Fresh Midwest Spots to Play, Eat, Drink and Stay
Hot off the minds of Midwest travel writers: a fresh look at where to eat, drink, play and stay around the region.
Rollin' on the River, Minneapolis
Located along the Mississippi River in Mill Ruins Park, Water Works is a hybrid park-pavilion that promises to be a perfect picnic venue (especially if you snag a spot near the sprawling cottonwood tree that was preserved during development). Conceived to blend Minneapolis' Native American and industrial heritages, this ambitious green space has finally opened after several years of construction. Stroll the newly developed riverfront between the Stone Arch and Third Avenue South bridges to check out new gathering spaces, a nature play lab, native plants, and touches of Dakota language and design. (Coming soon: an Indigenous public art project with the City of Minneapolis.)
At the indoor pavilion, have a meal at the new and highly anticipated Owamni. Owners Sean Sherman and his partner, Dana Thompson, describe Owamni as the state's first restaurant committed to celebrating Native American cuisine. Local farmers and foragers get the spotlight on a menu that creatively explores foods traditionally grown, raised and caught in the Upper Midwest.
From Main Street to Megalopolis, Columbus, Indiana
Buildings designed by architecture icons such as I. M. Pei and Eliel Saarinen speckle Columbus, Indiana, a small town that emerged in the mid-20th century as an unlikely hub of modernist design. Businessman J. Irwin Miller fueled the boom via the Cummins Foundation Architecture Program, which helped spearhead civic development. Experts created lists of highly qualified architects from which organizations and businesses could choose.
The city's incredible collection (including Eero Saarinen's Miller House and Garden, pictured) warrants a pilgrimage for any architecture-lover. But an annual project called Exhibit Columbus gives design buffs a reason to keep coming back, alternating a symposium or a citywide art show each year. Executive Director Anne Surak describes the 2021 exhibit, which runs August 21 through November 28, as "a celebration of architecture, art, design and community. " The theme is New Middles: From Main Street to Megalopolis, What Is the Future of the Middle City? Sixteen indoor and outdoor installations in media such as interactive sculpture and photography explore the past, present and future of the Mississippi watershed. Find information at the Columbus Area Visitors Center.
Sweet Home Illinois, Glencoe, Illinois
For a home decor reset, head to the new outpost of Hudson Grace in the Chicago suburb of Glencoe. The dreamy brand offers high-quality entertaining essentials, with the down-home vibe of a small business. "The store features a curated collection of quintessential modern serveware, dinnerware, glassware, flatware, linens and candles," says cofounder Monelle Totah. "Our brand is known for creating original designs and sourcing vintage one of a kinds."
Eat & Drink
OG Veggie, Grand Rapids, Michigan
In the 1980s, Gaia Cafe opened in Grand Rapids—and chose to leave meat off the menu. Back then, vegetarianism was niche and a meatless Whopper unthinkable, yet the restaurant endured for some 30 years, eventually shuttering in 2014. Now, long-standing employee Andrea Bumstead has revived this institution as Gaia House Cafe. She teamed up with childhood friend and acclaimed designer Sarah Sherman Samuel to build out a whole new Gaia in its Creston Business District location. The interior design is swoony and fresh, but the menu includes plenty of beloved recipes regulars have been missing, like veggie hash and the "mean green" burrito.
Bumstead cites a feeling of belonging as her inspiration for the revamped cafe: "It was the one place in all of my career that I felt at home every single time I was there." Now, Gaia (still one of only a few all-vegetarian spots in town) functions once again as a neighborhood gathering spot for coffee, food and community.
An Apple a Day, Burlington, Wisconsin
When you first hear that Brightonwoods Orchard, a family-run business with cottagecore vibes, has a strict no-picking policy, you might be tempted to go somewhere else. Don't. Instead, make the trek to Burlington (35 miles southwest of Milwaukee) to wander Brightonwoods' extensive grounds and see some of the incredible assortment of fruits grown here—200-plus varieties of apples, grapes, quince and pears. A two-story tree house entertains kids, and many adult guests end up at the on-site winery, cidery and distillery for a taste of hard cider, sparkling wine, brandy and sorghum whiskey. Open daily September through November.
Feeding Community, Moorhead, Minnesota
A house-flipper, an engineer, a childcare professional and a nurse administrator walk into a historic bar. What happens next? They buy the space and create Brothers' Table, a farm-to-table kitchen and catering service offering take-and-bake meals in an area short on nutritious options. Brothers Nicholas and Riley Aadland (with the help of Nicholas' wife, Heather, and Riley's wife, Juliana) envisioned a tasty service that could give local families access to hearty, healthy and affordable meals. The menu includes childhood favorites, family recipes and crowd-pleasing fare, such as lasagna, cheesy chicken casserole and salads. An event center is also available for weddings, reunions and other social gatherings.
School Spirit, West Lafayette, Indiana
Last year, Purdue University's Union Club Hotel reopened after a $35 million renovation. The 1920s property in West Lafayette, Indiana, went full boutique (with a Boilermakers gold-and-black theme, of course). "We really elevated the feel," says General Manager Victoria Wicks. "When you walk into the hotel, you are at the front door of Purdue. The colors and artwork and beauty throughout remind you you're on campus." For a splurge, try the Savor, Sip and Stay package—stretch out in king-room accommodations and get a personal welcome from the chef at the hotel's signature restaurant, 8Eleven Modern Bistro.
Head in the Clouds, Minneapolis
To fully appreciate the Rand Tower Hotel, get to know the building's namesake: Rufus R. Rand Jr. was a WWI and WWII veteran, aviator, inventor and industrial giant. In the 1920s, he commissioned the 26-story building, then one of the tallest in Minneapolis, and was eventually inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.
"We needed to embrace that adventurous spirit in the undertaking of this building," says Ryan Schommer, director of the new hotel's design and branding team. "This era was about sending us to the heavens—inspiring growth and moving upward."
Every Art Deco-esque detail of the Marriott property captures a nuance of Rand's life. The restored terrazzo flooring, for example, is inlaid with stars and moons. The cocktail bar, Whiskey and Soda, is named for two lion cubs who lived among Rand's WWI squadron. As you ascend the floors, the design themes grow airier to mimic taking to the sky. "The overall vibe of those rooms is like you're in the clouds," says Schommer. "Bright and very peaceful."
Hello, Neighbor, Chicago
The Neighborhood Hotel in Chicago's Lincoln Park has one guiding vision—to make you feel like a local. An Airbnb and luxury hotel mash-up, the property has 14 stylish apartment suites of varying sizes and floor plans. Owner Jonathan Gordon describes a stay here as a "soulful experience in a quintessential Chicago neighborhood." Each room comes with a custom area field guide and tips for your stay—and a meal hookup to get you started. "There's a cooler on top of each refrigerator with a note to grab sandwiches from our favorite local deli," Gordon says. "They'll pack your lunches, and you can head to the lakefront and explore the neighborhood."