While the North Loop in Minneapolis and Lowertown in St. Paul remain a magnet for new businesses and restaurants, lately our ever-expanding food and drink scene is venturing into more underserved parts of town.
Places like Tori Ramen taking over the vacant Lee’s and Dee’s Barbeque space or Augustine’s setting up in an old laundromat on Selby Avenue mean more vibrancy all over the place and not just the uptowns and downtowns.
But what about transforming an old Spam canning facility into a psychedelic playland full of pink fuzzy monsters, vintage pinball machines, live music, mini-golf, cotton candy, and Fig Newton adult malts? What power does that have over the neighborhood in question?
As you drive down the industrial Prior Avenue off University, you might start looking askance at your Google maps, assuming the old phone GPS has led you astray again. It hasn’t. Once parked, descend into the strange, cold depths of what seems like an old vacant warehouse, and when you start spotting the colorful graffiti and murals, you'll know you’ve found it.
“It” being, well, it’s hard to say. Can Can Wonderland is weird, funky, oddball. If you love the thrill of going to a party where someone has bothered to infuse things with a little circus-like color, then you're gonna love this. Why let an ugly old warehouse sit empty when you can make art and hot dogs and boozy snow cones instead?
The founders are a collective of creatives, the people behind such Twin Cities art projects as Walker Artist Designed Mini Golf, the Ten Second Film Festival, and Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement. Bittercube is of course taking care of the cocktails, and Mise en Place (what Bittercube is to cocktails, Mise en Place is to food) is doing the food.
The food is no small matter here, considering that there is no proper kitchen, and no ventilation system, which means no oven, burners, or fryers. They’re working with what they've got, namely some popcorn machines, hot dog rollers, sandwich presses and the like.
So, check it out: concession food. Not elevated concessions, not farm-to-table concessions, just the old-school stuff of your childhood.
Hungry? Get a hot dog. Actually, they’ve gone a little bit further than that, as far as they can go with their limitations. You can get mac & cheese piled on your dog if you must, or guac, or banh mi pickles. Toasties, nachos, and mini donuts round out the list, plus a smattering of salads for the veggie-minded.
But the real draw in the refreshment department is drink, where two bars provide a dispensary of wackadoo wonders.
While the Bittercube guys can certainly do craft cocktails, all prim and proper, they seem more in their wheelhouse when things get weird. Can Can is designed for getting in touch with your inner child, so they went full-fledged juvenile with the drinks menu. Juvenile with alcohol, of course.
Adult sno-cones, malts, and sodas anchor the menu, with bourbon and bitters poured right over crushed ice, or Fig Newtons, brandy, and caramel blended into ice cream and served in a glass roughly the size of a fish bowl and garnished with edible gold glitter and purple sprinkles.
It's fun. And let’s face it, we need some damn-good fun right about now.
These things can also be made virgin, and since Can Can is kid-friendly by day, a “library of cereal malts” is excuse enough to get in line with the wee ones right this minute. Pick a cereal and the Bittercube crew will make a malt out of it.
Or perhaps you'll try some cheddar cheese ice cream. What can be said? You just gotta try it.
Or just grab a hot pocket or a Heggies or a wine in a can (surprisingly high-quality and drinkable) and get on with your night of mini-golfing.
Can Can Wonderland could not have come at a better moment. It’s time to fight the bizarro world we live in with an all-out joyful pushback of weirdness. Without taking ourselves too seriously. With junk food and sprinkles and art. With music and bourbon and bacon-spritzed cotton candy. With Hot Pockets and Captain Crunch. You can have it all at Can Can Wonderland.
And if you can’t have fun here, you better call the doctor, ‘cuz you got a hole in your soul.
755 Prior Ave., St. Paul