10 festive things to do while you’re in the Twin Cities this week

Art Shanties

Art Shanties Jill Emmer

The Super Bowl isn’t until Sunday. That means you have time to kill before the big game. Thankfully, the Twin Cities has options for you, whether you’re looking for winter sporting events, odd destination bars, or places where you can warm up out of the cold.

Saint Paul Winter Carnival

The Saint Paul Winter Carnival is Minnesota’s love song to the dead of winter, and we’ve been singing it for 132 years. This sprawling festival is centered in downtown St. Paul’s Rice Park, which hosts the majestic ice palace, 70 feet tall and constructed from 4,000 blocks of ice. There’s an ice sculpting contest, outdoor yoga, and a tournament featuring Minnesota’s favorite childhood sport, boot hockey. On Saturday, Team USA Winterfest offers a daylong celebration where you can meet gold medal figure skater Meryl Davis and other Olympians, eat s’mores, and try the very Minnesotan sport of curling. 109 W. Fourth St., St. Paul.

Saint Paul Winter Carnival, part two

Meanwhile, over at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, there will be a giant snow slide to ride down, a snow sculpting contest, and the Polar Plunge, where you can watch people dressed in wild costumes jump into a pool of freezing water for charity. (Fun fact: Our fairgrounds is where President Theodore Roosevelt gave his “speak softly, and carry a big stick” speech.) For complete prices and event schedules, see the carnival’s official website,, or call the main hotline at 651-223-7400 for details. 1265 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul.

Al’s Place

Marjorie McNeely Conservatory

Marjorie McNeely Conservatory Star Tribune

Our state has a sordid relationship with booze. While Minnesota U.S. Rep. Andrew Volstead championed prohibition in 1919, gangsters and entrepreneurial bootleggers were using the caves in St. Paul to make money and get people drunk on the down-low. This history has inspired bars like Al’s Place, an excellent destination for late-night cocktails.

Entering Al’s is delightfully shady, just as it should be at a speakeasy. Either look for the green light above a door outside the building, or make your way through Stanley’s Northeast Bar Room, pop into the photobooth, and knock on the wall for admission.

Inside, you’ll find an ambiance both romantic and seedy: leather booths, brick walls, Parisian wallpaper, dark lighting, twinkling chandeliers. In true Prohibition form, you’ll need to signal your waiter using a light switch at your table. The cocktail menu features classics—old fashioneds, sazeracs, gin rickeys—concocted with homemade syrups and bitters, and are all named after furniture (Al Capone used a furniture store as his front). The food is Italian, with items ranging from shareables like bruschetta to hearty pasta dishes. Live music starts up around 8 p.m. on the weekends. Al’s opens at 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. 2500 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis; 612-788-2529.

Mercy Bar and Restaurant

During the coldest months in Minnesota, we stay warm the old-fashioned way: We drink. And with cold weather comes pop-up bars made of ice, such as the one at Mercy on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. Feel the chill as you sit on an ice bench, or opt for a regular seat near the bonfire. Yes, the bar is made of ice too. You can order up drinks with Minnesota themes, including the Duck Duck Gray Duck, a grapefruit punch cocktail. 6 p.m. to midnight Saturdays. 901 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612-252-7000.

Marjorie McNeely Conservatory

Need a reprieve from winter? Consider stopping by the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, where the temps and flora are tropical. The sunken garden, with its tall glass walls and long fountain, is breathtaking. Rooms throughout the building are filled with gorgeous orchid collections, ferns of every shape and size, lots of water lilies, and much more. This jungle of green offers a host of cozy and calming spots where you can simply sit and read (or post to Instagram). 1225 Estabrook Dr., St. Paul; 651-487-8200.

Art Shanties

The Art Shanties host wholesome yet weird fun on the weekends. Run on a human hamster wheel or watch flamenco dancers move on ice. On Sundays, miniature art cars—decorated remote-controlled cars—zoom on by in a parade. Dress warm. Though shanties are heated inside, many activities are hosted in the snow. For more info, visit 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Free. 4235 W. Lake Harriet Pkwy., Minneapolis; 612-567-6844. 

Russian Museum of Art

The Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Art are great museums to visit in town, but if you’re looking for something a little off the typical tourist path, consider the Russian Museum of Art. Their collection is epic, spanning 1,000 years of history. Current exhibits includes a collection of nesting dolls and 19th-century religious artifacts. The building the museum is housed in is pretty special too; it’s one of the few examples of Spanish Colonial Revival in town. 5500 Stevens Ave., Minneapolis; 612-821-9045.

Super Bowl Toast at Surly

Our Nordic ancestors were onto something when they discovered the delights of hot saunas paired with cold air and water. This week, the 612 Sauna Society will be hosting hot/cold sessions for $25 at Surly Brewing Company. The Forge is their sauna shack, and it’s on wheels. It’s the nation’s first community-owned and -operated mobile sauna. This is a hangover-free zone; you’ll want to come hydrated to this party. Sessions can last up to two hours, where you’ll work up a good sweat, with breaks to cool off. Afterward, you can sit outside by the bonfire, or stop inside, where Surly is serving up its iconic local brew and eats. Reserve a spot during Super Bowl weekend at 520 Malcolm Ave. SE, Minneapolis.

City of Lakes Loppet

The annual City of the Lakes Loppet celebrates winter sports in all their glory. Guests can watch competitions for free, and then stop by the beer and food-truck garden to refuel. The schedule includes speed skating, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and fat tire bike races. On Saturday night, the popular Luminary Loppet will invite people to travel a route on the lakes that includes ice forests, fire dance performances, and bonfires. If tickets are still available—they usually are—you can walk up to registration for your glow-stick pass. Find the full schedule for this packed sports fest at 3000 Calhoun Parkway, Minneapolis. 


Loring Park boasts stunning downtown views, is near a slew of great bars and restaurants, and is a bridge crossing away from the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (home of the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry). On Saturday, free ice skating lessons will be offered at noon. You can follow that up with a stagecoach ride through the park. Later in the evening, drag queens will take to the ice in what should be a glittery spectacle (6 p.m.). Check in at the warming house for free skate rentals. Find the skating rink near the intersection of Willow and Grant Streets on the south side of downtown Minneapolis.