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A jolly holiday in Minneapolis

Christmas draws tourists and locals alike into the lively heart of the city.

The State Theatre on Hennepin in Minneapolis.

© Beth Gauper

The State Theatre is one of three restored vaudeville houses on Hennepin Avenue.

During the holidays, there's no place like home. In fact, it's the perfect getaway.

Every year, I go to downtown for the festivities. I get tickets for Handel's "Messiah" at Orchestra Hall. I hunt for stocking stuffers on Nicollet Mall.

I don't stay overnight. I live here, after all.

But looking around on Travelocity, I found a cut-rate room at a sleek luxury hotel across from Target Center. I got a two-for-one deal for a holiday ballet. I heard about a great happy hour on Nicollet Mall.

That's how I realized I could be a tourist in my own hometown.

Minneapolis might not be Chicago, but you can park here for less than the price of a fancy dinner. Cruising into the LaSalle ramp near Macy's, I parked, hoisted my tiny bag and walked to Block E on Hennepin Avenue.

I found Loews Minneapolis Hotel on its back flank, as far from the suburbs as Samoa. Until the Chambers opened  two blocks away, it was as hip as Minneapolis got.

It has chilly expanses of marble, glass and empty space at the street entrance and fourth-floor reception desk. But beyond the backlit martini lounge and up another set of elevators are the rooms, cozy nests of understated urbanity.

I was staying there with my friend Grace, who awaited me on Nicollet Mall. As I headed there on Sixth Street, I was struck by the abrupt change in atmosphere on that single block from the boozy insouciance of the Warehouse District to the 1950s aura of Murray's steakhouse and the family hubbub on Nicollet Mall.

At McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant, we snagged a table from a pair of friendly Icelandic women who were leaving.

For a few bucks, plus the price of a drink, Grace got a half-pound cheeseburger and fries, and I got a plump pair of salmon cakes, garnished with green apple bits and crunchy strands of fried leeks.

Then, we walked over to Hennepin, where three restored vaudeville houses provide beautiful venues for local and traveling productions.

Block E in Minneapolis.

© Beth Gauper

Loews Minneapolis Hotel rises behind Block E on Hennepin Avenue.

In the State Theatre, the James Sewell Ballet was performing a dance version of Gian Carlo Menotti's opera "Amahl and the Night Visitors." 

We settled in under the beaded chandeliers and frolicking cherubs to watch the story of a boy and his mother who are visited by the Three Kings on their way to Bethlehem.

It was very sweet and very short. Afterward, we walked down the hall from the theater's lobby, past Rock Bottom Brewery and Crave restaurant, and emerged half a block from Macy's, where we shopped for half an hour before returning to Block E.

It was time to leave the world of pigtailed little girls in red-velvet dresses. Up in our room, elves had lowered the blinds and turned down the covers.

Downstairs in Cosmos, a young crowd was starting to trickle in from the Dave Matthews Band concert across the street. At the bar, bottles glimmered in a wall of lighted cubes.

We went for another drink next door, where Kieran's Irish Pub attracts crowds who enjoy a pint or two.

Our bar crawl was fun, but in the morning, we realized we had skimped on time spent in the cloud-like bed, with its custom-designed pillowtop mattress and 350 thread-count sheets.

"I want to buy this bed," Grace said. "It's too nice to just get up and leave it."

The Sunday paper was outside our door, and we read it over cappuccino from the Starbucks downstairs. Then, we had to hustle to make our reservation at Hell's Kitchen, where a hopeful crowd was waiting for tables.

In the sunny back room, a waitress in flannel jammies brought us fantastic huevos rancheros, plus fresh fruit and freshly squeezed orange juice.

But then, we had to be regular people again. We shopped for a while before going home, but the mood was broken.

Anyone can live in Minneapolis but only the lucky ones get to be tourists there.

Trip Tips: Christmas in downtown Minneapolis

Getting there: The Green Line from St. Paul and the Blue Line from the airport or the Mall of America go straight to Nicollet Mall. Rides are free along Nicollet Mall on buses marked Free Ride.

On Saturdays, rides to downtown are free. Download a pass at Metro Transit.

Shopping at the Holiday Market.

© Meet Minneapolis

Shoppers look at German-made Christmas pyramids at the Holiday Market.

Parking: Some hotels offer weekend packages that include free parking. If not, try the LaSalle Ramp, on LaSalle Avenue between 10th and Ninth streets south. 

Holidazzle: The beloved parade has been replaced by Holidazzle Village on the Nicollet Mall between 10th and 12th streets. There's a reindeer barn and music at  4:30 p.m. and/or 7 p.m. on weeknights and throughout the afternoon and evening on weekends.

On weekends, there's entertainment, including glass-blowing demonstrations Dec. 6-7, sled-dog exhibitions Dec. 13-14 and and ice-skating Dec. 20-21, starting at 3 or 3:30 p.m.

Admission is free to Holidazzle Village, but there's a fee to enter the Holiday Market, an outdoor German-style next to Orchestra Hall on Peavey Plaza. Admission is $6, $3 for children 7-12, and $3 weekdays between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Carousel rides are $3.

If you plan to travel to visit the market, you may want to check the reviews on its Facebook page.

Shopping: During the holidays, Macy's is open for extended hours. At Santaland on the eighth floor, it shows the free animated display "A Day in the Life of an Elf.'' It's busiest right before and after the Holidazzle parade.

And remember, the light rail delivers weekend shoppers from downtown to the door of the Mall of America. For more, see Shopping at the Megamall.

Holiday stage shows: Check the State, Orpheum and Pantages theaters for shows.

On the river end of downtown, the Guthrie Theater's annual production of "A Christmas Carol'' runs from mid-November through December.

Buying tickets: To avoid a hefty per-ticket fee, buy tickets in person at the State Theatre, box office for Hennepin Avenue theaters.

Goldstar.com offers half-price tickets to many shows, though it charges a per-ticket fee, usually about $4.

Accommodations: Many hotels advertise holiday packages, such as at the Hilton, two blocks from the start and  connected to Orchestra Hall by skyway. Check to see if they're better than those offered at Orbitz, Travelocity and other booking sites.

Loews Minneapolis Hotel is stylish and comfortable.

Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis.

© Beth Gauper

Skyways connect stores along Nicollet Mall.

Le Meridien Chambers Hotel is across from the Orpheum and a block from the State Theatre on Hennepin. It calls itself the nation's first luxury art hotel for more than 200 pieces of contemporary and often edgy art, has 60 modernistic rooms and suites. Pets get their own beds, food, toys and treats for an extra $15.

There are four other stylish hotels to try out in downtown Minneapolis. The Hotel Minneapolis is in the middle of downtown, a short walk to shops and theaters.

And there are three Starwood Hotels Hotel Ivy, next to Orchestra Hall, 612-746-4600; the art-deco W Minneapolis in the Foshay Tower, a block from Macy's and Nicollet Mall, 612-215-3700; and Aloft, on the edge of downtown but closest to the Mill District and Guthrie Theater, 612-455-8400.

Dining: Hell's Kitchen, half a block from Nicollet on South 9th Street, is a fun place to have fantastic huevos rancheros and freshly squeezed orange juice. It's always busy, so call for reservations at 612-332-4700.

The southern end of Nicollet Mall is crammed with good restaurants Brit's Pub, Vincent, the Dakota, the Local, McCormick & Schmick's and Zelo.

In Loews, the hip Cosmos serves steaks, chops and seafood with global accents, 612-312-1168.

If you want to eat well but cheaply and don't care about atmosphere, try D'Amico & Sons in Gaviidae Common at Sixth and Nicollet (closes at 6 p.m. Saturdays), Panera on Nicollet between Ninth and 10th and 700 Express in the lower level of Macy's.

Nightlife: Next to Loews, Kieran's Irish Pub hosts Irish bands. On Nicollet, the suave Dakota is a very pleasant place to listen to live jazz, 612-332-1010. On First Avenue, the Fine Line Music Cafe programs a variety of music, 612-338-8100.



Last updated on December 8, 2014

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