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The Ghosts Of Minnesotan Preps Past

While paging through my copy of The Official Preppy Handbook, edited by Lisa Birnbach, as I’m wont to do from time to time, I came across the section titled “Where The Preps Are: A City By City Going Out Guide,” which is exactly what it says it is – a listing of cities and then a preppy establishment one could visit each day of the week.

I quickly flipped to the listings for Minneapolis/St. Paul. It was, as one might expect, a rather sad offering. We haven’t had any truly big prep action here since F. Scott Fitgerald left, but it inspired me to see if it might be possible to still visit the places listed (the list was compiled in 1980.)

Now, Ms. Birnback did come out with an updated preppy guide just last year, the great True Prep. Alas, Minnesota has not a mention in the book – no listings for vintage clothing stores, city clubs or even places to practice one’s shooting or go fishing! It’s a sad state of affairs and I can’t really blame her for the omissions.

In any case, here is a look at the prep hang-outs of the past in Mpls/St. Paul.

1. W.A. Frost & Company, 374 Selby Avenue, St. Paul

Description from book: St. Paul’s bid for acceptance. Proto-Prep. Pickups.

I was just there! The gorgeous patio was entirely full on a Thursday evening – both for dinner and on the bar side. We ended up sitting down in a nook in the basement and fetching our own drinks up at the bar when we wanted them, which was fine for us but not great for people watching. However, in true prep spirit, I ordered a Tom Collins and can highly recommend it. Overall, this establishment is alive and well and still a place for those striving for acceptance. I even saw a guy wearing yellow jeans, rolled up, with Sperry Top Siders standing across the street!

2. Haberdashery, 45 South 7th Street, Minneapolis

Description: Formerly the home (for more than half a century) of a very Prep clothing store, Hubert W. White, original brass and wood fittings still here. Bar.

Alas, the Haberdashery is no more. It is now the site of a Radisson, possibly the same Radissson where Marge meets her high school “friend” Mike Yanagita in the movie Fargo. This is sad to me because the Haberdashery sounds like a very cool place. I like the idea of clothing stores that also have a bar. Why not make getting a suit or dress an occasion?

When you say “Haberdashery” in the Twin Cities, most of us now think of another great store, Heimie’s Haberdashery in St. Paul, located at 400 St. Peter Street. This is definitely worth a visit if you’re a guy in the market for upscale, well-made clothing or an old-fashioned shave.

FYI, clothes with labels from Hubert W. White show up at Twin Cities estate sales and sometimes thrift stores quite often.

3. University Club, 420 Summit Avenue, St. Paul

Description: Traditional men’s club, fallen onto hard times, now (discreetly) open to the public, for dinner, lunch and room accommodations.

While not big on website design, the Club is indeed still going. Now, of course, it’s open to the ladies. In fact, it’s open to entire families. It is not, however, open to the public for dinner and lunch but anyone, presumably, can rent rooms there for events, like weddings, birthday parties, meetings of your secret society. Members can have dinner there in three different rooms – the Ramsey, the Club or the Fireside. I wish that last one was called Ironsides.

4. The Commodore, 79 Western Avenue, St. Paul

Description: Restored hotel, bar mecca of 1920’s  Prep revival. F. Scott Fitzgerald himself used to frequent the place. Need we say more?

The Commodore is part of the University Club’s holdings. It’s not open to the public; one cannot wander in and rent a room. It is available for events. From the website: “All four banquet rooms flow into each other and provide a lovely setting for luncheons, dinners and receptions of all kinds for up to 350 people.” The original Art Deco Bar has been preserved and is fabulous (it was untouched in the great explosion and fire at the Commodore in 1978!) For awhile, it was open on the first Monday of the month  for some sort of craft bazaar and cocktail hour that I always meant to go to simply to be able to see the room, but that has now ended.

Here is a pic from the website:

4. Windfield Potters, 210 S. E. 2nd Avenue, Minneapolis

Description: Cashing in on 1980’s Prep revival, this is the place to go for drinks at the end of the work week. Help is required to wear Weejuns, khakis and Lacostes.

This restaurant had quite a following back in the day – it currently has a Facebook group called Winfield Potters Friends for those who used to gather there. Alas, this place no longer exists. It’s now the site of an office building. However, they did preserve the large patio/courtyard that used to be a big summer hangout and you can go see it. There is a plaque there commemorating the site. Also, Windfield Potters was used for the interior shots for the bar in Beautiful Girls – you know that scene where they all end up singing “Sweet Caroline?” That interior is the restaurant (the exterior shot they show is actually a different location in Stillwater). So I guess if you want to get some idea of what it was like inside, you have to watch the movie.

Coincidentally, the co-0wner of the restaurant, David Potter Webb, just died. He owned several restaurants throughout the city  through the years and seems like he was a cool guy. His obituary is here, in the Star Tribune.

5. Calhoun Beach Club, 2730 W. Lake Street, Minneapolis

Description: Upwardly mobile lawyers, etc., play tennis, squash and swim. Built in 1920s, formerly a Grand Hotel. Since no golf, members mostly 25-40.

This place has been around for a long time. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places and has served as everything from a social club, hotel, home to WTCN TV and radio stations, a home for the elderly to a sports club. Now it’s the site of a fitness club and luxury apartment homes. I love it when they call them “apartment homes,” as if just apartment implies something much less than one’s home. To go to the fitness club/spa/pool/what-have-you, one needs to be a member.

Of course you can have your wedding here (where can’t one have a wedding these days?) and you may opt for the Hidden Terrace if you’re having a smallish affair. Click here for a 360 degree view of said terrace.

However, you can get some of the ambiance of the place by eating at the street-level restaurant, which just became the Urban Eatery after being View after being Dixie’s Calhoun for a long time. I don’t think many preps hang here, per say, put if you squint your eyes I’m sure your fellow dinners will look like they are wearing Fair Isle cardigans with pearls or Lacoste shirts.

6. Woodhill Country Club, 200 Woodhill Road, Wayzata

Description: Private. Old-line. Highest proportion of real Preppies in area. Suburban.

Of course Woodhill is still there. Don’t be silly. It will be there long after America is no longer America. And the description still holds true – if you want true Preppiness in the TC, you really have to go out to Wayzata.

What’s In A Proper Name?

prep boys movie stillIn honor of the publication of True Prep by Lisa Birnbach (a follow-up to The Official Preppy Handbook, which I blogged about last year) this month, the baby naming website  Baby Names Garden has posted a  list of preppy names and nicknames and is taking reader suggestions.

As it so happens, my own copy of True Prep arrived in the mail today and a quick glance through reveals that it does not address preppy names this time around. In many ways, preppy names and nicknames often stay the same. After all, prep is about staying power, the tried and true; not trying to outdo oneself with flash and sass. Case in point, when Gwenyth Paltrow named her daughter Apple -  I’m still of the mind that a simple “Claire” or “Tinsley” would have sufficed.

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The Official Preppy Handbook: Dressing Preppy

green_whale_pinkIf you’re looking to express your offbeat, kooky personality, dressing preppy probably isn’t for you. The number one principle is sameness. Sameness from day-to-day but also sameness with your fellow Preps. You have your sturdy go-to wardrobe staples – your beige corduroys for the weekend, your tennis whites, your navy blue suit, pink polo for picnics – and then you never need to think about wardrobe ever again.

Still intrigued? Here are some basic tenets to follow when dressing, courtesy of the Handbook:

1. Conservatism
2. Neatness – Yes, you do need to tuck in your shirt.
3. Attention to detail – skimp on the details and everyone will spot you for a fake!
4. Practicality – forget stiletto heels; embrace the classic pump
5. Quality – No, you don’t go to Forever 21 and load up on trendy clothes.
6. Natural Fibers – synthetics scream disco era, poor taste, lack of money.
7. Anglophilia – Except maybe for Burberrys, now that they’ve cheapened the brand.
8. Specific Color Blindness – pastels do go with primary colors!
9. The Sporting Look – even if you’d never hunt down a spider in your bathroom in order to flush it down the toilet, it’s best to look as if you’re joining a fox hunt in ten minutes. Or going off to flush pheasants from your hedges. But beware: the deer hunting look doesn’t pass muster.
10. Androgyny – your khakis, rain gear, wool sweaters and tweed jackets should look just as good on Muffy as they do on Bink.

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The Official Preppy Handbook: Failing Upwards

The ability of some people to fail upwards is one of my favorite topics because I’m fairly certain I’ve never pulled it off. This is not to say, “I certainly haven’t failed upwards; I’ve worked hard for everything I’ve got.” It simply means – I find myself working hard but not necessarily realizing the meteoric rise some others do and there is definitely a lack of free stuff being showered upon me. For me, I’m sure this has to to do with personality. There are some people who are born self-promoters and/or bullshitters and I’m not one of them. But enough about me. The Handbook says, “Only those who continually fail to strive and to succeed are rewarded with the respect reserved for the upper crust.”

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The Official Preppy Handbook: A Reading List

preppy handbook smallOne thing to remember as you’re working on your Prep status, is that it’s a lifestyle, not just a fashion trend. It has to be incorporated into every facet of your life, including your reading material. According to the Handbook, some safe bets are books about Prep schools or classics assigned to be read in Prep schools, books about Preppies and books about the joys and miseries of being a Prep.

I’ll tell you what’s not on the list: anything by Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer. You can forget reading such common fodder (unless you hide it in the bathroom for reading on the throne).

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The Official Preppy Handbook: Managing Those Dollah Billz

rainbow dollarThis is where things get complicated in the Prep lifestyle. If you’re serious about being a Prep, you’ve got to back up your rep with some serious cash, or at least the illusion of it. How do you create that illusion? Well, hopefully you don’t have to because you’ve got a trust fund. Barring that, you can cultivate an air of richness that you pair it with enough turtlenecks and an easygoing relationship with a credit card. Here are some do’s and don’t gleaned from the Handbook.

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The Official Preppy Handbook: Of Ducks and Dogs

Hey, Bunny here! Back with OPH tips for selecting a pet.

But first, let me say that this Preppy duck motif has been weighing heavily on my mind since last night (see last post). My home is really not duck-compliant. So I did some searching on  Craig’s List to find some duck-related items I could purchase to Preppify my environment.

duck printI found a Shoveler Duck Print with the added note of, “Finally an Upscale Duck Print!” Apparently a lot of people are selling down-market duck prints out there. Buyer beware and all that. The print is limited edition, signed and out-of-circulation. It can be mine for only $575. The seller says, “It was more than just another print of a handsome duck, it was a limited edition done by someone with an artistic flair not totally concerned with replicating the Shoveler like a photo, but as concerned with bringing the feeling of the wild with the picture in an artistic manner.

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The Official Preppy Handbook In A Web 2.0 World

preppy handbook cover2Do you by any chance remember The Official Preppy Handbook? I do. I own a copy. It was published in 1980 (retailed in paperback for $3.95) and was probably ahead of the curve, getting out there before “preppy” officially became part of the lexicon and something of a punchline in the mid-to-late 80s. Essentially, it’s a humorous book, of course, but it also served as a kind of a road map for how to be prep, even if you weren’t born into the lifestyle and felt so inclined. The introduction states that, “Preppies don’t have to be rich, Caucasian, frequenters of Bermuda or ace tennis players.” The book has a certain something in common with today’s Gossip Girl and makes you think a bit more deeply about Gwyneth Paltrow, Izod and Ivy League schools.

It also makes me think about pink and green, a color combo I still associate with Prep, turtlenecks with repeating patterns of tiny whales spouting water or apples, wool blazers and movies like St. Elmo’s Fire. Ah, good times.

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