Is Uptown dead? Yes, of course. It’s always dead.

Everyone who moves to Uptown is informed by a grizzled veteran who’s lived there since 2018 that Uptown is not what it was: “Yeah, when I got here, it was really cool, and there was this one place where everyone went, but then it died, and then Uptown died, and everyone moved to the suburbs and cut their hair short.”

If you go back to the newspaper archives, you’ll probably find this:

On this date in 1824, settlers established a trading post where the old trail roads of Lake and Hennepin crossed. They called it “Uptown,” because it was “Up” from the big town of Chicago. Within two days, the trading post had closed.

“Uptown’s dead,” said Jedidiah Hypstre, a hash-house cook who also performed in an alt-jug band. “It’s not what it was 48 hours ago.” Hypstre was subsequently carried off by dysentery and was buried at the intersection, where his spirit could periodically decimate the business climate.

It was dead when I got there in 1987. Or so they said. Calhoun Square, which the locals called “Updale,” or “Yupdale,” depending on whether they thought you considered that clever, was regarded as the cause of the neighborhood’s 37th consecutive annual death. All these new shops and restaurants, that big bookstore — why, it’ll kill this neighborhood graveyard-dead, it will. It won’t be the same.

We hung out at a restaurant that inhabited the old Carnegie Library. Great place. It closed. I thought: Uptown is dead.

I moved to a different neighborhood, but I never stopped going back, just to see how it was differently dead. Goodbye, Port Arthur Cafe, notable more for the exterior than the food. Goodbye, Schlampp Furs, which I never patronized, but it was always fun to say “Schlampp,” like someone closing a waterlogged door. Hello, Gap; goodbye, Gap. Goodbye, Uptown Bar. That one hurt, but let’s be honest: On the weekend you had to wait a long time for breakfast because people who didn’t live in Uptown anymore — because it was dead — had returned for brunch. “Damned yuppie brunch vultures,” I’d mutter, before heading back to my house in St. Paul. (Which was also dead, but for different reasons.)

Then came the Apple Store, and this gleaming outpost of the most successful tech company meant Uptown was extra-special deader-than-deadest. One after the other, new apartment buildings rose to house more occupants, which surely would doom the neighborhood anew. All these newcomers, and not any of them remembered the Taco Bell or the short-lived Perkins — you know, back when Uptown had individualistic, quirky charm.

Then came the riots.

The Apple store never reopened. A few stores are gone for good. Plywood covers the windows of the storefront where I bought a little puppy. The Uptown Theatre marquee literally tells you to go home, like a cop standing by a chalk outline and saying, “Nothing to see here.” Hennepin and Lake is an ache, a failure, a new wound that doesn’t heal. It ought to thrive. It should be the best that urban Minneapolis has to offer.

It’s not dead, it’s sick. And somehow, that’s worse.

 

james.lileks@startribune.com