Seven women in creamy silk robes walk single-file to the lock and dam gates beneath the Stone Arch Bridge. They lift seven bottles, releasing water to replenish the Mississippi River.
“They’re angels,” says a little girl, her blond braid neatly anchored by a pink headband. She is among hundreds gathered early Saturday evening, waiting for something enchanting to begin.
The angels vanish. Onlookers help unfurl 1,200 feet of blue fabric along the bridge, holding it high and low, laughing as colorful balls bounce down it — all part of Solstice River XIX, honoring clean drinking water worldwide.
Michelle Halonen of Brooklyn Center watches her daughter Brigid, 6, coax a ball along.
“This,” says Halonen, “is what we were waiting for.”
• • •
There are two kinds of Saturday nights in Minnesota. In winter, it might be another evening at home, fireplace burning, Netflix streaming. Going out requires puffy coats and damp boots that don’t do so well on the dance floor.
But in summer, Saturday nights are beguiling. Easy. An evening stroll. A glass of wine on the porch. A sweaty night on the town, when the coldest it gets is under an air conditioning duct at a club.
Then there are the lakes — 10,000 chances to watch afternoon fade to sunset, lapping waves never tiring, dragonflies diving toward liquid surfaces.
Such perfect nights are few in this northern land, lending a certain urgency to embrace them with as much passion as reserved Midwesterners can muster. We might leave other nights to chance, but this night we make plans.
What do you want to do? Who do you want to be? The workweek is fading from memory and Monday is still far in the distance. Tonight, we choose our own adventure.
In late June, we set out to witness a typical Minnesota Saturday night in all its wild, free glory. Join us.
Rain had threatened to dampen the good time, but now full sun glimmers off Lake Minnetonka, a giant crown jewel among metro lakes.
Cruiser’s Cove is a microcosm of what Gabriel Jabbour calls “the good, the bad and the ugly” of this party-via-boat 20 miles west of Minneapolis.
The good? A friend’s yacht with a relatively mellow fete aboard. The bad? A pontoon with 20 or so swimsuit-clad partyers, plastic cups in hand. The ugly? About two dozen small boats lined up, people leaping from one to the next, dance music blaring, cigarettes flicking into the water below — a floating nightclub.
“This is nothing,” says Jabbour, former Orono mayor and a marina owner. Boats usually cluster three-deep.
He is cruising with his girlfriend, Mary Beth Buffington. She sits with her feet up on the off-white banquettes, while he steers the deluxe wooden Skiff Craft. He owns the boatmaker.
Jabbour waves to everyone he passes. The unofficial mayor of Lake Minnetonka seems to know everybody.
But Cruiser’s Cove is not their scene. “I wouldn’t want my daughter [here],” Buffington says. “There’s a lot of twerking on the bow. Wasted. I wouldn’t be proud.”
Their comfort zone is dinner at 6Smith, a year-old Wayzata restaurant. Jabbour passes $20 bills to the guys tying up his boat and is quickly seated on the sprawling deck, a prime view of the glorious Lake Minnetonka sunset still to come.
Restaurants like this one are “imperative for our quality of life,” Jabbour says over a 12-ounce filet mignon he splits with Buffington. “It can’t all be meat markets. We’ve got to keep the social equilibrium.”
Owner Randy Stanley makes a beeline over to his prized guests. For him, Saturday night is his most lucrative work night. His favorite way to spend it? “Work here, kiss ass, sell $100 bottles of wine,” he grins, eyeing Jabbour, who orders two such bottles of Amarone.
If someone is having a good time on Saturday night, someone else is enabling that fun.
Over in St. Paul, in loosefitting clam diggers and black clogs, chef Tom “Rambo” Roberts shouts rapid-fire instructions, spinning steel tongs in his hand in the kitchen of Strip Club Meat and Fish.
Roberts and cooks Kenzie Edinger and Kodi Satra move efficiently as new orders come in. The restaurant’s top-notch reputation depends on it. “We’re like a well-oiled machine,” Satra says. “With canola oil.”
A small printer comes to life with an angry zzzz-zzzz-zzzzz. Edinger rips off the paper and hangs up the latest order. The printer erupts again. Zzzzz-zzzzz! Zzzzzz-zzz-zzzzz! “I didn’t know we had that many seats,” Roberts says.
Firing up three sauté pans, they chop, grill and fry like a manic cook with six hands.
Down the road in downtown St. Paul, Larissa Gritti leans toward a mirror bordered in Hollywood lighting at the Ordway. Soon, she will take the stage in “Damn Yankees,” but there are still 30 precious minutes to showtime.
“I’m digging this new lip liner,” she says, smearing on a deep crimson shade. She rubs kohl under her eyes, then bounds down a hall redolent with pizza for “wig call.”
Mary Morrison waits upstairs with a fistful of bobby pins and a warm smile.
“Hell-o!” Gritti says, plopping down in the chair.
“The time is 7:15 p.m.” the loudspeaker warns. “Fifteen minutes before the show.”
Morrison’s fingers fly, sliding four pins into Gritti’s auburn bobbed wig, securing a small straw hat. Morrison steps back to survey her work.
“Have a good show,” she says, patting Gritti’s head.
On Saturday night, who you’re with is just as important as what you’re doing. It’s prime time for kindred spirits and loved ones to celebrate.
In the best-dressed parking lot in the Twin Cities, Lizeth Ortega, 15, steps outside to enjoy a brief moment of relative quiet and a precious cool breeze. She has been “on” for four hours already, and the night is young.
Lizeth is at her quinceañera, a Latina coming-of-age ceremony. She wears a regal purple gown, her thick black hair pulled back with a diamond headband. Her nails and eye shadow are purple, and light glitter dusts her cheeks.
Inside the West St. Paul Armory, more than 200 friends and relatives sit on satin-covered chairs, awaiting her return.
Lizeth lifts her dress slightly to reveal a secret: She is wearing flats. “My feet are getting tired,” she confesses, “but I have to get used to this.”
She steps back inside as guests enjoy a meal and music. Just past 8 p.m., Lizeth’s beaming mother, Patricia Omaña, presents her with silver high-heels on a tray. Lizeth slips them on.
An hour north of the Twin Cities, surrounded by farm fields, Jonas Mork shares a quick kiss with his fiancée, Rachael Briggs, as they slow dance to a song with the refrain “Bring it on home to me.”
All across small-town Minnesota, the Saturday night street dance is a staple.
A crisp crescent moon hangs in twilight above the Medford Muni Bar parking lot. Officially, the crowd came to see the country band Hitchville. In reality, they’re here to be with friends and neighbors they’ve known all their lives.
Down the hill, at Straight River Park, five rangy teen boys, all limbs and bravado, bound across a basketball court. The fading light glints off their sweat.
Do kids ever get into mischief here on a Saturday night? Alex Goetze and Clayton Aldrich, both 17, are hesitant to spill too many beans.
“You’ll get a $25 ticket if you get caught out after curfew,” Aldrich says. “Not that I’ve gotten one. I’ve just heard.”
With an eye toward the setting sun, Mohamed Hegazi works the grill outside his father’s northeast Minneapolis restaurant, engulfed in the aroma of charcoal and chicken.
“Got one more to put on here,” he says as whole chickens rotate on a large skewer. “It’s all about timing.”
In flip-flops, jeans and a T-shirt declaring “Hummus Is Yummus,” Hegazi carries meat into Marina Grill & Deli, glancing at the clock. Just 15 minutes until dusk, when the daylong fast will end for Muslims observing Ramadan.
“As-salaam alaikum, brothers,” Hegazi calls out as four Somali men enter.
“Let’s go find a seat,” Muhammed Denton tells his wife, Ramatu Jalloh, scanning the room for an open table to share with their sons, Abdou Kareem, 3, and Abubakar, 4.
Without fanfare, the crowd begins to eat. In a white tent outside, men and women slip off their shoes and step onto colorful prayer rugs. Facing Mecca, they pray silently, standing, bowing and finally touching their foreheads to the ground. Above it all, the moon is bright.
In the southwest suburb of Prior Lake, there is no sun or moon to pace the night inside a windowless cavern of chance.
The manic thump-thump-thump of Enrique Iglesias’ “I’m a Freak” blasting around the Cosmic Blackjack circle syncs up perfectly with what is going on inside Adam Panken.
His first time gambling at a casino, the lanky 18-year-old Edina High soccer player heads to the liveliest corner of Mystic Lake and accidentally sits down at a $10 table instead of the $5. But he doesn’t want to get up and look uncool. Not like his three buddies, watching from behind him, nervous as wallflowers.
The newbie kid gets up after only five hands.
“I’m up $10,” Panken beams.
Sunset’s last faint glow summons Andy Martinson and Matthew Hendricks like a beacon into the dark. They shove off on their bikes from the Seward neighborhood toward Uptown.
“I like to come out after the kids go to bed and get a little alone time,” says Martinson, 40, a board member of the Midtown Greenway Coalition.
Some nights, he hits the greenway to meet friends for a few beers. Some nights he just goes. And goes and goes. He’s been out till 2 a.m. “It can feel like you have the city to yourself,” he says.
Not on this night, though.
Just past the space-age Sabo Bridge, at a field of helium balloons with LED lights inside, the duo is passed by a bearded guy on a three-wheeled mini-canoe wrapped in Christmas lights. Later, a woman pedals by dangling a neon fishing pole from her bike seat, flashing fish lights spinning on her wheels.
It’s the fourth annual Greenway Glow, sort of a cross between a rave dance party, a hippie art installation and a 10-mph cycling challenge.
“It’s just a magical world down here at night,” says the biking angler, Cheryl Bemel.
A very different kind of alchemy is at work amid the blaring decibels of clubland in downtown Minneapolis.
Marching down the street like a militia protecting the institution of marriage, “Team Bride” flashes IDs and enters Cowboy Jack’s, the first stop on a night of club-hopping to celebrate Andrea Buzay’s last weekend as a bachelorette.
The 16 of them, in black dresses and pink glow necklaces, order drinks as a mechanical bull bucks in the cavernous hall. All around are rival marital battalions — sashes and tiaras announcing that someone else, too, is getting married.
An hour later, their party moves outside, where a cop’s job is to keep tipsy pedestrians from being run over by the 5th Street light rail. The women hail their tricked-out Pourhouse Party Bus, down chips and beer, and take a couple of spins on the stripper pole while Bruno Mars commands, “Don’t believe me, just watch.”
Their last stop is the Tangiers, where chandeliers shudder at a good 130 bpm. After a quick spin on a packed dance floor, Team Bride piles into a booth and watches a server pour $300 worth of vodka-cranberries. Illuminated by their cellphones and necklaces, they sip silently, glowing in the dark.
Five minutes before 2 a.m., the lights come on. Downtown’s club kids spill out of dozens of bars, turning the streets into an instant circus.
A Pizza Lucé bouncer pats down patrons waiting in line for booze-soaking carbs. Police horses push through crowds, bowling for loiterers, who scatter.
It is 3:30 a.m., and Minnesota is going to sleep.