With a second polar vortex looming over Minnesota, my husband and I decided it was high time to take a jaunt on Interstate 94 to New Richmond, Wis., in the scenic St. Croix Valley. We had picked up a Living Social deal — a tour of the 45th Parallel Distillery, a producer of artisan spirits from vodka and gin to bourbon and rye — and we were eager to cash it in and tour the town.
Guided tours at 45th Parallel cost $5 per person and include a flight sample in the tasting room — quite a bargain.
Our guide on this blustery afternoon was Minnesotan Scott Davis, longtime friend and college roommate to the owner, Paul Werni. Both fellows live in Minneapolis' North Loop and cross the border every day to make their exceptional products (the 45th Parallel vodka won a Best of 2011 award from Minnesota Monthly, for example).
It's a short but enthusiastic tour, and best is the tasting at the end, plus a stop in the retail area with a bartender pouring generous $5 cocktails (try a Manhattan with the Border Bourbon or a bloody mary with the horseradish-infused vodka).
The bartender can also sell bottles to go. I picked up a bottle of limoncello, available on limited release through the Madison Avenue Liqueurs brand, and also a bottle of their Midwest Gin, light on juniper and heavier on the citrus notes. You can find 45th Parallel Distillery at 45thparalleldistillery.com or call 1-715-246-0565.
Where to eat
After imbibing a couple of ounces of liquid, it was time to chase it with a meal. Heading into town, we found a quaint main street area with a variety of restaurants and shops, including the Next Door Café, serving breakfast and lunch from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day (1-715-246-2559) and Chickadee Doo-da, a home décor and gift shop (1-715-246-8688). We chose bartender-recommended Brady's Brewhouse on Knowles Avenue (bradys brewhouse.com; 1-715-246-9960), a casual eatery with wood-fired grill and its own handcrafted beer.
We started with the fried pickle chips, very lightly breaded, thinly sliced and accompanied with a spicy ranch dipping sauce — really good. Try the Brady Burger next, a tasty patty stuffed with Wisconsin's Ellsworth cheese curds and finished with Dijon honey mustard, or the Wrangler, with house-made onion straws, stout BBQ sauce, smoked bacon and white cheddar. Wash it all down with Hop Tornado, an aromatic, bitter and somewhat citrusy IPA with a hefty dose of malt and hops, brewed on the premises.
Historic Places in town
The St. Croix Valley, and in particular the city of New Richmond, has an abundance of listings on the National Register of Historic Places. On May 31, 1988, more than 40 residences and businesses were added, many of them conveniently near the central town. Along 2nd Street, you will find the William J. Beard house, a well-preserved 1 ½-story bungalow built in the early 1900s; the Ezra Glover Jr. house, a Colonial clapboard revival built around 1900 that also served as Richmond's first hospital from 1928 to about 1948; and the Erick J. Thompson house, a 2 ½-story Queen Anne built in 1893, with matching carriage house in back.
Right off the main drag is the Soo Line depot, a one-story stone-clad building constructed in 1915 by the Wisconsin Central Railway, which served passengers until 1968.
Flip over to 3rd Street and you'll find a couple of historic business buildings, including the Dr. Frank W. Epley Office, built in 1893. Epley was a physician, the mayor and founder of power and phone utilities. His office was damaged by a tornado in 1899, but he was able to salvage medical supplies and helped lead the recovery.
You can take a slow drive through the New Richmond West Side Historic District, with 28 featured properties. The Italianate Frank W. Bartlett house was built in 1873. Minnesota architects Cass Gilbert and James Knox Taylor designed the 1887 shingle-style Mosher house. The 1929 Colonial Revival William T. Doar Sr. house was designed by Roy Childs Jones, who served as head of the University of Minnesota's School of Architecture for about 15 years.
If you are there during the week, you can also go to the New Richmond Heritage Center (nrheritagecenter.org; 1-715-246-3276), open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday year-round. The center has 12 buildings nestled around it on a 3-acre site, along with an 11-acre nature trail area that it calls the Paperjack Greenway.
If you go
The town is growing in anticipation of the St. Croix River bridge expected to open in 2016. For example, an offshoot of Barley John's Brew Pub in New Brighton will open just up the road from 45th Parallel, and a new hotel, the GrandStay, has signed a letter of intent to open. For now, take I-94 east and navigate the somewhat confusing roundabouts when you get closer to the city.
For more information, go to newrichmondchamber.com or www.travelwisconsin.com.
Kathleen Schedin Stoehr is a professional writer and editor based in Minneapolis.