Travel: Won't you take me to Funkytown?

Matthew Brace visits Minneapolis, the city that is tipped to become America's next music capital

The classic disco anthem of 1980, "Funkytown", was not written about Detroit or New York City, as is popularly believed, but about little old Minneapolis (even though the writer has since confessed that this American city whose skyscrapers rise like giant silos among miles of swaying corn was far from funky at the time). His tune was ahead of its time, for Minneapolis soon went on to spawn the singer Prince and is now a serious contender for America's music capital, with countless live shows nightly and a summer festival that draws big names and closes downtown streets.

Minneapolis is joined at the hip with St Paul, the Minnesota state capital across the Mississippi river, and together they are known as the Twin Cities. North of Minneapolis lies Lake Itasca National Park, the source of the Mississippi river, and beyond that, the Canadian border is less than 100 miles. Until recently, Minneapolis has been overlooked by tourists, who merely changed planes. But, increasingly, word is getting out.

When to go

Minneapolis has a continental climate, which means hot and humid summers, when temperatures can reach 29C to 31C, followed by thunderstorms and cold crisp winters, when the mercury drops to well below zero and can stay there for days. The city also gets its share of tornadoes off the plains to the west.

Getting there

Northwest Airlines (tel: 0870 507 4074) flies direct from Gatwick for pounds 329 until 14 December and pounds 319 from 1 January to 12 April. British Airways (tel: 0345 222111) flies via Chicago and onward with American Airlines (tel: 0345 789789) for pounds 418. American Airlines offers flights for pounds 270 until 14 December. Next spring, all flights will cost roughly pounds 50 more.

Getting around

The airport is 15-minutes from the centre of Minneapolis. Taxis charge about pounds 20, but ask for an estimate from the driver first. Shuttle buses are cheaper, at about pounds 6 to pounds 12, and drop at specific hotels.

The skyscrapers of Minneapolis are laced together by several miles of glass walkways (air-conditioned in summer, heated in winter), which criss- cross the city centre.

Where to stay

The Nicollet Island Inn, 95 Merriam Street (tel: 001 612 331 1800), is a 19th-century building on an island in the middle of the Mississippi, which once housed the Island Door and Sash Company and later a Salvation Army shelter. Double rooms cost from pounds 90 to pounds 125.

Regency Plaza, 41 North 10th Street (tel: 001 612 339 9311), opposite the Greyhound bus station, is good for medium-budget travellers. It is central and there is a courtesy bus that will take you anywhere. Doubles from pounds 50 to pounds 70.

The Best Western Downtown, 405 South 8th Street (tel: 001 612 370 1400), offers double rooms for pounds 45 to pounds 70. The Holiday Inn Express, 225 South 11th Street (tel: 001 612 341 3300), rents double rooms for pounds 45 to pounds 100.

What to see and do

If you love shopping you will love the Mall of America in Bloomington on the outskirts of the city. It is vast - big enough to house 32 Boeing 747s - and contains more than 500 shops, 52 restaurants and nine nightclubs. You will also find Underwater World here, an aquarium you can walk through via a glass tunnel 14ft below the water's surface (call free in the US: 1 888 DIVE TIME).

The Walker Art Centre, Vineland Place (tel: 001 612 375 7600), is home to one of America's leading collections of contemporary art, hosting exhibitions, theatre, music, dance and film. Next door is a Sculpture Garden.

Follow a walking tour along the Mississippi Mile through the St Anthony Falls Heritage Zone, 125 Main Street SE (tel: 001 612 627 5433), stopping off at historic buildings, bridges and architectural ruins. Or take a more leisurely hour's tour on the RiverCity Trolley Bus (tel: 001 612 204 0000). Sports fans can catch a baseball game at the Metrodome, home to the Twins (tel: 001 612 338 9467).

Food and drink

Minneapolis is not known as a culinary capital, but Minnesota has been named the healthiest state in the nation six times in the past decade, so the chefs must be doing something right.

The Loon Cafe, 550 First Avenue North (tel: 001 612 332 0673), adds to the Minnesotans' health and sense of well-being with bowls of delicious chilli. Beef and vegetable varieties should be tasted. The wild rice soup is also hard to beat.

For giant sandwiches that need to be eaten with a knife and fork, Pracna on 117 SE Main Street (tel: 001 612 379 3200), is a popular hangout. The Minneapolis Cafe, 1110 Hennepin Avenue South (tel: 001 612 672 9100), is a friendly modern restaurant on the edge of theatreland which serves good, healthy food and a wicked creme brulee.

Italian-food addicts should try Linguini and Bob, Butler Square Building, 100 North 6th Street (tel: 001 612 332 1600), where main meals cost about pounds 8 to pounds 12. And vegetarians should head for Cafe Brenda, 300 1st Avenue N (tel: 001 612 342 9230), for wholesome food, with main meals costing pounds 6 to pounds 10, and a laid-back atmosphere.

Nightlife

Minneapolis is bursting with new bands playing all manner of music in clubs, pubs and cafes nightly. Check the listings in the Star Tribune or Pioneer Press.

Nye's Polonaise Room, 112 East Hennepin Avenue (tel: 001 612 332 1600), is a Polish restaurant and bar full of atmosphere which has regular polka nights. For some of the best live music, it is hard to beat the Fine Line Music Cafe, 318 First Avenue North (tel: 001 612 338 8100). Come early if you want a seat, but expect to be on your feet most of the night as the bands are good. Come back for Sunday brunch which is accompanied by a gospel choir.

The Gay 90s, 410 Hennepin Avenue (tel: 001 612 333 7755), is the longest- established gay bar in Minneapolis and renowned throughout the region. There are nine bars, dance floors and a live drag act.

Up near the university is the Whiskey Junction, 901 Cedar Avenue South (tel: 001 612 338 9550), with a crowd of ageing bikers and their girlfriends.

The plushest club in town is South Beach, 4th Street and 1st Avenue - all ultraviolet lights, cashmere-soft carpets and tuxedoed bouncers, and astronomical bar prices to match.

Out of town

Lake Itasca National Park (tel: 001 651 296 9223) is a day's drive north- west of Minneapolis. This magical lake is the source of the Mississippi river, which flows 2,500 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico. You can visit the headwaters in the park. It is strange to sit beside this tiny trickle and imagine the mighty force it becomes further downstream. En route, you will pass the pretty town of Bemidji, famous for the fictitious giant, Paul Bunyan.

Deals and packages

There is a "Cool Dates-Warm Rates" programme between 15 November and 31 March when hotels offer good deals. Consult www.minneapolis.org, or contact Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association, 4000 Multifoods Tower, 33 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis MN 55402, USA (tel: 001 888 676 6757).

Travelbag (tel: 0171-287 5559) offers a five-night break at the Regal Minneapolis for pounds 646 per person, based on two sharing and including return flights, taxes and accommodation between 1 January and 7 April 2000.

Further information

Contact the Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association, as above, and the Minnesota Office of Tourism (tel: 001 612 296 5029; www. exploreminnesota.com).

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