Back in the Loop

September 10, 2015

Even though I’m really enjoying my new neighborhood, it’s no secret I loved living in the North Loop. In that post on moving to Whittier, I mentioned that one of the things I missed about my old neighborhood was the sense of energy and excitement that came with living someplace that was changing all the time. I watched the area grow for six years before moving there, and living there while it happened around us was a ton of fun, too. It seemed that just when we’d seen or done everything in the neighborhood, something new popped up.

Yesterday I went back to the old stomping grounds for the first time since we moved. A local coffeehouse chain called Spyhouse opened its fourth location last month in the Brunsfield building, one of the cooler looking newish apartments in the area, and I used that as an excuse to pay a visit. The northeast Minneapolis Spyhouse location was one of my favorite places to work when I lived in the NL, and I live within 10 minutes walk of their other two locations now in Whittier. It’s fair to say I’m a fan.

I made the trek knowing at least that much had changed–the opening of a highly anticipated new coffee shop–but how much else could be different in barely more than a month?

Quite a bit, it turns out.

Even though I’d read about the stuff I saw in one form or another, it was impactful seeing it all at once. It’s easy to miss incremental changes that go on around you. Something shows up one day, maybe you notice and maybe you don’t. Pretty soon it’s just part of the fabric of a neighborhood, and you can’t really recall when it wasn’t around.

But when you notice one change, your eye is immediately trained on noticing others.

The thing that primed my brain to look for new stuff came before I’d technically entered the North Loop itself. At the corner of 5th St and Hennepin Avenue, a giant Bob Dylan mural was painted on what was previously a nondescript building wall. I have mixed feelings on this mural. I like Dylan’s music, and I think the artwork is cool. But Minnesota as a state is WAAAAYY overly fixated on Dylan. Besides, it’s still a pretty ugly parking lot.*

In the Lane

Next, I got off the bus at Washington and Hennepin and headed toward Spyhouse. One of the things I didn’t love about living in the NL was that outside of rush hour, cars treated Washington as a drag strip. It’s especially bad when a traffic light is about to change. As everyone knows, yellow doesn’t mean “slow down.” It means, “attempt to break the sound barrier.” Despite this, it’s still a popular thoroughfare for cyclists because it connects to so many other parts of the city. I don’t think anyone enjoys biking on Washington, but it’s still a practical choice.

Bike lanes to the rescue! Sort of, anyway. There are now basic bike lanes from Hennepin to 5th Ave N and striping for what will eventually be protected lanes from 5th Ave N to Plymouth Ave. The pictures below show the differences in how these are striped.

Basic bike lane between Hennepin and 5th Ave N

Basic bike lane between Hennepin and 5th Ave N

Wider striping for protected lanes beyond 5th Ave N

Wider striping for protected lanes beyond 5th Ave N

Protected bike lanes are MUCH better for making people feel safe, but even the basic ones added here are very welcome. Changes like this go a long way toward making Washington Ave much less intimidating to bike down and improve things for pedestrians as well. The section past 5th Ave N will be especially improved because the restriping of Washington gave it a road diet from 4 through lanes, 2 parking lanes, and a turn lane to down to just 2 through lanes, 2 bikes lanes, 2 parking lanes and a turn lane. It was much-needed. There simply was nowhere near a level of automobile traffic to justify that many lanes beyond 5th Ave, and the thousands of North Loop residents won’t have to play Frogger quite as much as before.

Skol Vikings, I Guess

Vikings fans are not an amenity, I promise you.

Vikings fans are not an amenity, I promise you.

As I made my way down Washington, I passed the Dock Street Flats building at the 4th Ave N bridge and took the photo at right. It’s an advertisement for the apartments mentioning that U.S. Bank Stadium, future home of the Minnesota Vikings, is only a little more than a mile away. The stadium is accelerating toward completion, and I’m sure Vikings fans are pretty stoked to check out the new digs. But, still, this made me laugh. Is living close to an NFL stadium really appealing? Because it seems terrible to me. NFL fans are the worst sports fans. The Mill District neighborhood is the primary residential area nearest the stadium, and while I would still definitely live there, proximity to the giant spaceship that is U.S. Bank Stadium is not among the reasons. I think a more effective advertisement would be “U.S. Bank Stadium over a mile away. Live in the North Loop and avoid barfing Vikings fans in the Mill District!”

Just past that, I walked near the Western Container building which is in the midst of renovations. Long rumored to be a destination for more loft-style living in the area, it was just announced this week that outdoor/off-road vehicle company Arctic Cat is moving its headquarters to the building. This fits in with a pretty steady stream of businesses relocating to the area, which seems to be happening somewhat under the radar. I think most folks still think of the North Loop as almost entirely residential, and that’s changing.

I Spy

The last change that drew my attention was finally arriving at Spyhouse itself. The retail bays in the Brunsfield building sat vacant for several years before Spyhouse came on the scene, and it’s great to see something there now. On one hand, it’s at the far end of the North Loop, so it doesn’t surprise me that it took awhile to attract tenants. On the other, so much other retail space has filled up in the last few years that I have to assume the management was asking for sky-high rents and holding out for a golden ticket of a tenant.

Spyhouse probably comes reasonably close to such a thing despite being in the low margin coffee business. There’s no question they brand themselves as an upmarket coffee shop, which seems like an evolution that happened over the last couple of years beginning with the Northeast location. It’s easily the smallest of their shops as well, which presumably made the rent more doable.

This courtyard space is pretty great.

This courtyard space is pretty great.

Weird glare/reflection result of being too lazy to go inside to take the picture.

Weird glare/reflection result of being too lazy to go inside to take the picture.

I think they’ve done a great job with the space, taking especially great advantage of the cool courtyard that sits between the retail and residential entrances to Brunsfield. It fits in stylistically with their other shops while also feeling like it belongs in the North Loop. Though it’s unlikely I’ll make the effort to visit terribly often because there are such great options much closer to home, I’ll probably use it as an excuse to come see future changes as the North Loop continues to evolve. I look forward to seeing what comes next. There’s always something to watch in this neighborhood.


 

*Sort of a rant here. Dylan’s an important part of the state’s artistic history, sure, but there’s no shortage of other tributes to him and it’s not like he’s gone out of his way to talk about how important Minnesota, or Minneapolis in particular, was to his music or anything. It feels a little like a desperate attempt to say, “please love us!”

You know who’s had a much larger influence on the Minneapolis music scene, still lives here, and is active in the area? Prince. A Prince mural would make much more sense here, especially given his ties to the famous rock club First Avenue just a couple blocks away. Sure, he’s weird. People who have been famous since they were like 20 are often weird. Dylan seems pretty weird, too. But Prince can shred, man. Check this out. Jump to about 3:20 to get to the goods. That young guy with the dopey, excited grin is Dhani Harrison, George’s kid. He’s pretty stoked to watch Prince melt some faces, and does not leave disappointed.

Beyond Prince, the city has a rich theater history that could have been memorialized and made more sense given this was 1) managed by the Hennepin Theatre Trust and 2) near several of downtown’s most famous theaters. And like I said, it’s still adjacent to an ugly surface parking lot. My overall rating of this is ¯  \_(ツ)_/¯

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