I love the Twin Cities, but I recently became aware that I hadn’t left them for quite some time. Other, more exotic places in Minnesota beckoned to me, so I loaded everything I would need for a pleasant road trip — peanuts, beef jerky, sodas, Kiss CD, and girlfriend — into the Jetta and set off to Red Wing.It’s a beautiful town. Set alongside a swirl of islands in the Mississippi, Red Wing’s historic downtown is all views of the river and old brick buildings to duck in and out of. Red Wing Confectionery deservedly caught our attention first. There we bought clusters of nuts ensconced in rich, creamy chocolate along with foil-wrapped candies in the shape of Red Wing’s town symbol, a red wing. These were meant as gifts for loved ones upon our return, though we ultimately had fewer to give than we’d initially intended.
Just down the way we found the Red Wing Shoes flagship store. I usually eschew shoes despite having two feet myself, but this shoe store had something very special: a 16 foot tall, 20 foot long, size 638 ½ boot to marvel at. It’s made in exactly the same way as one of their regular boots but on a drastically greater scale, it takes a trip up a special staircase just to see the entirety of The Big Boot and play with its fire hose sized lace. A little company museum further justified the trip up a flight of stairs, and once back down I found just the set of cowboy boots I needed to perfectly complement my magazine writer lifestyle.
Newly shod, we continued on around downtown. We popped into Hallstrom’s Florist and Greenhouses where the girlfriend found the nicknacks her friends back home had been so sorely lacking. We browsed the selection at Fair Trade Books as part of my unceasing quest to own more books than I will ever have time to read. We went into Aliveo Military Museum, where admission is free, and saw one of the rifles my grandfather took with him to France. (He would never go back — he came under the apprehension during his visit to Europe that the locals were rude and would try to shoot you.) We loved Uffda Shop with its Scandinavian gifts, from napkins bearing the flag of Norway to attractive models of Vikings to hand-painted Christmas tree ornaments. We crossed a local bar called Tators and Dillers and decided we would be heartless if we could pass such a place without stopping in for a restorative.
Once restored, we set about deciding on lunch. I regret that I can eat only one lunch in a day, as there were more than a few places for it that I wanted to try. Red Wing Brewery looked great, a pizza place whose craft beer is served exclusively on-site. A steak on the patio at Bayside Tap and Steakhouse sounded like the ticket too. We were ultimately drawn to the restaurant at the St. James Hotel. There we sat on the deck and watched the river over salads and burgers. The St. James proved so special, in fact, that it warranted its own article in this issue.
Full of lunch and now tired of walking, we found a swinging bench in Levee Park by the water to sit on. Up the river we could see the tightest turn in the Mississippi, a narrowing which funneled a delicious breeze toward us while we sat in the shade. From across the way we could hear the live band at Harbor Bar begin to play. The singer averred that he stood up next to a mountain and chopped it down with the edge of his hand. Everything was perfect.
Having sat awhile in thought we were ready to resume the assault. We went to the Pottery Museum, an ode to the city’s old clay industry. There we saw their vast collection of stoneware, dinnerware, and art pottery. Nothing topped the figurine of a contented sow with her speckled piglets.
We exhausted our legs by that point, so we returned to the car to make two more important stops. First, we went to Target to buy mouthwash, a mission which, while rewarding, does not merit further elaboration. Second, we went to Treasure Island Resort and Casino in nearby Welch in order to get rich. I played roulette because I love it and I’m very good at it. I have a strategy — I bet on red and black, because that way I nearly always win. The girlfriend hit rather well on the Willy Wonka slot machine, effectively letting the chocolatier treat us to the lunch we had just enjoyed at the St. James. That she walked away with more money than me despite my expert betting was a perplexing but acceptable outcome of the casino expedition.
On our way out, the sounds of bells and rhythmic drumming caught our attention, so we gravitated toward its source. Phenomenal — Treasure Island happened to be hosting an authentic Native American pow wow that day! We looked on in awe as hundreds of participants circled in the field and chanted in full regalia. The complexity of their colorful dress defies description, and the effect of their performance was hypnotic. The ceremony crescendoed when a small circle of men ululated over a drum while others lowered American flags in memory of our fallen veterans. What luck, to chance upon such a thing.
And then we went home.
Choosing Red Wing out of all of our nearby tourist towns was as complicated as throwing a dart at a map, and I couldn’t be more pleased by how our day went. In our short trip we only scratched the surface of what the town offers their guests. We will one day return to enjoy Red Wing Water Park, The Anderson Center with its art and concerts, kayaking with Broken Paddle Guiding, a tour of Red Wing Stoneware Company, and a cruise down the Mississippi on the Spirit of the Water. How fortunate we are, to have so much fun only an hour’s drive away from the cities.
By David Scheller