Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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photo by author

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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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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,.

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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!

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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.

 

Mill City Museum Minneapolis; The Power of Flour

Minneapolis’ Mill City Museum is like few other museums as it was built within the ruins of the Washburn A Mill, the flagship flour mill of the Washburn-Crosby Co.  which later evolved into the household name we know today as General Mills and when completed in 1880 became the largest and most technologically advanced flour mill in the world powered by the swift current of  St. Anthony Falls on the mighty Mississippi.

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The millers at the Washburn mills perfected a new process for milling in the 1870s, a revolution that made fine wheat flour available to the general public for the first time and along with other mills including the Pillsbury A Mill helped Minneapolis became the flour milling capital of the world from 1880 until 1930. That preeminence ebbed post World War I as flour production in Minneapolis declined as flour milling technology no longer depended on water power.

An 1879 boxcar shows how railroads transported wheat to the mills, and flour to market.

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There’s a interactive display of the many commercial products including Biquick and Betty Crocker, a fictional character created in 1921 that became so popular that in 1945 Fortune magazine magazine named her the second most popular woman in America after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

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The Flour Tower is an industrial size elevator converted to seat museum guests who to travel back through time with stops at eight levels with each displaying the mill machines and narrated stories of the workers who manned them. Visitors remain on the elevator the whole time so aren’t able to get off and explore each level however are given a very realistic look at the noisy and often dangerous process workers experienced while working in the mill through the use of historic film and photos and the dramatic use of lighting, sound, and special effects. The interactive ride is included in the museum entry fee however visitors need to ask for a time-specific reservation at the ticket or information desk.

All the displays of food aren’t edible however visitors can cook something up in  the Baking Lab which includes cooking demonstrations by history players, museum guides dressed in period costumes who portray real people to pass along insights of the mill in their time.

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Kids will likely enjoy the Water Lab, an interactive display showing how the power of the falling water of St. Anthony Falls powered the city’s logging and lumber industry and later, the flour milling industry.

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Any visit to the Mill City Museum would be incomplete without soaking in the panoramic views of the Mississippi River, St. Anthony Falls, the historic Stone Arch Bridge, Mill Ruins Park, and the Ruin Courtyard head to the museum’s Koch Rooftop Observation Deck which is open during museum hours weather permitting. The enormity of the  mill and its industrial impact on the city landscape can be felt along with a stiff breeze from this sky high vantage point.

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The Washburn A Mill Complex kept working around the clock from it’s 1880 opening until 1965 when Generals Mills shuttered it and eight other of its oldest mills. All the machinery was left in place as the mill sat empty for a quarter century until squatters started a fire on a cold winter night in 1991 sparking a devastating blaze that almost destroyed the whole complex which was designated as a National Historic Landmark. After putting out the blaze and stabilizing the ruins, the museum opened in its current form by the Minnesota Historical Society in 2003.

The Ruin Courtyard was left as it emerged from the 1991 fire offering visitors a look at the mill foundations and machinery attached to the thick stone walls.

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photo by author

Visitors exiting through the Ruin Courtyard can enjoy a view of the mill from the Stone Arch Bridge, an 1883 former railway bridge that’s been converted to a pedestrian and bike trail but remains as the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire length of the Mississippi River.

Visitors should budget about two hours to tour Mill City Museum but that’s a minimum as the wealth of displays and interactive features plus gift shop and Bushel & Peck Café are worth investing a little more time if it can be afforded.  The riverfront walking & biking trails that run below the mill are also well worth including before or after a museum visit, weather permitting.

Adult museum admission is USD$12 however there’s a $2 off coupon here valid through 31st December, 2019.

I would highly recommend Minneapolis visitors include the Mill City Museum on their sightseeing itinerary as it’s a highly interactive and informative look at how the mill powered the growth of the city to the Midwestern metropolis it is today.

 

Hotel Review: TownePlace Suites Minneapolis Downtown/North Loop

To use election analogies, there are hotels I confirm after months of careful consideration having emerged from a field of candidates as having the most positive attributes and there are others that win by acclamation for their price or location and my recent two night stay at the TownePlace Suites Minneapolis Downtown/North Loop fell into the latter category as its value for a central location proved a winning combination.

Marriott’s TownPlace Suites brand was launched in 1997 as a mid-tier, all-suite extended stay accommodation chain that’s grown to over 300 hundred locations throughout Canada & the U.S.  Each unit includes a full kitchen with small range, microwave and dishwasher plus a living room and desk with plenty of plugs for laptops and recharging devices.

The TownePlace Suites Minneapolis Downtown/North Loop is conveniently located a 10-minute walk from Target Field – home of the major league baseball’s Minnesota Twins – and the adjacent Light-rail transit (LRT) station on the Blue Line which offers a direct, 30-minute ride in from Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) for only USD$2.00 for non peak hours while travelling between 6-9 AM & 3-6:30 PM costs an extra $0.50. The walk is through a former industrial area that’s transitioning to a hip neighborhood with a variety of shops, restaurants and craft breweries but not without some construction so be prepared to dodge a few detours. And don’t let the “North Loop” moniker fool you as locals scoff at the trendy term noting the whole area is part of the Warehouse District.

Once at the TownPlace Suites guests will find the door locked which it is 24/7 for security but a buzzer is well located and signed and once granted access you find a small lobby and front desk.

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My arrival was hours ahead of the normal 3 PM check-in but happily found my room ready so dropped my bags in room 224, a Studio with Queen bed and fully equipped kitchen complete with utensils and plates, a small range, dishwasher and full size fridge.

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photo by author

The view from the room is of N. 2nd Street and the condo complex opposite and while nothing too scenic I found very little street noise filtered into the studio.

The bathroom has a tub & shower with a nice curved shower rail that means the shower curtain isn’t clinging to you while you enjoy the morning shower.  The complimentary bath products are Paul Mitchell but unlike many moderate hotel chains aren’t the wall-mounted refillable shampoo & body gel containers but the old school little plastic bottles.

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While spacious and comfortable the studio is lacking some user-friendly features such as a bathroom exhaust fan, closet safe and suffers some sound leakage through the connecting door to the next suite but luckily my neighbors weren’t late night partyers so it wasn’t a huge issue. For a property that caters to long-stay guests on business, the lack of an  in-room laptop size safe is a glaring omission that should be corrected.

The breakfast room is just off the lobby and the morning meal is served 6:30 – 9:30 AM with the early risers able to claim their preferred places.

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Beyond the coffee station, there’s a good selection of sausage rounds, scrambled eggs or mini-omeletes , cereals, bagels and bread, fresh fruit plus juice  to feed all but the most finicky of guests. It’s food, not cuisine but more than enough fuel the start to my day although I can see how it could become quickly repetitive for guests on a longer stay than my two-night duration.


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Yes, a do-it-yourself waffle maker! A variety of toppings are on hand including chocolate chips, strawberries and plain old syrup.


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While the weather was warm enough, my short stay didn’t leave enough time to take a dip in the heated outdoor pool which is open daily 9 AM – 9 PM. The pool deck is at the rear of the building beside the parking lot however does offer a scenic city skyline view.

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On-site parking is available for a fee.

For a three-star value suite hotel the TownePlace Suites Minneapolis Downtown/North Loop  delivers a comfortable stay with a convenient location within walking distance of the Minneapolis city sights and a wealth of local craft breweries so more than met my expectations.  Those guests wanting more of the boutique or upscale, full service hotel experience should look elsewhere but for cost-conscious families or extended stay singles looking for a home-base this TownePlace  is worth a look.

Pros

  • Walking distance to Target Field and Warehouse District restaurants and craft breweries
  • Breakfast included
  • Large suites with full kitchens
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Individual unit heating & cooling controls

Cons

  • No in-room safe
  • Lack of a bathroom exhaust fan
  • Fee for parking
  • Some sound transmits through connecting door to next suite

ArtTourYEG; The Quarters

If ever there was a neighborhood that could be called “in transition” it would be an area in the shadow of Edmonton’s skyline that’s been re-branded as “The Quarters” as the city partners with private enterprise to push the ignored, somewhat seedier side of the city toward the gentrified mainstream. I joined a free lunch hour walking tour of the district sponsored by ArtTourYEG,  a project made possible by the Downtown Walkability Initiative and the Department of Sustainable Development of the City of Edmonton, and saw the area for what it is and the direction the city wants to see it go.

The Quarters became Edmonton’s first commercial district in the late 19th century as the first real business and residential zone beyond the walls of Fort Edmonton. The area occupies a 100 acre area extending from 97 Street to 92 Street, and from 103A Avenue to the top of the North Saskatchewan River Valley and takes its name from four “quarters” –  the Civic Quarter, Heritage Quarter, McCauley Quarter, and Five Corners Quarter – each with its own character. The centerpiece of the Quarters is the Armature, the first City-led “green street” pilot project that’s created a pedestrian-focused green street.

The artists rendering in the video is a reasonable facsimile of the current avenue minus the construction and midday drunkards ensconced outside the local liquor store, a reminder that some things about this part of town haven’t really changed that much despite the city’s best efforts.

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Etched into the granite at each mid-block crossing along the Armature is Derek Besant’s poem entitled Then, Here, Now  which can be can be read backwards and forwards.

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The Salvation Army’s wall has been decorated with the Edmonton Peace Mural created by both Canadian and Central American children and unveiled and unveiled to mark Change for Children who celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2001.

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Public art sprinkled throughout The Quarters includes Wild Rose by Rebecca Belmore & Osvaldo Yero which has a pair of symbols of Alberta, the wild rose mounted atop a tall lodgepole pine.

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Along the Armature are street signs with both the original street & avenue names and current numbers and the tour guide Ian explained that the move to rename Edmonton’s streets resulted from the amalgamation of Edmonton and Strathcona in 1912 as until then street names were the sole creation of realtors which created a haphazard grid for local police and firefighters to try and navigate in emergencies. The first map with the new street numbers appears in 1913 and the street renaming process was completed in 1914

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Similar street signs may be found throughout Old Strathcona and I’ve come to appreciate the elegant way my city melds past & present in a utilitarian street sign.

There are some unique buildings along Jasper Avenue that are being preserved including Edmonton’s “flat iron” building the Gibson Block. This 1913 four-storey brick building constructed for commercial use on four city lots at the eastern edge of Edmonton’s pre-World War One commercial core was added to the register of Canadian historic places in 2005.

A few block West stands the Ernest Brown Block, another 1913 brick building which housed the studio of Ernest Brown, one of Alberta’s most famous early photographers. The facade of the original building endures with a new, thoroughly modern addition rising behind it complete with floor-to-ceiling glass offering dramatic river valley vistas.

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The Goodridge Block was completed in 1912 and housed a menswear store, barbershop, wine, liquor and cigar store, and pool hall before becoming the local landmark  W.W. Arcade hardware store, Edmonton’s largest, between 1932 – 1991.

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Upscale eatery Hardware Grill opened in 1996 after a multi-million dollar restoration of the building and earned many culinary accolades including appearing on lists ranking the best restaurants in Canada before suddenly announcing it’s permanent closure on Twitter the week after the tour.

The tour ends behind the modern Edmonton Law Courts opposite the Oil Lamp Greek Restaurant whose exterior wall has been adorned with a mural by Ian Mulder entitled ‘City Slickers’ which features the magpie, a bird residents either love or hate. I’ll admit to being in the latter category having had many a morning interrupted by the loud, incessant chatter of this scavenger bird.

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The ArtTourYEG Series is a free walking tour was made possible by the Downtown Walkability Initiative and the Department of Sustainable Development of the City of Edmonton. Other tours  cover an assortment of downtown districts and include the Jasper Ave., Capital Boulevard, and  Churchill to McKinney tours.

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