Luxury lofts, boutique bookstores, and dress-up bars: Near Northeast comes out

Of course, a handful of popular spots and a new bookstore and café don't necessarily mean that Near Northeast is fast becoming a gay Mecca. More gay people are moving into the area, but it's not a particularly diverse crowd. "It's pretty hard to get into a relatively decent place in that area for under $300,000," says Palacek, meaning that most of the settlers are older professionals.

Kent Bowker, another realtor with Edina, describes the gay men moving into the neighborhood as "trendy and wealthy." Bowker thinks that Loring Park is still a stronghold for young gay renters, though he adds that new condominiums in that area will diminish Loring's affordability. If Palacek's predictions prove correct, Minneapolis could develop a new gay trajectory, in which small-town boy moves to Minneapolis to be in gay-friendly environment, gets a cheap apartment in Loring Park or Stevens Square, hangs out, gets a job, gets a better job, partners up, and moves on up to Near Northeast.

Randy "Whitey" Rodgers opened the now prospering Whitey's World Famous Saloon at 400 East Hennepin in 1993, when Near Northeast was still fairly seedy and vacant. He doesn't see the neighborhood as being especially gay, and thinks the Edina-fication of the area is the more dramatic change. "I know that there's a lot of businesses that have a gay clientele," he says, "but it sure doesn't have a Loring Park feel to it at all. I can't see that happening. I'm born and raised in Northeast Minneapolis, so I was coming down here 30 years ago. Definitely, the ethnicity of Northeast Minneapolis, with its Polish community, is pretty much gone from what I remember it. I mean it's more diverse now. But along with that, the socioeconomic level of the people that moved into the area--I mean, we're talking [about] condos at 3, 4, 500,000 dollars. Well, that's not the $50,000 Northeast house my parents bought."

Lounging on the Wilde side: Dean Schlaak (seated) and Tom DeGree of Wilde Roast Café
Richard Fleischman
Lounging on the Wilde side: Dean Schlaak (seated) and Tom DeGree of Wilde Roast Café

Interestingly enough, Charlie Rounds, the owner of Boom!/Oddfellows and a guy as responsible as anyone for giving Near Northeast a gay makeover, agrees with Rodgers. "I believe that Minneapolis at this point will never have a gay neighborhood," he says. "That's a good thing in many ways. It's a good thing politically. It's a good thing socially. It means that we are integrated into the community and don't have a need for a ghetto. I live in St. Louis Park. The neighborhood I live in is pretty darn gay, and there are examples like that all over the Twin Cities. I believe the gay community in the Twin Cities is leading the way in the idea that people can live wherever they want. And, I guess, isn't that the point?"


Historically, Loring Park has been the Twin Cities' well-known center for everything from gay theater and Gay Pride to late-night cruising in the park. Besides offering affordable accommodations in a heavily gay neighborhood, Loring put one in close proximity to most of the major bars, from the Brass Rail and the Gay 90's down to the Saloon and the 19 Bar.

Today, GLBT folk and hangouts are more diffuse. They're still in Loring Park, Stevens Square, and Uptown, of course, but also, as Rounds notes, throughout south Minneapolis, in Golden Valley, St. Louis Park, Brooklyn Center, and other places whose gay populations, in the not too distant past, were almost entirely closeted.

Writer John Townsend thinks that reports of Loring Park's queer demise are premature. "Loring Park has been the gay neighborhood forever, and it will be for quite some time ahead," he says. "It's certainly not what it used to be. I can remember back when I first came to the University of Minnesota at the end of the '70s, that used to be a place where...well, this was before AIDS of course, so you could get picked up, and meet up with other gay guys and have coffee or sex or whatever.

"My sense is that you'll find more of the gentrified, yuppie gay white male probably going to the north side over the bridge. But you're still going to have lower-income guys and younger guys who will go to Loring Park. Because when they're coming out of the closet and they've lived in Montana or Iowa or northern Minnesota or Wisconsin, Loring Park is still the subterranean buzzword of where things happen in Minneapolis."

Ask a GLBT person from a small town or mid-sized city to describe the first time they visited a true gay neighborhood--the Castro, West Hollywood, the West Village, maybe even Loring Park--and kid-in-a-candy-store comparisons tend to come up. Kevin McLaughlin, an actor and the communications coordinator for the Playwrights' Center, remembers his first trip to San Francisco: "There's a feeling that you get in places with a concentrated gay neighborhood, where you can unashamedly ogle and flirt and what have you. You just burst into the Castro, and it's like, This is great. I love this place."

That kind of feeling is just what Brad Palacek is getting at when he talks about a strip in Minneapolis where people can parade themselves, good, bad, or indifferent. "I spend a lot of time in Chicago and in D.C.--in parts of Dupont Circle and Boystown in Chicago," Palacek says, "where you see men and women holding hands, public displays of affection. Here, even in the neighborhoods that we're talking about here, we just don't see that. I mean, very seldom. I definitely think Minnesotans are uptight. As much as we all like to say we're not, we are."

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