Minneapolis needs a good hostel

Minneapolis gets good press. Everybody loves the Midtown Greenway, Forbes acknowledges our fitness, and Slate’s Matt Yglesias is basically our municipal cheerleader. The problem is that we’re bad at converting this good publicity into population growth. What’s the missing step that might make a mobile coast-dweller reading an article about Minneapolis into a new Minneapolitan? A good hostel experience.

If you’re visiting a town for a wedding or a sports game or a business trip, then a hotel is an efficient and comfortable option. However, if you’re trying to get to know a city and to get a good feel for what it would be like to live there, a sterile and institutional hotel room will only frustrate you. A good hostel will draw you into the community and give you a decently accurate picture of everyday life in a city. Mayor Rybak says he wants our city’s population to grow to 500,000 by 2025, so there should be at least one visitor-friendly hostel where outsiders can give our fair city a trial run.

As far as I can tell, Minneapolis has only one hostel, and its domain name (minneapolishostel.com) is on point, at least. I’m sure running a hostel is hard work and I don’t want to speak ill of the people behind this operation, but they have a bad website and a 2.5-out-of-5 star rating on Yelp. When I’ve stayed at hostels in other cities, I’ve been attracted by glowing reviews and user-friendly websites and Facebook pages. So I think we need another hostel.

I’m interested in this question: what’s the best location for a hostel in Minneapolis?

I have desiderata for this neighborhood. It needs to be close to street life. It needs to easy to get to from the airport by a person who doesn’t have a smartphone, doesn’t have a car, doesn’t know the area, and doesn’t speak English as her first language. There should be a lake or a park or a river nearby. It should show off the best Minneapolis has to offer.

Calhoun Square at Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street

Calhoun Square at Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street


Uptown has a lot going for it. The myriad bars and restaurants cater to a variety of tastes, from the fratty William’s to the froofy Barbette. Our parks are well-represented by the Midtown Greenway that leads visitors to Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. Locals might view the construction cranes as eyesores, but when I’ve visited other cities, I’ve always appreciated evidence of renewal and growth.

But Uptown has a lot going against it, too. Many of the chain restaurants and retail shops (I don’t need to list them here, do I?) would bore international travelers interested in uniquely Minnesotan culture, and the transit options, while very attractive on paper, would annoy visitors who would rather use credit cards than quarters and can’t understand the street names as they’re grunted over the bus’s intercom. If they’d like a clear list of the stops made by the bus, they’d have to pull one of those little paper schedules down, and remember the route suffix that was on the front of the bus. Not fun.

North Loop?

The North Loop is the last best hope of increased population density in Minneapolis. With the new residential buildings sprouting up along the Cedar Lake Trail, behind the old Chicago-style brick buildings that the urban renewal folks forgot to raze, it’s the fastest growing neighborhood in Minneapolis. It has a train station, a farmer’s market, a great rock club, the best cluster of restaurants in the five-state area, and it’s close to the river, to boot! Maybe that would be a good place to put a hostel?

The problem with many bars and restaurants around the North Loop is that they aren’t priced for international backpackers or traveling artists; they’re marketed toward downtown workers with high salaries. Between the fancy restaurants and dance clubs, a North Loop experience would miss out on Minneapolis’s working-class and international aspects.

The vacant Viking Bar at Cedar-Riverside

The vacant Viking Bar at Cedar-Riverside


So instead, imagine this: an international backpacker flies into MSP airport. She takes the Blue Line up to the Cedar-Riverside station, grabs dinner at a Somali restaurant, catches a local hip hop show at the Triple Rock Social Club, gets whiskey and a beer chaser at Palmer’s, and crashes in a nearby hostel. She rises late the next morning to brunch at Republic, and goes to a theatrical event at the Cedar or the Theater in the Round, after taking a picnic (or a brisk walk, depending on the season) on the banks of the mighty Mississippi. I have a hard time believing this hypothetical backpacker would ever leave our fair city. Throw in the ample stock of duplexes and the nearby college students looking for part-time work, and you have the perfect recipe for a hostel operation.

If we want people to move to Minneapolis from other cities, we should try to make a good first impression.

Scott Shaffer

About Scott Shaffer

Scott Shaffer works for a nonprofit community development corporation in Minneapolis. He has a master's degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Minnesota. He and his wife live in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood with their daughter and two Siamese cats.