A Baedeker to the Twin Cities At Night

ONCE THE BARS close at 1 a.m. in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the opportunities for the night owl with cabin fever become fewer by the hour. These are the hours of indiscriminate appetites, hectoring or inebriate concupiscence, and all the prosaic routines of the Living Dead of the Night.

Virtually all of the big players on the local grocery and gas scene keep around-the-clock hours, and any drive around town in the dead of night will be punctuated by these bright interruptions in the usual sleepy, still-life grid of the neighborhoods. Rainbow Foods, Cub Foods, Lunds, and Byerly's, as well as Jerry's in Edina and many of the SuperAmericas, are open 24 hours, and what you'll usually find at 3 a.m. are loud music, stacked pallets, and aisles cluttered with broken-down boxes. Late night regulars will tell you that there is no more convenient time to shop--no traffic, and no standing in line.

You can't avoid, either, the 35 Perkins, 17 Embers, and 13 White Castles scattered around the Twin Cities, a visit to any one of which at 3 a.m. is enough to make one feel surprisingly well-adjusted. The late-night hours, it seems, are when the residents of Rubberleg Street venture out to dine. Among 24-hour Twilight Zone dining choices, the Flameburger in Columbia Heights merits special mention. Little Tijuana is a favorite late-night spot for the Whittier/Uptown/Lyn-Lake/Lowry Hill set, but closes up shop at 2:30 a.m. The infamous Pizza Shack and Dulono's on Lake Street both serve until 3 a.m. Those looking for a legitimate breakfast will have to wait until Bonnie's 4 a.m. opening, or Al's at 6.

If you need a drink you're pretty much out of luck. The CC Club starts pouring at 8 a.m., and you can answer the bell at many of the area liquor stores at the same hour. Cigarettes, good coffee, loud music, and decent food can be had at the Hard Times Cafe on the West Bank, but they close up and let the smoke settle for a couple hours at 4. After that hour you're pretty much left with the ubiquities.

Minneapolis's sexual preserve--its own rather pallid Times Square--is located mostly in the Warehouse district area bordered by Washington Avenue and North Third Street, and First and Second Avenues. It is here that you will find much of what must pass for action in the Twin Cities after 2 a.m. Roughly within this area you will find Deja Vu (closing at 3 a.m. weeknights, 4 a.m. on weekends), Broadway Books (24 hours), Sex World (24 hours), the Utopia Health Club (24 hours), and Dream Girls (2:30 weeknights, 3:30 weekends). The other major downtown contender for the sleepless testicular dollar, Buns and Roses, closes at 4 a.m.

Perfect for late-night guilt trips or dark-night-of-the-soul neuroses is a trip to the 24-hour laundry, and there is perhaps no place in the Twin Cities that taps into all of the particular anxieties of sleeplessness and fear of the dark better than the Vend-A-Wash at Chicago and Lake. For a more tranquil 3 a.m. laundry experience, try the Econo-Wash on Excelsior Boulevard in St. Louis Park. If sweating that anxiety out of you on a Stairmaster seems more the ticket, there are always the six 24-hour Twin Cities Lifetime Fitness locations, where self-consciousness need never be an issue at 3 in the morning, when you may wheeze, sweat, and even grunt to your heart's delight. For a less strenuous workout, you can shoot pool at Shooters in Burnsville until 4 a.m.

In the 1990s, Hopper's "Nighthawks at the Diner" has been relocated to the various all-night Kinko's, where one may do all sorts of interesting and productive things at 3 a.m. For financial binds or middle-of-the-night identification jams, the desperate and savvy alike know that they can depend on the 24-hour MoneyGram on East Lake Street, and for those who run afoul of the law, there are always Bailbondsmen standing by to take their call, as well as the ever-vigilant Miles W. Lord and Associates ("333-Lord. No voice mail. Talk to human beings.").

Appliance problems at 3:30 in the morning? No problem, you can get somebody to come out and fix your refrigerator or your stove at any hour of the night. Pregnant, suicidal, lonely, or confused? Well, those are problems, but rest assured that somewhere in the darkest night there's somebody sitting at the other end of a crisis line waiting to listen.

And, finally, you want the best visual perspectives on the Cities at night? Try any one of the bridges that cross the Mississippi all around the Twin Cities. The view from the Ford Parkway bridge--with its tremendous vista of the dark river and the locks and dams--is astonishing. Downtown Minneapolis is spectacular from 394 heading into downtown, and also from the Hennepin Avenue/Grain Belt bridge coming over from Nicollet Island. The Lake Street drive from Lake Calhoun to St. Paul is the best pure stretch of urban night in the Cities, hands down. And you wanna be surrounded by the city of Minneapolis at night, feel like a tiny quarterback in the middle of the huddle that is the city, and have a beautiful, breathtaking time and maybe get your ass in trouble? Go down to the parking ramp downtown at Nicollet and 4th Street some night very late, and drive to the top and play a game of catch with a baseball. It's a gorgeous spot, surrounded close on all four sides by skyscrapers, and there is no sound anywhere except the sound of your voices and the pop of the baseball and the big throb of the city idling all around you.

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