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Best Of 2007


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Arts & Entertainment

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People & Places


Best Of :: People & Places

The Chambers Hotel

A generation ago, the stretch of Hennepin Avenue through downtown Minneapolis was notorious. Seedy bars and adult businesses drew a regular stream of hustlers, drunks, and thieves. One particular harrowing night at a cafe in the area prompted Tom Waits to write a song, "9th and Hennepin," where "all the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes." In concert years later, Waits still remembered the intersection as "a scary corner." One of the largest contributors to the feeling, no doubt, was the old flophouse on the southwest corner of the intersection, an infamous hotel where rooms went by the hour, then went vacant altogether. Luckily, 2006 saw the renovation of what was once a truly beautiful landmark, which harkened back to the glory days of Hennepin Avenue in the 1920s, reconfigured as the high-end Chambers Hotel. The Chambers, affiliated with a New York joint of the same name, features an "ice bar," a kitchen by internationally renowned culinary powerhouse Jean-Georges, and fine art befitting its neighbor across Loring Park, Walker Art Center. And the 60 guest rooms? The "luxury art hotel" features 1,000-square-foot suites with 580 square feet of balcony space, heated floors, LCD TVs, and something called "rain sky" showers. Don't ask us. But USA Today declared it the "hippest hotel in Minneapolis." While the Chambers may have put us on the international map, what's more important is that it restored what historically might be the city's most important corner. No less an authority than decades-long Strib columnist Barbara Flanagan declared the theater section of Hennepin Avenue, now with the Chambers, in better shape than when the area "soared" in its glory days.

901 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, 55403
Chino Latino
Photo by Parasole Restaurants

Traditionally, "happy hour" comes after work: 4:00 p.m. till (if you're lucky) 7:00 p.m., just enough time to dish with co-workers without getting drunk enough to tell them how you really feel. But everyone knows the happiest hours come when the sun goes down—hence the glory that is the late-night happy hour. Twin Cities nightbirds are understandably fond of Figlio's two-dollar wines and mini-entrees. But for a real dusky treat, we recommend looking kitty-corner from that crowded bistro toward the land of skinny jeans, fusion cuisine, and the muy delicioso Borracho Breakfast. Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 p.m. to midnight, diners at Chino Latino line their booze-filled stomachs ($3 beers and bloodies) with delicacies from a limited but fantastic bar menu honoring the Latino side of Chino's hot-zone motif. Dollar tacos are the best deal: Ingredients change daily, but bar-goers can rely on some tasty and authentic offering of beef, chicken, and/or pork. Order a couple, or splurge on the three-dollar Mexican pizza. For bigger appetites—and don't believe the health nuts; it's perfectly okay to stuff yourself before bedtime—there's a fairly standard black-bean-and chicken enchilada, a steal at three bucks. But the star of the "Drunken Breakfast" is its most inspired item: French Toast of the Dead. Made from pan de muerto, a sugary bread loaf prepared during Latin America's Dia de los Muertos festivities, this gooey chunk of paraíso is worth staying up for. Chino tops it with banana slices and covers the whole plate in a rum-caramel syrup that will get true boozers licking their plates. Best of all, the Borracho Breakfast happy hour isn't relegated to the bar, which fills up immediately most nights. In other words, this is the only time you can escape Chino's swanky dining room with a full belly, a buzz, and a bill for less than 20 bones.

2916 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis, 55408
Joe Mauer

Is there anyone more embarrassingly cornpone in these parts than the face of the local baseball franchise? Let us count the ways: The quasi-muttonchops were so over about 15 years ago. The Kid endorses Land O' Lakes milk by barely muttering the motto "Pour It On." He generally answers any question with the same "take it as it comes" refrain that was a cliché when Bull Durham came out 20 years ago. Yet we love our local lunkhead, the latest in a long line of local ballers—from Paul Molitor to Kent Hrbek—who fit perfectly with the home team. There are plenty of local heroes who have left us, like Dylan and Prince (who deserves a special shout-out for his Super Bowl halftime performance). But with Mauer, the St. Paul native and Cretin grad who took his millions and bought a house in his hometown, you get the feeling he'll never leave. Besides, he is unfailingly polite and duly humble—no doubt a result of his Minnesota upbringing. His batting title and unlimited potential as one of baseball's youngest rising stars are impressive, but more importantly, our own Joltin' Joe is homegrown all the way.

Johan Santana

With a change-up that's baffled more Twins opponents than any pitch since Blyleven's curve, and a pinpoint control that would do Jim Kaat and Brad Radke proud, Johan Santana is the ideal lefty strikeout machine, and the numbers he puts up make everyone else in the majors look feeble: Last season, he notched 245 strikeouts to Reds runner-up Aaron Harang's 216, rang up a 2.77 ERA to National League leader Roy Oswalt's 2.98, and was the only pitcher in the majors to average less than one base runner per inning. Best Twins Player? He may be the best player in baseball.

Former Minneapolis Fire Chief Bonnie Bleskachek

Bonnie Bleskachek's commendable rise through the ranks of the Minneapolis Fire Department culminated in June 2004, when she was named the city's first female and first openly gay fire chief. Bleskachek was one of the first female firefighters hired by the city of Minneapolis, and in 1992 was part of the first all-woman firefighting team. In 1995, she co-founded the Minnesota Women Fire Fighters Association, which has played an instrumental role in the MFD currently staffing 71 female firefighters. Sadly, there was one four-alarm blaze that Bonnie couldn't put out—the discontent within her department. Early last year, three lawsuits were filed against Bleskachek and the city of Minneapolis by female firefighters alleging discriminatory behavior, sexual harassment, and favoritism. A fourth lawsuit was filed in November by a male firefighter alleging that he was denied advancement because he is male and not gay. The city's investigation into the matter released last December found that 19 specific allegations were sustained, including that Bleskachek was found "making out" with another employee on the floor of a fire station workout room, lounging naked in a hot tub on three separate occasions when MFD employees were present, and "inappropriately touching" employees. That same month, the Minneapolis City Council voted 8-5 to demote Bleskachek to an administrative job.

Half Time Rec

You can tell the place has had some satisfied customers because there's photographic evidence right there on top of the bar: A sea of plastic-covered Polaroids displays happy, drink-reddened faces for posterity. (Some of the pictures feature the subject in front of the very bar of photos you're looking at, which, if one is drunk enough, can lead to a Keanu-esque "whoa" moment.) The cheerful tipplers in these images run the gamut: shorthaired and jocky, longhaired and disheveled; black, white; collegiate, blue-collar; old, young, really old. Though the pictures lend a bit of an everyone-knows-your-name feel (a familiar vibe in St. Paul bars), the Rec is by no means insular. Newcomers will be welcomed warmly, and there's plenty of room. If you want to become a regular, though, there's always something to do here while you're boozing away the hours: pool and dart leagues, bocce in the basement, and live music most nights (free except on Fridays and Saturdays, and not always Irish). Plus, you never know when something exciting might happen, like, oh, say, a brawl involving some St. Paul Saints, as went down last summer. Of course you can find Harp and Guinness on tap, and various drink specials. And how's this for neighborliness? While the Half Time Rec won't cook for you, no one wants you to go hungry, either (or to leave). In case the vending-machine snacks aren't cutting it, each table comes equipped with napkins, plastic flatware, and delivery menus from a bunch of local restaurants.

1013 Front Ave., St. Paul, 55103



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