St. Paul/Minneapolis Getaway ~ A Weekend on the Lam


Hey there, ya mugs, the Ghost of John Dillinger here, speaking to you from the great beyond. Yeah, I was Public Enemy Number One until those no good coppers gunned me down in front of the Biograph Theater in Chicago. I was framed, I tell ya! I’d been all around the country with my gang, pulling bank jobs and heists, and then I’d have to take it on the lam. When the heat was on, I used to steal a Packard or a reliable Ford and drive across state lines to Minneapolis and St. Paul to lay low and relax with the gang, or my best girl. Yeah, you heard me, those sleepy little cities sure had it in good for guys like me. Believe it or not, St. Paul had some of the most corrupt cops this side of the Mississippi, they made Tammany Hall look like a buncha schoolgirls. It was the perfect place to kick back and enjoy some peace and quiet (and protection), and have a few laughs until the heat blew over. In fact, not only myself, but my pals, Ma Barker and her gang, “Creepy” Karpis, “Baby Face” Nelson, and “Machine Gun” Kelly used to enjoy spending time here. And, unfortunately, some of my pals also bought it here too.


Sure, things nowadays have changed quite a bit since my time, but I’m here to tell you that if you’re gonna come to the Twin Cities, sure, you can go to that giant Mall of America, or to the Guthrie Theater, but everyone does that, and you can if you want, I’m not here to stop you.   But why not have yourself a little adventure while you’re here too? If you’re a little adventurous, why not pretend you’ve pulled off a heist and you’re making your way to lay low until the coast is clear? I’ve put together an itinerary for those of you who want to learn about the “other” Twin Cities. First off, I have to tell you, you’re probably not going to steal a Packard or a Ford and drive across state lines to get here. If you do, all the better, it’s more realistic that way, but, I shouldn’t be one promoting that kind of thing. So, you can fly into Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport and rent (not steal) a car and take yourself to your “hideout”. If you want me to call you a cab, ‘You’re a cab”.. heh heh.. sorry, little joke there, I’ll get you cab to whisk you to your “hideout,” no questions asked. By the way, you’re going to have to change your name to “Mr. Bob Johnson”, or if you’re traveling with your moll, “Mr. and Mrs. Bob Johnson”. Trust me, you’ll blend right in, and people will be none the wiser.


Your “hideout” is actually The St. Paul Hotel, one of the nicest hotels in the Cities. My pal, Leon Gleckman, the “Al Capone of St Paul,” a prominent bootlegger, used to hold court in a suite of rooms overlooking Rice Park. This will be your “base of operations” for the next couple of days. There’s fine dining at many local restaurants, you can take in a show at the Ordway Center For the Performing Arts, across the way, you can wander into the St. Paul Central Library, or tour the Landmark Center, all within walking distance of the hotel. But, be careful of the Landmark Center as that used to the the Court House, and some of my pals got sent up the river in that place. Ask “Creepy” Karpis about their hospitality.


On certain Friday nights, you can take a trip out to the Wabasha Street Caves and do some swing dancing. A pretty little nightclub built into the bluffs of the Mississippi River. If you’re not able to “swing” the dancing, heh heh, another joke, I kill me, be sure to go there on Saturday morning for the Wabasha Street Caves tour. Here you’ll learn about the history of the caves, and of some of the doings of my and my cohorts in crime back in the day. There still might be some illegal hooch stashed there somewhere! Stick around for the St. Paul Gangster Tour that follows, and you’ll get a motorcoach ride around the hills and dales of St. Paul and see some of the places I actually slept, or shot my way out of, and where we used to go and have some fun. The tour is led by several people in period costume playing the roles of gangsters. I must say, the guy who plays me is the cat’s pajamas, although I still think I’m better looking. To get an overview and an idea of some of the sights you might see, click here and here for more details.


But, before you head out to the caves, take a stroll down to Mickey’s Dining Car, on W. 7th Street for a good, old-fashioned breakfast. This gem wasn’t around in my day, but it still provides the feel of a greasy spoon diner that I loved to frequent, and the wait staff are the gruffest old dames you can imagine. They don’t take no guff, but they’ve got hearts of gold!


If you’re looking for some live theater or a show, on a Saturday night, if you’re lucky, you might be able to score rush seats for a taping of “A Prairie Home Companion” at the Historic Fitzgerald Theater, just up the block from your “hideout” in St. Paul. Most of the upcoming performances are sold out, but if you’re really lucky, you might be able to score a ticket or two. Otherwise, you can take a trip “across the river” into Minneapolis, and catch a show at any one of the historic theaters in the Hennepin Theater District in Downtown Minneapolis. The three theaters, the Orpheum, the State, and the Pantages theaters, all within walking distance of each other, are throwbacks to vaudeville and the old movie palaces of the day. All have been restored to their original splendor, and I caught a few movies and shows when I came to town. Nowadays, shows range from Broadway touring productions to stand-up comedy, to long-running revues. Check the listings on the webpages for shows and times. Of course, I have an irrational fear of hanging outside theaters, so I’ll wait up for you until after the show is over.


After the show, take a trip and meet me at Nye’s Polonaise Room in Northeast Minneapolis (or Nordeast, as the locals call it) for an after show meal and some live piano bar entertainment. Nye’s was voted one of the best bars in the country by Esquire magazine. It’s décor (and most of the wait staff) hasn’t changed since 1948. The formica tables, glittering gold vinyl booths, and heavy stained glass lamps, throw you back in time, and you and your pals can order up some great Polish cabbage rolls, pierogi, or polish sausage, down a few beers and you’re all set to join the crowd around the piano bar. Lou Snider has been there for over 30 years entertaining the crowds and if you’re willing to be spotted, you can take a shot at singing some of your favorite tunes along with Lou. If you’re in the mood to polka, step next door and on Friday and Saturday nights, dance your heart out to the sounds of Ruth Adams and “The Worlds Most Dangerous Polka Band.” She’s not the prettiest dame around, but she plays a mean accordion.


Sunday morning, pay your hotel bill (or, if you’re feeling lucky, try to skip out using the dumbwaiter) and then treat yourself to a nice brunch at Forepaugh’s, an elegant Victorian house just on the outskirts of Downtown St. Paul, on your way back to the airport. It will be a great way to recharge your batteries with some champagne, some fancy entrees, and a place to plan your next caper. Or, if you decide to go on the up and up, that’s fine too.


I hope you will have as great a time as I’ve had in St. Paul and Minneapolis. And people will be none the wiser.


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