It started with Justin Timberlake.
Days before the Super Bowl, there had been JT sightings at local restaurants, even a Target store. Instead of just getting secondhand accounts, we wanted to see him in the flesh. So my editors sent me after him. That’s how I found myself chasing celebrities across the metro.
It wasn’t a crazy proposition. I’d had some success with stars before. I’d spied Dave Chappelle dining at Travail when he was in town for a string of shows and I wrote about Adele’s meal at the Hi-Lo Diner and Portia de Rossi’s stay at the Hewing Hotel.
But the Super Bowl, I discovered, was a different animal. A lot of the famous people in town were famous because of their ability to play football, a game I’ve spent little time watching. Besides, I wanted to see the stars — headline-grabbing, selfie-worthy, A-list talent. The kind of people — let’s face it — we don’t normally see around here.
Timberlake was the obvious one to stake out: Sightings of him (real or imagined) were all over social media. So when we got a tip from a friend of a friend that he’d be in Wayzata on his birthday, I trekked out to the Hotel Landing (in a snowstorm, of course) to see what I could find.
Here’s what I learned:
• Hotel lobby people-watching is fascinating.
• The blue-coated Super Bowl Crew 52 volunteers had heard lots of rumors, but …
• Servers know everything.
In the hotel’s handsome Ninetwentyfive restaurant, there was no sign of JT. All I saw was a distinguished gray-haired man with a foot-long cigar hanging from his mouth, making the rounds. Rich: possibly. Famous: unlikely.
So I asked my waiter, coyly, if any famous people had been in. He shrugged and said just TV sportscasters and football execs.
“They’re all Patriots people,” he said, then added, “I hope they lose.”
“Nah,” he said.
I’d heard that something might be happening across the street at Sushi Fix. And there was! A private party veiled off from the rest of the place by a black curtain. Was it for JT?
I took a seat at the sushi bar and tried to pump a waiter for info. The party, he said, included Twins star Joe Mauer and sportscaster Terry Bradshaw, but no Justin Timberlake.
Then my waiter offered me a juicy tip: He’d heard that Jennifer Lopez AND Beyoncé were staying in a penthouse across the street.
Now we were talking! Had Queen Bey been in for sushi?
“No,” he said. “She’d probably send someone down for takeout.”
Breakfast, no champions
The next morning, I decided to try the much-hyped Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis. If there were stars in the city, they’d certainly be there, right? I got to Tullibee, the Nordic restaurant in the lobby, in time for breakfast.
I saw lots of men in fancy track suits and women with nicely coifed hair and oversized sunglasses sipping coffee and eating lefse. But maybe that’s just what people who stay at the Hewing normally look like.
My next stop was a no-brainer: a news conference for the half-time show.
Jackpot! Timberlake was there, but he was supposed to be there. It wasn’t like spotting him at Meritage.
I didn’t even get to ask him a question, but a boy near me did. It was Justin Dungy, son of football coach-turned-commentator Tony Dungy.
To my right was a woman wearing a sparkling crown (to a news conference?). Who was she? My colleague Gail Rosenblum casually walked over.
“I noticed the crown,” Gail said to her.
She replied, “Yes, I’m Miss America.”
So that made three celebrities so far, albeit at one highly orchestrated NFL event.
The Hilton Minneapolis lobby was feeling electric, so I camped out on a gold tufted sofa for a while. Busloads of Patriots fans rolled in for a semiprivate party, featuring Patriots cheerleaders and a dapper older man in a striking red sport coat who seemed to be shaking hands with everyone. I texted a picture of him to a friend, wondering if he were the owner of the team.
“I’m going to say no,” she replied.
Surely the Super Bowl volunteers, stationed in every hotel lobby, had seen some big names.
“Kurt Warner, Cris Carter, Jabari Greer …” I cut them off.
“No, I mean famous people, not football players,” I said.
One of them told me they heard Donald Trump might be in town.
Earlier in the week, Timberlake had eaten his “weight in steak” at Manny’s. Could lightning strike twice? I had a burger at Manny’s bar and watched ESPN, which was broadcasting from the IDS building. No celebs.
Just then, I got a text from an editor: Timberlake had just been seen at Brit’s Pub. I was on my way.
I walked in and spotted him instantly: There, behind the host stand, in a Brit’s Pub shirt, was a cardboard cutout of JT.
The North Loop was my last chance. Surely, I’d find a glam, star-studded happy hour. But most of the restaurants and event centers were closed for private parties. Finally, I ducked into men’s store MartinPatrick3 to escape the cold.
It was closed for a private party, too. Jason Zucker, a Minnesota Wild player, was hosting a fundraiser, the door guy told me.
“Is he here?” I asked. By now, I was desperate to see anyone resembling a star.
“He just left.”
Defeated, I went outside to catch a ride home. There, I overheard two friends talking.
“You’ll never guess who I just met at Manny’s!” Friend One enthused.
While chatting with a woman at the bar, he asked her what she was doing in town. “My son’s performing,” she said.
Friend One took her photo and, later, googled it.
“Justin Timberlake’s mom!”
Not only had I missed Justin, I also missed his mother.
I can’t wait for my next assignment.