Literary City Guide | Saint Paul, MN
Tour Guide: Kate Selner
Lifelong resident of Minnesota, inspired by it’s ever-changing theater of seasons, Kate Selner cooks, writes and dreams through her days, always on the lookout for something new to try, somewhere to explore and a blank page to record it all. She blogs at Kate in the Kitchen. (All photos by Kate Selner.)
Relationship to Saint Paul: I was born in Minneapolis, but was born to live in St. Paul. It feels most like coming home, no matter what part.
Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Jeanette Winterson
Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Julia Child
Writing soundtrack: Old school jazz, like Ornette Coleman, Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane
Pen or Pencil: Pen, fine tip rolling ball. In black.
Coffee or Tea: Tea, fragrant green or white.
Paperback or Hardback: Hardback
The Red Balloon Book Store. A neighborhood icon and beloved shop for books, events and a little something for every level of reader.
Micawber’s Books. A book store, a blog and a loyal following mark this small cozy space.
Common Good Books (Garrison Keillor, proprietor). Good books, a sunny corner location and on occasion, local legend Keillor himself spends time reading in the stacks.
Saint Anthony Library. Built in 1917, one of three Carnegie libraries built in St Paul that
year. An icon in the neighborhood, the Saint Anthony library boasts beautiful
architecture and design, quiet reading spaces and plentiful light.
Central Library (F. Scott Fitzgerald Reading Alcove, 3rd floor, Magazine room, James J. Hill Reference Library, National Register of Historic Places). The interior of this classic building is all marble and archways, hushed quiet and a reverence worthy of such a historical building.
READINGS & CONFERENCES
Fitzgerald Theater. Built in 1910 to showcase foreign films it’s the oldest surviving theater in the city. It fell in to such disrepair that it was nearly demolished until Minnesota Public Radio bought it and restored it. The iconic ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ radio show is recorded there when it isn’t on a traveling schedule, and the 2006 major film of the same name was created there as well.
City of Saint Paul Sidewalk Poetry. A collaboration between the City of St. Paul Artist in Residence and the St. Paul Public Works and Public Art St. Paul, poetry written by St Paul residents is permanently stamped in sections of concrete around the city, creating a public book and moments of open air reading in the everyday.
Saint Paul is the home of Peanuts author Charles M. Schultz. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Peanuts cartoon in 2000, Saint Paul commissioned artists to paint 75 5-foot tall Snoopy statues that were then placed around Saint Paul. The statues were auctioned off to provide scholarship money to local art programs. The display was so popular that in the following 4 years, statues of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy on his doghouse popped up around Saint Paul. Permanent bronze statues of the Peanuts gang adorn Rice Park in downtown Saint Paul.
Indian Mounds Regional Park. High on the bluffs above the Mississippi River, in the historic Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood sit six large burial mounds dating back some 2,000 years and containing a wide range of historic artifacts, evidence of some of the first organized civilizations.
F. Scott Fitzgerald Walking Tour. A guided tour of the neighborhood where he spent most of his youth, including the home of his birth, and 599 Summit Ave- where ‘This Side of Paradise’ was written.
St. Paul Gangster Tour. Starting at the Wabasha Caves on the Mississippi River bottoms, follow along as tour guides in period dress take you back in time through the history of John Dillinger and Babyface Nelson, the notorious criminals from the 1930’s who raked a path of murder and kidnappings across the Midwest.
"We are in danger . . . of making our cities places where business goes on but where life, in its real sense, is lost.” -Hubert H. Humphrey, 38th Vice President of the US, and two-time US Senator in Minnesota
Swede Hollow Café. Boasting an impeccable view, beautiful treats, inventive food and a gorgeous garden in the summertime, this tiny cafe is always bustling, warm and inviting. Grab a chunk of their buttery shortbread from the glass jar if it’s available. The lattes are always a perfect temperature, too.
Nina’s. On the main level in a classic old Cathedral Hill building that was once the Commodore hotel, frequented by the Fitzgerald family, Nina’s is a perfect neighborhood spot, with simple baked goods and small plates. Take time to check out the book store downstairs during your visit.
Kopplin’s. Arguably one of the finest craft coffee houses around. The staff is always willing to engage in a spirited dialogue about the merits of a great cup of coffee.
Black Dog Coffee. Full of personality, this open and bright place resides in a creaky old refurbished warehouse in Lowertown, amidst artists lofts and a stone’s throw from the St. Paul Farmers Market. Big steaming cups of coffee and tea cozy up to simple and flavorful foods, with a beer & wine menu, live music, Cribbage nights and a funky vibe, all watched over by an enormous stuffed black dog.
A PROPER MEAL
Muffaletta. The food is always delicious, and served without pretentiousness in a classic old building, dark wood decor with attentive service. Eating on the deck is a summertime must. The namesake sandwich is a fistful of good eats.
Meritage. Best spot for Oysters, classic restaurant with floor to ceiling windows looking out towards Rice Park in downtown St. Paul, in the shadow of the historic Landmark Center. Impeccable and professional service, perfectly crafted and seasoned food. Save this one for your special occasion, celebration or when you just want to feel uplifted after a long day.
El Burrito Mercado. The West side of St. Paul boasts the highest concentration of Hispanic residents, and this grocery and deli serves authentic Mexican food and has everything needed for your home cooking adventures. The deli serves large portions of classic Mexican dishes and sides, richly spiced, amidst the chatter of the native language and laughing families. A true representation of the neighborhood and it’s vivid culture.
The Blue Door Pub. Crowded and lively, this Merriam Park neighborhood pub serves a wicked good, wide ranging selection of incredible burgers. An afternoon and late night Happy Hour rounds out the offerings.
Conny’s Creamy Cone. Creamy soft serve in a wide variety of flavors, this tiny stand-alone shop on a neighborhood street corner is a beacon for local residents, a walking destination only open between March to October.
Izzy’s Ice Cream. Thick and creamy homemade ice cream in more than 100 creative flavors and a tiny Izzy scoop -a free 1-oz scoop of any flavor!- on top of every cone makes this a popular hangout on warm Summer nights. Named Best Ice Cream Shop in the Country by Readers Digest in 2005.
PJ Murphy’s Bakery. For over 80 years, this tiny corner bakery has been providing St. Paul residents with classic baked goods resplendent in quality.
Lynden’s Soda Fountain. An old-fashioned soda counter, serving thick, creamy shakes and malts, egg creams, phosphates and natural sodas. With a small sandwich selection and excellent coffee, you’ve got a lunch spot that covers all the bases.
Kate's 5 Favorites
1. Favorite view: From the High Bridge, East end.
2. Favorite place to write: Harriet Island, under a tree, the water moving nearby. There are trees on the island that defy age and history in their magnitude, and make me wonder of their deep roots, right in the birthplace of the city itself.
3. Favorite museum: Minnesota History Center. From every nook and corner come vibrant reminders of a great state’s history and upbringing.
4. Favorite coffee shop: Black Dog Coffee in Lowertown. It’s an inviting, easy-going place, with plenty of solitude. It’s not unusual to have someone strumming a guitar at the table next to you.
5. Favorite thing about St. Paul: St. Paul is like the funky little sister to it’s more grown up Minneapolis sibling. Each and every neighborhood has it’s own charms and character, through century-old homes and wide, tree-lined streets. It really has nothing to prove, to itself or to anyone.