By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Low’s My North
When the co-founders of the rock band Low, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Rogers, look out their front window, they see the lurching ore ships and endless expanse of one of the most storied lakes in the whole world: Lake Superior. The reputation of Duluth’s pristine slice of old Gitchigumi precedes it—the Aerial Lift Bridge, Glensheen Mansion, and all. But, as evidenced by the fact that a globally renowned electro rock band would set such deep roots here, today’s Duluth is so much more than just those landmarks.
There are lots of great lodging options in Duluth, but for our money, the coolest spot to bed down for the night is also the oldest brewery in town, Fitger’s. Built in 1885 and fully renovated and refurbished in 1984, the Inn at Fitger’s Historic Brewery Complex is a 62-room boutique hotel with rooms that feel like urban lofts with high ceilings and exposed brick walls. And even though Fitger’s is located right in the thick of the Canal Park action, it’s got plenty of action of its own, including Midi Restaurant, Mexico Lindo and Fitger’s Brewhouse (Fitger’s is still a working brewery), a pair of nightclubs (Barrel Room, Rex Bar), an ice cream parlor on the Lakewalk, and shops galore.
Little did Barbara Neubert know when she bought an old trailer and turned it into a mobile espresso shop in the early ’90s (and later evolved it into a coffee and bookstore) that she was actually laying the groundwork for what would become the one of the first—and still most important—farm-to-table restaurants in the state. Located in a renovated former food market in the Chester Park neighborhood, up in the hills overlooking the lake, At Sara’s Table is a popular brunch spot with a menu that’s as scratch as scratch can be, with stuff like cranberry wild rice French toast, a “hippy farm breakfast,” and even pancakes with maple mascarpone.
Located a stone’s throw from the Lakewalk just east of I-35, Zeitgeist is a one-stop A&E shop. On any given night you can drop by to for a screening of some independent cinema in the movie theater, see some performance art on the live theater stage, browse the always-on art gallery, or to eat and have a libation in the cafe/bar.
Duluth’s first production craft brewery and taproom is what you get when the one-time brewmaster of Barley John’s Brewpub and the one-time brewmaster of Rock Bottom Brewery (both in the Twin Cities) decide to move north and open their own brewery. Be it a fresh pint of one of their flagships, like Bent Hop Golden IPA, or something more seasonal, like the barrel-aged Double Shot Double Black, you can’t go wrong at Bent Paddle.
A newish arrival to the vital strip of cafes and restos on East 8th Street, Snooty Fox’s hip, spare, industrial space boasts more than 115 loose-leaf teas, four house-brewed kombucha flavors (including IPA-style Angry Rooster), and 22 bubble teas. They even offer regularly scheduled “Brew Kombucha At Home” classes led by their staff kombucha brewers Tom and Sophie Spehar.
Another popular brunch spot with locals, Duluth Grill might look like a small-town greasy spoon, but it’s far from it. A brother from another mother to At Sara’s Table, it’s also all about locally sourced organic food, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not still hardcore nosh. Full of heaping helpings of everything from corned beef hash to a garlic-gouda burger to bibimbap bowls overflowing with Korean BBQ and jasmine rice, Duluth Grill’s menu is gnarly enough that it’s even attracted the likes of Guy Fieri for a “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” taping.
The best place in Duluth to take a stroll is the Lakewalk, which runs more or less unabated along the city’s Lake Superior shoreline. But the best place in Duluth to shop is actually a block east on Superior Street. The vast swatch of stores includes everything from Duluth Pack to Lake Superior Art Glass to the Electric Fetus to Frost River Trading, and they’re interspersed with cafes and coffee shops like Duluth Coffee Co. and small-batch bakery Zenith Bread Project.
In Norwegian, “Vikre” means “people of the bay,” so it’s no wonder that when Emily and Joel Vikre founded Duluth’s first craft distillery, they did so in the shadows of the Aerial Lift Bridge in Canal Park. Go for the gin, stay for the aquavit.