Suburbs get snubbed a lot — Pleasantvilles with no culture, no history, no nightlife. Not true in Hopkins. If there is a recipe for what’s trendy in big-city neighborhoods, Hopkins already has all the ingredients. To wit: bike paths, ethnic eateries, live theater, indie shops, a walkable downtown. Oh, and a new taproom. “A lot of communities have tried to emulate this,” said Hillary Feder, owner of Hillary’s, a personalized gift store on Mainstreet. “This is the original.” Indeed, Hopkins — first incorporated as the village of West Minneapolis in 1893 — was a proper town long before it got swallowed up by the sprawl. So exit Hwy. 169 at Excelsior Boulevard and follow the signs to downtown. Or arrive by bicycle. Four regional trails lead to Hopkins, where the Raspberry Festival is the big annual event, but there’s so much more to do.
Definition of a diner
Beware the portions at Hoagie’s Family Restaurant, a “breakfast all day” diner where the pancakes are plate-sized and most of the menu won’t set you back more than a five spot. It’s the kind of place where you can smell the bacon and eggs cooking before you set foot inside. Grab a booth or perch at the lunch counter to chat with the regulars who know the waitresses by name. Just be sure to stuff your wallet before you dig in. This classic is cash or check only. Open for breakfast and lunch. (824 Mainstreet, 952-935-2865)
Cyclists can easily start or end a journey in Hopkins, which sits at the intersection of several trails connecting Minneapolis, the Minnesota River Valley and Lake Minnetonka. It’s just five miles of paved trail from Hopkins to Uptown. Trails that go west toward the lake and river are unpaved. The wide, mostly flat pathways — built along old railroad beds — make for pleasant pedaling through urban areas, neighborhoods and greenery.
The bicycle trails run right next to the Depot Coffee House (9451 Excelsior Blvd., 952-938-2204) where you can refuel with a sandwich or something homemade from the bakery case. The renovated train depot also has open mic nights on Tuesdays and live bands every Friday. In downtown, stop by Munkabeans (1206 Mainstreet, 952-938-9056) for a treat. The coffee shop serves made-to-order sandwiches and snacks, including Sebastian Joe’s ice cream. The Hopkins Mocha comes with white chocolate and — what else? — raspberries.
Shop vintage utility
If Stillwater is the glossy example of suburban boutiques and antiques, think of Hopkins as its more modest and practical cousin. There are a half-dozen antique stores peddling all kinds of relics — Hopkins Antique Mall (1008 Mainstreet) might be the biggest — but there’s also a utilitarian vibe to the downtown drag. There are shops for clock repair, shoe repair, even knife sharpening. “There’s just about anything you could want,” said Barb Benshop, a dealer at Hopkins Antique Mall. It’s also a hot spot for kids and parents, with colorful toy store Kiddywampus (1023 Mainstreet), the boutique Baby Grand (1010 Mainstreet) and maternity consignment store Nine (912 Mainstreet).
With a bright, airy atrium, art gallery and multiple performance spaces, the Hopkins Center for the Arts (1111 Mainstreet, www.hopkinsartscenter.com) is the cultural hub of downtown. It’s home to Stages Theatre Company, which is celebrating 30 years of performances for children and young adults. But it’s not all about the kids. The center’s calendar also includes an art-related book club, live music and, in September, a literary conversation with superstar author Joyce Carol Oates. Don’t have time to catch a performance? Take a few minutes to wander through the first-floor art gallery or gaze at the pieces on display in the atrium. Recent exhibitions included fantastical multimedia sculptures and paintings of cathedrals.
Pinball may be past its prime, but SS Billiards (732 11th Av. S.) keeps the arcade tradition alive in a strip mall south of downtown. Owner Lloyd Olson, an opinionated enthusiast and pinball repair expert, lords over a dozen machines and five pool tables in a room otherwise dominated by wood paneling and old neon signs. He’s owned the place since 1972. (A much-needed facelift, crowdsource-funded by an IndieGoGo campaign, is coming soon.) A pocketful of change could be enough for an afternoon’s entertainment, depending on your flipper skills. If you lose, Olson’s friendly beagle-terrier mix, Prada — “She came with the name,” he says — will be there to console you.
One of the best movie-and-popcorn deals in the metro area is at Mann’s Hopkins Cinema (1118 Mainstreet), where ticket prices top out at $3. “You can take a whole family without spending $100,” said Amy Saldanha, owner of nearby shop Kiddywampus. The movies aren’t the newest releases, but that’s OK because one of the titles will inevitably make you say, “I wanted to see that!” What the theater lacks in modern amenities — no stadium seating, for starters — it makes up for in mini-doughnuts. That’s right. The concession stand sells everyone’s favorite doughy carnival food.
You’re not going to find feijoada — the national dish of Brazil — just anywhere in Minnesota. The stew of beans, pork and sausage is a house specialty at Samba Taste of Brazil (922 Mainstreet, 952-935-2708), where the Pantano family dishes up everything from empanadas to all-you-can eat grilled meats. If you want to whip up some pão de queijo at home, you can buy supplies from the shelves of Brazilian groceries up front. But Samba’s not the only family-run restaurant serving global cuisine on Mainstreet. Try Aji for contemporary Japanese, Curry N Noodles for Indo-Chinese fusion or, during the day, Nacho’s Supermercado for Mexican.
Craft on tap
Further proving that suburban doesn’t mean always mean Bud Light, the Hopkins Tavern (819 Mainstreet, 952-933-1230) has more than 30 taps, including a respectable number of craft beers from the Twin Cities and elsewhere. Bonus: They host meat raffles on Tuesday and Friday evenings. If you’re looking for something even more local, stop by LTD Brewing Co. (725 Mainstreet, 952-938-2415), which opened a taproom in June serving a handful of beers and hand-crafted soda. On Fridays and Saturdays, it’s open until midnight. And you thought nightlife was a city thing.