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.

9 thoughts on “Minneapolis needs a good hostel

  1. Julie

    They were going to turn part of the Upper Bluffs area at Fort Snelling into a youth hostel, circa 1998. Fell through for a variety of reasons, many of which involve the fact that the buildings are both run-down, and subject to historic preservation rules. An expensive combination.

    Chicago had the problem of no downtown, year-round hostel for years, largely because of political shenanigans WITHIN AYH-Chicago, not because of zoning or affordability. They finally pulled it together on a piece of well-located real estate, which is to say not-exactly-cheap real estate.

    It comes down to who wants to fund it, and what they’re willing to do.

  2. Brendon SlotterbackBrendon Slotterback

    Matt Yglesias would probably point out that if you want to stay somewhere that will really give you the flavor of a city, AirBnB is far superior to a hostel, and already serving this need. A quick scan of the site for Minneapolis yields rentals as low at $50 per night.

    1. Scott ShafferScott Shaffer Post author

      Yeah, that’s a good point. And I’ve had a AirBnB experience too, but I’ve found it’s easier to get checked into a hostel and easier to meet strangers there, too.

  3. Kasia McMahonKasia

    For some reason, hostels in US cities are not that common. And they cost a lot of money. $50 a night per bed can make a hotel less expensive as soon as you need 2 beds. Not sure why that is–compared to cities in Europe where you can get a bed for $10.

    Minneapolis is definitely experiencing a bit of buzz as a city. But that’s still fairly recent! And I think people are moving here (from my anecdotal experience). I hope we don’t blow it by turning the midtown greenway into streetcar track. We have some fun, unique assets and I think that sets us apart.

  4. Jessica Schoner

    I actually stayed in the Minneapolis hostel when I visited UMN during “grad school decision” season. It was nice – I stayed in the women’s dorm on the top floor and used the kitchen a few times. The location was great – I walked to the Wedge and all around Uptown, rented a bike and rode around Lake Calhoun and back and forth on the Greenway for a couple hours, and really felt like I got to know the place. It was like I already lived here, and my grad school decision suddenly became very easy. So yes, I get your point about how a good hostel is an important part of recruiting because it gives a more home-like experience than staying in a hotel.

    That said, I’ve stayed in several American hostels, and they’re just never that exciting or fun compared to the hostels I found in other countries. For most of the weekend I stayed in the Minneapolis hostel, it was half empty. My dorm-mates were in town to attend an Eckankar convention – older adults who clearly had never stayed in a hostel before and had no etiquette re: not turning on all the lights at 5am. Maybe it was an off weekend or not peak tourism season, but it definitely gave the hostel a quiet, home-like, and perhaps awkward vibe rather than an exciting scene.

    So I wonder if most American cities even get enough international young adult tourism to justify more hostels, outside of New York, San Francisco, LA, and maybe Vegas? Add to that sites like couchsurfing, airbnb, and vrbo, and the inexpensive lodging gets pretty widely distributed throughout the city. Plus, most American hostels have a requirement that you have to be from out of state to stay there, so that limits demand even further.

    I don’t know. If I were going to relocate the Minneapolis hostel or build a new one, Seward close to Franklin Avenue (maybe Milwaukee Avenue?) seems like a good location. Good access to the LRT, good access to buses to downtown and campus, after the Green Line opens, it will be an easy trip to St. Paul, and it’s not that hard to get to Uptown for the bar scene. It has a co-op, a good collection of local restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, and shows off the pretty tree-lined streets. It’s also quite safe for people traveling alone. The existing Minneapolis hostel is a bit harder to get to (LRT to Rte 2, plus a decent walk with whatever luggage you have).

  5. James LaFaye

    Dear Scott, I agree that we need a new hostel in the Twin Cities metro area. But why Minneapolis? I represent a group that is planning to open a new hostel in downtown St. Paul. We will be affiliated with HIUSA, the International Hostelling organization. I have been a member of AYH/HIUSA for 50 years and traveled to over 30 countries on 6 continents and have stayed in over 100 hostels. Our hostel will accomodate 40-45 guests with a self-service kitchen, laundry facilities, wi-fi, tourist information, and it will be called the MN RIVER CITY HOSTEL. Rates will be in the range of $35-40
    per night including linens, etc. We hope to be open by late Summer, 2014.
    Come see us in “America’s Most Liveable City”!

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