Bird sauce forever @ Cecil’s
That’s a damn fine store (even if it’s a bit $$$)
Change is good, right? Well, we’ve been charging ahead full force the past month. Kid one moved out and into her own apartment mid-February, while the rest of us decided to pack it up and move back to the city. Today marks three weeks in our new loft in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood, which the local boosters describe as:
A vibrant artists’ quarter filled with beautiful workspaces, hip cafes, fine dining and the stunning CHS Field.
We are kitty-corner from the wonderful St. Paul Farmer’s Market in the Rayette building, which we share with the home of my all-time favorite cheeseburger, Saint Dinette. The building has had an interesting history, opening as a millinery in 1911, with stints as the home of Aqua Net hairspray and as a parking ramp before being converted to lofts in 2014. We downsized from three bedrooms to two, but added 13 foot ceilings, huge windows and a layout that seems much larger than before (ours is the Monroe, with 1,459 square feet). I love the exposed brick, industrial columns and lack of carpeting throughout (finally got to toss our crappy vacuum cleaner).
In addition to the suburb-to-city change, transportation has also been turned on its head. We still have two cars, but one is parked here and the other is in storage. Colleen gets a discounted transit pass from her employer and now rides the bus to work (express plus a short transfer). I bought a monthly Go-To card from Metro Transit and ride the Green Line trains to and from the stadium. The Union Depot station is a block over and takes just under 40 minutes to drop me off right across Chicago Avenue from the Legacy Gate (and/or the skyway entrance). I can’t express how much of a quality of life improvement it is to not drive in metro rush hour traffic any longer. Now I plug in my headphones, check social media, read stories, play games and just relax. Hoping to eventually sell one car and just stick with one (which kid two uses to drive herself to school).
We lived in downtown St. Paul the first year out of college at Galtier Plaza, but this area is now completely different. I read somewhere that Lowertown now has 3500 residents and I’m pretty sure about half of them have dogs, which makes me very happy (even though allergies still prevent us from adding to the total). Mears Park is a block west and has a mini restaurant row, with Bulldog, Barrio, Public Kitchen + Bar and Handsome Hog. Big River Pizza is across the street, with the eclectic Golden’s Deli a few doors south of that. There are a ton of additional restaurants nearby and we are super excited for Saints games to start. Our Twins ticket group also has Saints tickets, so we are buying one share this season to see how it goes. The stadium is literally on the other side of the building you see above.
In addition to having the option of that cheeseburger downstairs six days a week, the building has a bunch of other great amenities. The workout room is just perfect – it’s exactly what I would design if I had the opportunity: all Life Fitness gear, two treadmills, a room full of spin cycles, free weights, an elliptical, squat rack, benches and more. There are two large TVs with DirectTV and a speaker system that you can supposedly plug stuff into (can’t seem to get that part working so far). It’s conveniently located one floor below our unit and now I don’t have to go outside in the winter any more to exercise. The downtown YMCA teaches a free spin class one night a week and may bring back a yoga class later in the year too. Once it gets warmer, I will have some great new running and biking routes along the Mississippi that I can’t wait to try.
Directly across from the exercise room is the “Sinatra Lounge,” which is a shared community space that has a fireplace, bar, multiple TVs and a pool table. We’ve already spent a lot of time shooting pool – I really like having access to that again (and free is even better). Up on the roof, there is a community patio that includes a gas fire pit, grill, all-season TV and speaker system. The views of the river and surrounding areas are stellar, day or night. The office manager and maintenance guy are great, the mail and package delivery systems seem to work well and I love having chutes for trash and recycling. My only (small) issues so far are the overly complicated thermostat and the noise from one of the garage door openers.
We are mostly unpacked now, with just a few areas that need to be cleaned up (and a few more things to hang on the walls). Once that’s done, we’d love to have visitors – drop me a line at email@example.com and we will see you soon in Lowertown!
Last December was our 25th wedding anniversary. We hadn’t taken a real vacation since 2013, but thanks to the little windfall from Mystic Lake, that was going to change. We reviewed a lot of options from the bucket list, but weather and my work schedule limited our real choices. We could squeeze five days in between Monster Jam and the Vikings and wanted to go somewhere new (even though Florida, SoCal and Vegas were all very tempting). And the winner was…Victoria, British Columbia.
It actually was part of my bucket list (#32 – Watch the lights turn on over Victoria Harbour) and the average temps for that region in December are usually moderated by the Pacific. Unfortunately, as one local informed us, this was the first snow Victoria had seen in 20 years. It was very weird seeing green bowling lawns, flowering plants, outdoor running fountains…and small piles of snow. It stayed in the 30s (F) the whole time we were there, with a fair amount of wind to make it seem even colder. We packed appropriately, though, so it wasn’t nearly as bad as Vienna during Christmas market season.
We flew Sun Country into Seattle and rented from National’s Emerald Aisle (love both of those companies and had great experiences again this trip). TripAdvisor had great things to say about Abigail’s Hotel in Victoria (including most romantic hotel and #1 hotel in Victoria), so I booked four nights there. It was amazing – daily breakfast cooked to order, beautiful rooms and lobby, friendly staff and a central location that was an easy walk to the harbour area. They even upgraded us to a nicer room for our anniversary at no charge and left us a personalized card and gift upon arrival.
Before we got to Canada, we made a quick stop in downtown Seattle. Colleen had never been there before, while I used to go all the time when I had servers at the former Digital Forest (RIP). Pike Place Market was great, but really cold. We visited the original Starbucks and I had Beecher’s mac and cheese for the first time. After some very fresh fish and chips from Jack’s Fish Spot, we headed north on I-5 to the border. The Canadian customs agent literally asked us just two questions: 1) purpose of the trip and 2) do you have any weapons? He told us to have a great anniversary and sent us on our way.
Canada kicks ass.
We had a fairly strict schedule to follow, as we were booked on the last ferry to Swartz Bay. The entire experience on BC Ferries was super cool and we got to ride the Spirit of British Columbia going over and the Spirit of Vancouver Island coming back. They were almost identical, holding a maximum of 410 cars and 34 semis. The trip over in the dark was not nearly as scenic as the morning return on Friday (which was beautiful). A bit expensive overall, but I’m still glad we did that instead of flying straight to YYJ. It was also cool to have one of the very few cars on Vancouver Island to have foreign license plates (seriously, that was weird how almost *everyone* had BC plates in that town).
On Tuesday, we started the day by walking to the harbour area and visiting the wonderful Royal BC Museum. This place was one of the better museums we’ve seen, with a wide variety of well-done natural and human history exhibits (including some amazing First Nation artifacts) and a high-quality gift shop. We walked around the inner harbour area, checking out the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and the Fairmont Empress Victoria. The Fairmont has had quite the history and one of the guides at the BC Museum had told us not to miss the pictures in the basement (which was a very good tip).
For lunch, we walked over to Victoria’s very little Chinatown on Fisgard Street and ate at Shanghai City. After that, we walked back to the hotel to get the car for a little excursion along the southern coast, which included a stop at the University of Victoria bookstore to pick up some things for MK (whose middle name is Victoria). We finished up the day with a minor league hockey game at the Save On Foods Memorial Centre, where we watched the Victoria Royals beat the Portland Winterhawks 5-1. It was super fun entertainment, with on-the-glass front row tickets all of $25 each. For all the money we saved on tickets, I ended up leaving with a new Royals jersey too.
Our actual anniversary on the fourteenth started with a driving trip along the west coast of the island. The same guide at the BC Museum told us to drive through Sooke to Port Renfrew, then turn east and go through the mountains to Lake Cowichan before returning south to Victoria. We stopped at French Beach Provincial Park, which was (of course) cold, but a beautiful mix of ferns, large trees and rocky seashore. It felt a lot like the North Shore of Lake Superior, but with salt water (and the possibility of seeing whales, which we unfortunately did not experience). The farther out we got, the more remote it seemed, but the Port Renfrew Pub in Snuggery Cove was an oasis. Great food, friendly service and some seriously frozen ferns.
The road from Port Renfrew to Lake Cowichan was challenging, but nothing like the shitshow that Siri and Apple Maps pulled on me when we returned to Victoria. We had anniversary dinner reservations for The Dining Room at Butchart Gardens and we were running late. I asked Siri for the fastest route and the directions given were practically suicidal – single lane (but bidirectional traffic), switchbacks with huge vertical, ice covered surfaces, blind intersections and poor lighting all contributed to something that should have never been advised by any sane person. We eventually arrived safely in one piece, but it was stressful and basically ruined the rest of the evening.
The restaurant was nice and the gardens were decorated in Christmas lights and animated figures representing the twelve days of Christmas. They had an indoor carousel that we rode and the snow interacted with the lights in a very pretty way (even though it was bitterly cold out). We took the “normal” way back to Victoria from Butchart and were very happy to get back to the room.
On our last full day in Victoria, we started off with a visit to the Mayfair Shopping Center before looking for a fish and chip restaurant we wanted to try (Red Fish – Blue Fish, which turned out was closed for the season). Our backup was the Irish Times Pub, which was wonderful. We stopped back at the local Roots store for more goalie socks, then waited by the harbour for the lights to turn on (bucket list – check). Dinner that night was at the highly rated Pizzeria Prima Strada on Cook Street, which was good (but still no match for Punch in Minnesota, in our opinion).
Friday was a planes, trains and automobiles kind of day (with ferries instead of trains), with a very early start to catch the first ferry out of Swartz Bay. As I mentioned earlier, seeing the other smaller islands on the way back to Tsawwassen was incredibly cool. The waves were much larger that day, but the huge ferry just plowed right through them, causing surprisingly large plumes of water to deflect backwards.
We passed through U.S. Customs after about five questions and had time to stop at Tulalip Resort Casino before heading to Sea-Tac. Tulalip was a huge diappointment – it’s a beautiful property, but their gaming floor was terrible (limited game selection, with the same games over and over). The airport, however, was great – the new Sub-Pop store was a wonderful addition to my usual stop at Ivar’s for fish and chips.
Fun trip to a beautiful city, with currently favorable exchange rates…
I’m going to weigh 300 pounds after a year in this building, aren’t I?
And I just happened to have a gift card to Grumpy’s (thanks, JK)
Beautiful room, great service from Camille and a top notch steak, side and dessert
…but it will still be missed. Last few days of the Oak Grill @ Dayton’s 12th floor
The day Prince died, Bob Mould played a micro show at the Turf Club in St. Paul. This was a preview for back-to-back nights in the mainroom at First Avenue, the first of which DGS and I planned to attend. Still in shock from the purple news, the club was a very calming and welcoming place for us to be. They had the screen down over the stage before the show (as usual), but that night it was a non-stop loop of Prince pictures (see the gallery after the jump).
After an early dinner at the Depot Tavern, we got inside right at doors in order to catch both opening acts – Fury Things and The Suicide Commandos. Both openers were good – Fury Things opened up for Bob in the mainroom in 2015 (and that Entry show in 2014 that I still regret not attending). The Commandos are older than both of us, but still bring it in a big way.
While I was never a big Hüsker Dü fan back in the day, I loved Sugar and have all of Mould’s solo albums (and have since gone back for the early stuff too). The latest Patch the Sky album received great reviews and even got a fair amount of airplay on The Current. In an interview with Chris Riemenschneider before the Minnesota shows, the 55-year-old Mould talks about three solo albums in four years, working through personal issues in San Francisco and how he takes care of himself by eating right and getting to the gym every day.
I didn’t get a set list to this show, but Chad Werner at City Pages had a nice write-up. It was a blistering rock and roll show and the cover of “When You Were Mine” was a nice touch (even with the tour manger singing lead). The only disappointment was the sound engineer from a video crew that thought it would be cool to set up a dual-mic rig in front of the soundboard, perfectly blocking our view of center stage. Boo!
From the Bob Mould Facebook page:
I never spoke with Prince. He always struck me as a private guy. Maybe he was shy around strangers. We never had much actual interaction – a couple nods in passing, but no real words were exchanged.
The Twin Cities of the 1980s was a very special time for all of us local musicians. There were the North Minneapolis R&B artists, the South Minneapolis guitar rock bands, and in the center of it all was First Avenue/7th Street Entry.
I’ve seen Prince perform sold out shows with The Revolution at First Ave, he and a rhythm section jamming as a guitar/bass/drums three piece in the Entry for 30 people, and was selfishly frustrated when he took over “the main room” for 25 days of filming Purple Rain.
I had the pleasure of spending seven days recording the basic tracks for my first solo album at Paisley Park in December 1988. It was the most professional studio I had ever seen at that point in my life. On the seventh day, I moved from the B room to Studio A, which was Prince’s primary room. I remember seeing Sheila E’s percussion in one of the isolation booths. The large control room was decorated with several of Prince’s scarves. It certainly felt like Prince’s home.
Prince was an artist through and through – always pushing himself to new levels, often creating controversy through his actions and words, and ultimately creating a lifetime of wonderful memories for the world with his incredible volumes of published (and unheard) works.
I heard the news while driving from Tomah WI to Minneapolis. I immediately flipped on The Current 89.3 FM to make sure what I was hearing was true. Sure enough, there was a live report from outside Paisley Park confirming the sad news of Prince’s passing.
I’m two blocks from First Avenue as I write these words. Friday and Saturday nights, I will walk that same stage we all know from the movie. The exterior walls of First Avenue are covered with stars to honor the musicians who made an impact on music fans in Minnesota.
Make no mistake: Prince was the brightest star in these Northern skies. My deepest condolences to his family, friends, and fellow musicians. Prince’s music will give consolation and comfort to the collective grief. Godspeed.
Not sure why it took us so long to visit Isaac Becker’s 112 Eatery – it’s been on my list for ages, we’ve been to his newer Bar La Grassa and Burch multiple times and he’s a freakin’ James Beard award-winner, for crying out loud. And tonight it actually happened by accident: we had planned to grab a bar or lounge seat at Saffron across the street (before they close for good on Saturday), but couldn’t get in.
We actually couldn’t get a table at 112 either, but lucked out on two bar seats after a very short wait. John the bartender took good care of us and we had a very nice recovery night out. For drinks, Colleen had a cider from Cold Spring, Minnesota called Milk & Honey, while I had an amazing twist on straight up bourbon called brown butter bourbon. It smelled like caramel corn and felt like it was going to burn through the roof of my mouth – tremendous.
We only had time for two courses, so I started with the Boston Bibb salad with fine herb vinaigrette and parm ($10), which I’m going to call the “Cousin It” salad. Bachelor Farmer still has my all-time favorite salad, but this one was very close. Colleen ordered the salted cucumbers with avocado & orange ($8), which she said was one of the best dishes she’s had all year.
For the main course, Colleen ordered the duck breast with red miso & shiitakes ($27), while I had the pan-roasted short rib with sweet rice cacio e pepe ($25). Both were very good, but did take a while to arrive. Service from John was great, however, and we really liked the overall atmosphere of the room. Too bad we didn’t have time for dessert – they all sounded wonderful. Next time…
It’s the only set of silverware I’ve ever used during the holidays
Finally – the “Perfect Burger” has been on the list for a long, long time