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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.