconic St. Louis Cathedral opposite Jackson Square the Residence Inn New Orleans Downtown is made up of restored adjoining warehouses and the 19th century red brick St. Mary’s Market and so completely blends in with the character of the neighborhood that pedestrians may not recognize it as a hotel unless they spot the small wall sign.
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As the 231 one and two-bedroom suites are in separate four story buildings, there are some quirks such as covered outdoor walk ways between the different wings however directions to various parts of the hotel are well signed and so the layout is not a challenge but rather a unique feature of the non-cookie cutter accommodation.

Room 163 is a one-bedroom suite with high ceilings, a leather sectional,  desk with comfy ergonomic swivel chair, wall-mounted flat screen TV and kitchen with full-size fridge, microwave, dishwasher, stovetop and a small dining small table. The cupboards hold pots & pans, plates and utensils, cups and mugs.

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photo by author

The bedroom features a queen bed and heavy black-out drapes with a 49-inch big screen TV mounted atop a dresser.

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While not huge, the bedroom is functional as there’s room to hide luggage in the closet which is opposite the vanity with acres of counter space with the tub/shower and toilet in its own room. I liked the suite layout as having some privacy to shower or use the toilet while another guest uses the sink makes for a much more flexible space. The tub is too shallow for me and would prefer a really nice shower stall instead.

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The wall-mounted bath products by Paul Mitchell are more than I expected for a three-star hotel but appreciated for the quality and eco-friendly refillable bottles that have replaced the tiny plastic shampoo, conditioner and body wash bottles.

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While very impressed with the modern suite amenities that make for a very pleasant stay, there are some realities of this unit I disliked.

The lack of an in-room safe is an unexpected oversight for a long-stay hotel brand.

The desk makes for a great place to work from as there are plenty of outlets and good lighting however no phone which seems another obvious omission.

My last criticism is about this particular unit’s drawbacks as being a ground floor suite it suffers both from street noise and having a  lack of privacy.  Suite #163 is in the same building as the lobby and faces the sidewalk on Tchoupitoulas  Street  (just below the Residence Inn sign in the photo below) so anyone walking by can see right into the suite. Working at the desk and having pedestrians walking by takes a little getting used to however I had the bedroom drapes drawn my whole stay as the street view would be through the bedroom and into the bathroom and vanity area. I would recommend requesting a higher floor suite at the time of booking and repeat that upon check in. As my stay was a short two-nights and I was out from dawn past dusk, I didn’t request to be relocated.

In the interior courtyard is a heated outdoor pool and spacious pool deck with lounge chairs and shade umbrellas. A sport court and BBQ grill corner are also found in the courtyard.

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The buffet breakfast restaurant is open 6 – 10 AM daily and features a good selection of bacon or sausages, scrambled eggs, waffles, yogurt, cereals, bread and bagels plus tea & coffee. Unlike some hotels that cram breakfast diners into a small space, this Residence Inn offers a spacious dining room with a good variety of large and small tables.

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Beyond breakfast the Residence Inn New Orleans Downtown doesn’t have on-site dining or a lounge however is within a few short blocks of some bars and exceptional eateries including Mulate’s, Emeril’s New Orleans, Peche Seafood Grill, and  Galliano Restaurant so no guest need go hungry in this foodie mecca of a city.

The Residence Inn New Orleans Downtown has much to like including a super central location, sprawling suites with modern amenities and value added bonuses such as daily buffet breakfast and a resort-like outdoor pool which all make for a comfortable stay at a very good value despite a few drawbacks.

Pros

  • Central location within walking distance to New Orleans historic French Quarter, Garden District, convention center and World Ware II Museum
  • Spacious suites with full kitchens
  • Heated outdoor pool and roomy pool deck with loungers
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • Complimentary daily buffet breakfast

Cons

  • No in room safe
  • Only one phone in suite in bedroom, not at work desk
  • Ground floor suites lack privacy and suffer some street noise

 

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Flight review: Alaska Airlines Embraer E175 Premium Seats

As an eternal economy passenger I am often tempted to upgrade to extra legroom and priority boarding seats for a fee but usually resist as the cost-to-value ratio doesn’t compute for me however that wasn’t the case on a recent Alaska Airlines Seattle – Edmonton flight as the Premium seats offer much comfort for not many dollars.

A regional jet built for short -haul hops, the Embraer 175’s is a  Brazilian-built jet featuring 76  seats in a two-by-two economy configuration with two seats on either side of a center aisle. Economy seats offer a 30-31 inch seat pitch  – the space between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat in front of it – while the Premium seats boast 34-inches with my seat in 6C feeling like it had an inch or two beyond that as there was acres of legroom.

photo by author 

photo by author 

I opted for the right-side 6C aisle seat as 6B can get bumped by passengers and crew thanks to the dog-leg in the aisle as it enters the economy cabin.

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I confirmed my upgrade to a Premium seat for the 90-minute flight Seattle – Edmonton at time of online check-in for USD$29 or about CAD$40 and beyond the extra legroom, Premium seat passengers board earlier than other economy passengers in Group B. There’s a chart of Alaska Airline’s boarding groups here.  Premium passengers also enjoy a free snack but alas there’s no free cocktail as this flight is under the 2-hour minimum to earn that perk.

Premium seats offer the same seat width as all other economy class seats but on the E175 they’re 18 .25 inches wide compared to  just 17 inches on Alaska Airline’s Boeing 737 aircraft  and it’s this plus larger windows that makes the E175 a much more comfortable ride for me and why I opt for it whenever possible over a 737 or Bombardier regional jet.

Hotel Review: New Orleans Downtown Marriott at the Convention Center

I struggled writing this review of the New Orleans Downtown Marriott at the Convention Center as  I really wanted to like the hotel for its location but came away feeling  underwhelmed by the lack of luxury and dated décor.

Built in a renovated 19th century cotton mill in a location that borders the Warehouse/Arts District, the Garden District and the French Quarter the New Orleans Downtown Marriott at the Convention Center is in a super central spot opposite the sprawling New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center as its name implies and within walking distance to all those historic neighborhoods have to offer including the National World War II Museum, Mardi Gras World, and the Port of New Orleans’ Julia Street Cruise Terminal.

My Halloween arrival found the spacious lobby scaled back to a fraction of its former size which a letter left in room 1405, a “King Guest Room”, explained was due to a renovation project that started the day prior and is scheduled to end in April, 2020. This work  came a complete surprise to me as the construction work wasn’t noted on the Marriott website or sent out by email.  The work to transform guest rooms, restaurants, lobby and meetings rooms is limited to 9 AM – 5 PM  on weekdays and 10 AM – 5 PM Saturdays with no work undertaken on Sundays.

The room while far from hideous is dated and so overdue for an overhaul.

photo by author

photo by author

While my stay was very early in the construction project, I encountered no noise impact or restricted access.

The view from room 1405 is of the convention center and the Crescent City Connection (CCC), twin cantilever bridges that carry U.S. Highway 90 Business over the Mississippi River.

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While the hotel features a pool it’s tiny and unheated so unusable much of the year when temperatures drop below 16 Celsius or about 60 Fahrenheit. The view if the best thing about the pool deck which along with the adjacent fitness room are accessed with a guest room key card.

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Breakfast at the hotel was not included in my room rate and at USD$19 for a breakfast buffet is on the pricey side so I walked a few block to the Two Chicks Cafe for a hearty cooked-to-order “Cafe Breakfast” for USD$8.50.  The Cafe opens daily at 7 AM which came in handy as I had some early morning rendezvous.

After packing up by bags and getting ready to leave for the lobby to check-out at the end of my three night stay, I noticed a fleck of blood on the bed sheet and not having suffered a cut was sure it wasn’t mine making me feel a little queasy wondering how long it been there escaping my notice and that of housekeeping. The last-minute discovery however sort of summed up my impression of the hotel as not being quite up to four-star Marriott standards and more befitting  the moderate Courtyard brand. The location makes for a good base from which to explore the heart of “The Big Easy”on foot  but I would give it a pass until the construction work is completed.

Pros

  • Central location within walking distance to historic French Quarter and Garden District and opposite New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
  • Mississippi River views from higher floors
  • Noted local restaurants within blocks offer an alternative to on-site Wolfe’s Restaurant and Wolfe’s Bar
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi for Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program members; USD$10.95 for non-members
  • Starbucks off the lobby

Cons

  • Extensive renovation project underway as November 2019; construction noise may impact some rooms
  • Tiny, unheated outdoor pool
  • USD$39 daily fee for valet parking
  • Busy with large convention groups

 

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Restaurant Review: Emeril’s New Orleans

Emeril’s Restaurant is chef/restaurateur Emeril Lagasse’s famed flagship restaurant housed in a renovated pharmacy warehouse in New Orleans’ Warehouse District. Since opening in 1990, Emeril’s has been a definitive force in contemporary New Orleans cuisine and has earned rave reviews and accolades for nearly 25 years, including Esquire magazine’s “Restaurant of the Year” and Wine Spectator’s “Grand Award” for 14 consecutive years.

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One of the first celebrity chefs with their own cooking shows on the fledgling Food Network in the early 1990’s Emeril became known for his jovial hosting style and signature catchphrases, including “Bam!” which began as a way to keep his studio crew alert during a full day of taping shows.

While Emeril wasn’t in residence during my lunch visit, patrons wanting to watch his chefs in action are invited to sit on bar stools at the counter overlooking the kitchen.

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Dining solo I opted to sit at the bar for the banter with the bartender but another solo guest attending an event at the nearby convention center sat next to me and we carried on a casual conversation over lunch and I was grateful for the contact as sitting at a table would’ve left me all alone.

I started with a classic Cajun appetizer of homemade Andouille and Boudin sausages  which are very different as the former is a  smoked pork sausage while the latter is a mixture of pork, liver and rice which comes accompanied by southern greens, Emeril’s Worcestershire Sauce  and whole grain mustard.  Crumbly cornbread and an Abita Amber beer compliment the appetizer.

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Cautious of a suspected shellfish allergy, I opted for comfort food in the form of Emeril’s “Who Dat” double stacked hamburger with hand cut fries.  Unlike in many American restaurants, Emeril’s bartender didn’t ask how I wanted my burger cooked and it came cooked to perfection and was hands down one the best burgers I’ve ever had.

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For a landmark restaurant I didn’t find Emeril’s New Orleans prices exorbitant – the big burger entree for example is USD$16 – or the atmosphere stuffy so very much enjoyed my leisurely lunch.

If you are visiting New Orleans and unsure of your schedule you may inquire at the restaurant but I confirmed my reservation online in advance through OpenTable.

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Maximum Minnie; 36-hours in magical Minneapolis

After connecting countless times through Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) I finally found a way to experience the “biggest underestimated place”  for myself and came away loving this corner of the country.

Minneapolis developed around Saint Anthony Falls, the highest waterfall on the Mississippi River and a source of power for its early forestry industry before becoming the flour milling capital of the world as covered in this blog article.  While Edmonton lacks waterfalls, I noted many similarities with Minnesota’s largest city as a river runs through and dominates each city, former riverside industrial areas have been converted to pubic trail networks, and a large university campus lies close to the downtown core.

One of the landmarks worth visiting on the University of Minnesota campus – home of the Golden Gophers  football team – is the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum named after a Minneapolis native, entrepreneur, and noted philanthropist. The teaching museum’s glimmering exterior was designed by the internationally acclaimed Canadian-born architect Frank O. Gehry and offers free admission  to  university students and visitors alike in an effort to make the arts easily accessible.

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While not known as a music town in quite the same way as Memphis, Nashville or New Orleans Minneapolis is home to the iconic live music mecca First Avenue & 7th St Entry a former former Greyhound bus station made famous in the 1984 semi-autobiographical movie “Purple Rain” by native son Prince.

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Shot on a shoestring budget of $7-million dollars, Purple Rain went on to gross almost ten times that at the box office making Prince an international superstar and the venue a must-see for visitors to Minneapolis.

There are over 400 artists who have a star at First Avenue with another 96 blank, ready for when it’s time to paint on a new name. I walked along spotting names I hadn’t expected to see including U2, INXS, The Buzzcocks, and Los Lobos but there’s a full list here to browse all the artists.

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As I was admiring the impressive list of music acts acknowledged with stars on the wall, a local couldn’t help commenting on my Rush t-shirt and his appreciation for the legendary Canadian rockers who built a loyal following in the U.S. with decades of touring. Music really is universal.

One of Minneapolis’ oldest and most popular parks features the majestic 53-foot Minnehaha Falls which attracts more than 850,000 visitors every year. The name Minnehaha comes from the Dakota language meaning  waterfall but the popular translation of “laughing waters” comes from a felicitous, but too literal Anglophone translation of “ha ha”. New England poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, gave this Minneapolis waterfall national fame in the Song of Hiawatha, although he never saw the falls he wrote of in 1853.


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The Midtown Global Market is an internationally-themed public market housed in the former Sears, Roebuck and Company Mail-Order Warehouse and Retail Store which was built in 1928 and in use until abandoned in 1994 before its rebirth a decade later as a multipurpose commercial space.

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The market is a deeply diverse destination with a craft brewery, shops selling locally made goods and food stalls and restaurants serving cuisine from almost every point on the compass including  Indian, Mexican, Moroccan, BBQ and Middle Eastern. Safari Express specializes in Somali cuisine and is home of the camel burger for the more adventurous diners.

photo by author

photo by author

A local landmark listed on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, the Midtown Global Market is a bit of a detour from the Lake Street/Midtown station on the Metro Blue Line and from the downtown but 1.5 million people visit Midtown Global Market each year because its a cultural journey that’s run by the people for the people as all businesses are locally-owned and operated and the crafts made by local artists. Think global while shopping local.

Weather permitting, walk through the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden  open daily year-round  and the adjacent Walker Art Center.  The 40 permanent sculptures  are scattered throughout the 11-acre garden and include the oft photographed Spoonbridge and Cherry Pop Art  piece by Claes Oldenburg.

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Nearby is a 25-foot blue rooster sculpture titled Hahn/Cock by the German artist Katharina Fritsch whose name is a double-entendre.

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There’s plenty of public art to be found around Minneapolis including a  pair of colourful giant downtown building murals focusing on Minnesota music legends Bob Dylan and Prince whose lyrics to his Purple Rain song ‘Baby I’m A Star’ are referenced by a comic book character.

photo by author

photo by author

The graceful curves of the Stone Arch Bridge span the mighty Mississippi River just below the Saint Anthony Falls and affords outstanding river valley views.  The former railroad bridge,  Minneapolis’ oldest bridge,  was completed in 1883 and served to import raw grain and export milled flour that helped make Minneapolis the flour milling capital of the world, a title it held from 1880 to 1930. The wide bridge span makes for an ideal modern pedestrian and bike path that’s part of a river valley trail system.

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Looming over the Stone Arch Bridge is the ruins of the Washburn A Mill, the flagship mill of the Washburn-Crosby Co. (later General Mills) which when it was built in 1880 was the largest and most technologically advanced flour mill in the world. After being shut down in 1965 and sitting abandoned for decades, the former mill suffered a devastating fire in 1991 but from the ashes of its ruins was rebuilt as the Mill City Museum and opened to the public in 2003.

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One of the city’s best visitor values is the Metro Transit All-Day Visitor Pass which allows unlimited travel on the light rail and bus network and may be purchased at the Meet Minneapolis Visitor Center which is open daily except Sundays.  There’s a  warmth in the welcome from the visitor center staff who are eager to offer sightseeing suggestions and provide helpful information and maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minneapolis Craft Beer Scene

After a recent visit to Minneapolis and drinking in the burgeoning craft beer scene around the city and state of Minnesota, I couldn’t help but note the similarities to Edmonton and Alberta which is also in the midst of a beer boom.

Historically, Minnesota breweries were not permitted to serve pints of their beers on site but thanks to the so called Surly Bill signed into law by Minnesota Governor mark Dayton in May, 2011 brewers may apply for a license to serve their own brews on site. The legislation was dubbed the Surly Bill as it allowed Surly Brewing Co. to serve pints at their proposed $30 million destination brewery located in the Minneapolis Prospect Park neighborhood which opened in December, 2014. The revamped rules however are not without their limits as I found microbreweries are not able to sell other brewers beers stifling the collaborative spirit shared among the craft beer community.

In  comparison, Alberta only granted a brewery license to those able to prove an ability to brew 500,000 liters of beer, a regulation which kept smaller micro-brewers on the sidelines until it was was scrapped December 3, 2013 leading to a landslide of new breweries throughout the province.

My self-guided Minneapolis craft brewery tour extended over two days and took me to eleven of the city’s best breweries.

Surly Brewing Co.

Surly Brewing Co.’s production facility doubles as a brewpub with restaurant and while out of Minneapolis’ downtown core is well worth the detour, especially on a warm Summer day as when I visited as the ground floor restaurant is open to the outdoor beer garden.

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The beer factory is a short walk from the Prospect Park stop on the Green Line  which connects Minneapolis’ downtown with the University of Minnesota and the twin city of St. Paul.  Visitors can buy a $5 unlimited metro pass which is huge value considering that individual one-way journeys are up to $2.50.

The craft beer menu offers something for everyone but the brew that built Surly is the Furious IPA, a strong  (6.7% ABV) amber coloured ale that blends American hops and Scottish malt to create an IPA unlike any other I’ve tried as it has a fuller favor with hints or caramel and citrus and without the sharp hoppy profile of most IPA’s.

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The super long bar is along one wall of the ground floor restaurant which serves hearty pub grub staples including burgers, BBQ and sandwiches while the second floor eatery serves only artisan pizzas.

photo by author

photo by author

photo by author

Visitors to Surly may join a free tour of the brewery which can be confirmed online and include a guided visit to the brewhouse, fermentation cellar, and packaging hall.  Free samples are included on an upper platform that looks down on the rolling canning line which cranks out 3500 cans per hour.

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Surly has expanded their distribution from the state of Minnesota to the upper Midwest and Canada so can’t wait to see Furious IPA at a local beer store one day soon.

Inbound Brew Co.

Located in the North Loop neighborhood in a former recycling warehouse, Inbound opens its doors in the warmer months to offer outdoor patio seating as well as German beer hall bench seating indoors. Popular with locals and their dogs, the craft brewery and taproom features a rotating food truck food schedule. Parked outside during my visit was the pink Market BBQ food truck.

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The vibe is super casual and local with small groups of friends hoisting a few after work and beyond myself wasn’t overrun with thirsty tourists. My Inbound beer of choice was their wheat ale as I’ve become partial to Kölsch and German style wheat beers.

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Fulton Beer

Claiming the title of Minnesota’s first legal taproom opened the taproom in 2012, Fulton Beer has produced some of Minnesota’s most popular beers with such saucy names as Sweet Child of Vine IPA, Worthy Adversary, Mama Bravo and my favorite The Lonely Blond.

The brewery is located in the heart of the Warehouse District near many of its fellow microbreweries making a self-guided pub crawl convenient.

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A shiny vintage 1969 Airstream camper was re-purposed as a food trailer offering solid pub grub including the classic Canadian poutine!

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I couldn’t resist a pint of the breweries signature Lonely Blonde, a mix of German hops and American wheat for a fine, balanced blonde ale.

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The Fulton patio is a perfect perch on a warm Summer evening to watch the world go by.

 

Clockwerks Brewing

Housed in Downtown Minneapolis century-old brick warehouse is Clockwerks Brewing, a microbrewery and taproom with a passion for session beers — beers containing  no more than 5 % ABV with a balance between malt and hops to create a clean finish  and high drinkability.

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I sampled the Clockwerk Orange, a very pale Belgian style witbier with hints of orange as well as pepper and cloves making for a solid Summer light beer.

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In the back corner of Clockwerks there’s an original City Billiards pool table, a tribute to the space’s previous tenant.

 

 

Eastlake Craft Brewery

I stumbled upon Eastlake Craft Brewery while visiting the Midtown Global Market , a vibrant internationally themed market with stalls selling food & crafts from around the world, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sample one of their brews, Mendoza Line.

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Eastlake is surrounded by a multitude of diverse food stalls so whether you’re in the mood for a vegan Indurrito, a camel burger, sushi, pad thai, falafel, a cheese steak torta, or a custom slice of pizza you can bring it in to the taproom which occupies a corner of the former Sears & Roebuck Building, a historic registered 1928 local landmark.

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Freehouse Brewery

Freehouse is a breed apart from the other Minneapolis breweries I visited as it’s as much a restaurant as it is a fully functioning brewpub with food as central to its mission as the beer brewed onsite.

Also unique is that beyond it’s own core four beers –  a Kölsch style ale, an IPA, a brown ale and a stout – Freehouse serves up the local competition in the belief that the quality of the ingredients and care of their brewmaster will set their brews apart.

Unlike all taprooms I’ve encountered in Minneapolis or elsewhere, Freehouse opens it doors weekdays at 7 AM and 7:30 AM on weekends offering a cooked to order hearty breakfast with or without beer.

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photo by author

The interior of Freehouse is wonderfully rustic with exposed brick walls and ceiling duct work as the landmarked 1911 Loose-Wiles Building was once home to the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company before a complete 2013 renovation and restoration.

 

Day Block Brewing Co.

Day Block Brewing takes it’s name from the historic 1883 Day Block Building it’s called home since 2014 and is one the few breweries in the downtown core offering food, beer and a full-service bar.

I tried a pint of Frank’s Red Ale and learned the name is a tribute to Frank’s Plumbing, which occupied the building for about forty years .

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Given it’s location almost in the shadow of the new U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis, home games for the Minnesota Viking NFL team see the brewery fill to overflowing so visitors wanting to avoid a sea of football fans should consult the team’s schedule for home game dates.

Finnegans

One of the few Minneapolis breweries not built in a historic building, Finnegans Brew Co. moved into its downtown digs in March 2018 but has been on the local beer scene since its founding in 2000.

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What makes Finnegans unique is what it calls barstool philanthropy with all of the profits going to feeding the hungry through the Finnegans Community Fund which works with local food bank partners.

Finnegans has a large taproom indoors plus a back patio open in warmer weather and food is provided by the Tavola Kitchen, a full-service restaurant located next door.

Town Hall Brewery

Located at Seven Corners between the University of Minnesota and downtown Minneapolis, Town Hall Brewery opened in a century old heritage building in 1997 at a time when only 20 breweries were operating in the state and has gone on to produce more Great American Beer Festival award-winning brews than any other Minnesota brewery,.

photo by author

photo by author

 

Gluek’s Restaurant  & Bar

German Jewish immigrant Gottlieb Gluek established his first Minneapolis brewery in 1857, one year before Minnesota was declared a state so has a brewing lineage like few others. Its downtown Minneapolis brewpub has all the feel of a German beer hall with its dark wood, sturdy brick walls and historic company back & white photos displayed with pride.

I was about 20 minutes ahead of the normal 11 AM weekday opening time when Gluek’s Bar and Restaurant Owner Lee Holcomb took pity on me and invited me inside and poured  me a beer while he began his morning routine, one he’s likely been through many times having operated the bar since 1961!

photo by author

photo by author

Gluek brews its beer at Fulton Brewing which ironically is under a mile from the site of its original northeast Minneapolis brewery.

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No visit to Minneapolis breweries would be complete without a stop at Gluek’s as it feels like a step back in time to at least the 1960’s.

Modist Brewing Co. 

In an industry replete with rule breakers and risk takers, Modist Brewing has plotted its own course to brew beers starting with  flavors rather than follow a prescribed pattern from traditional styles of beers.  This creativity is aided by the areas first mash filter which allows the use of any grain in any percentage while using a fraction of the water and energy of a traditional brewery.

The brewery has a bright, modern interior with itself is a departure from the raw, industrial spaces many smaller breweries embrace. I opted for a pint of the Supra Deluxe, a crisp Japanese style lager brewed with 40% rice.

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One other unique aspect of Modist as bartender James explained is the policy against offering patrons samples of its beers in the belief that little samples over a whole year add up to large amounts.

 

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