May 5, 2023

Episode 53: Julie Jo Severson author of “Oldest Twin Cities”

We visit with Julie Jo Severson, author of “Oldest Twin Cities” who talks about local restaurants with rich cultural heritage, and shares personal memories of Palmers Bar in downtown Minneapolis. The episode contains fascinating historical tidbits and personal stories that will make you fall in love with the Twin Cities again.


Stephanie [00:00:12]:

Hello, everybody, and welcome to “Dishing with Stephanie’s dish”. We talk to people that have written cookbooks or books or food adjacent things because I can’t get enough about talking about food, and and today we have a great guest. She is julie joe Severson. She is the author of Oldest Twin Cities a Guide to Historic Treasures. And I had read about this book and thought, oh, that’s cool. I wonder if she has stuff in there about restaurants and breweries, because we have so much history in the Twin Cities. And indeed, she does. Welcome to the program.

Julie [00:00:47]:

Thank you for having me here. This will be fun.

Stephanie [00:00:50]:

Yes, it will be fun. So how did you decide? Are you like a born and bred twin Citian, and how did you decide to undertake this project?

Julie [00:00:59]:

Yes, I’m a fourth generation Minnesotan, and I’ve lived in the Twin Cities most of my life. I first wrote a book called Secret Twin Cities a Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure, and that came out in 2020, arrived March, mid March, right when the cities were shutting down. So good timing on my part. I shoved them all in the corner for a couple of weeks because I thought, who’s going to want to buy a travel guide right now?

Stephanie [00:01:24]:


Julie [00:01:25]:

It turned out okay for secret Twin cities. They had a lot of social distancing ideas in it, coincidentally. But anyway, all this Twin Cities evolved from that book. About a year later, the publisher asked if I’d like to write another one. And I really wanted to do one of more of a historic nature because I just think with COVID and the really tough year that the Twin Cities had in 2020, including the murder of George Floyd and the Civil uprising and businesses shutting down, burned down. I just felt like I needed a reason to fall back in love with the Twin Cities. And I was feeling a loss of community and a loss of connection. And for me to feel connected to the region I live in is very important to me. I need to feel part of the fabric. And so I just stopped focusing on enduring places in our midst and places that hung in there and have endured and have reopened, providing us continuity, kind of a comfort that was good for my soul to focus my energy there. So that’s why I kind of went in this direction.

Stephanie [00:02:43]:

Well, and one of the selections in the book is the Oldest Best Bar, which is our friend Tony Zacardi, who bought it from our friend Lisa Hammer. I knew Lisa and Keith, and they had shepherded the bar, and then they sold it to Tony Zacardi. And it’s from 1906.

Julie [00:03:03]:


Stephanie [00:03:04]:

It’s an institution on Cedar Avenue. And you talk about sort of that pandemic and that coming back to life. Tony is a good example of someone that really he had just bought the bar and all of a sudden it has to close, and they’re trying to hang on. And a lot of these bars and restaurants and distilleries really were in tough shape. So I was so glad that when we came out of the pandemic that Palmers has come out of it. And tell me a little bit about the history of Palmers in particular.

Julie [00:03:40]:

Yeah. And Tony really was he was really propelled into the national spotlight during that time. Yes.

Stephanie [00:03:48]:

He was an African American man who.

Julie [00:03:51]:

Owns this in the heart of he spray painted black owned business in hopes to protect his business, to deflect potential looters. And he was really a spokesperson and a comfort, I think, for the twin stage community during that time. We needed absolutely.

Stephanie [00:04:10]:

And the music community, too, because Palmer has had such a history in steeped in music.

Julie [00:04:16]:

Yeah. What a gem this place is. It’s so unique, with an Islamic mosque on one end and then that iconic Mustachioed man against it on the other one. And as I write in the book, you rarely leave this place without a story to tell. Kind of rough edge place. Maybe not everybody’s going to feel comfortable there, but you’re very welcome there, no matter who you are. And you’ll be invited to play a game of Scrabble or get into a conversation, unless you’re a jerk. Because if you’re a jerk, you’re going to get plastered on a poster note on the back wall, and you’re not going to be welcome there at all.

Stephanie [00:05:00]:

That’s funny.

Julie [00:05:02]:


Stephanie [00:05:02]:

Another institution that is in downtown Minneapolis specifically, and I didn’t realize that they had had a fire in 1989, but this was Glicks, the oldest downtown bar.

Julie [00:05:20]:

Yeah. Lots lots of damage. It seems like most of these places have endured fires over the years. Yeah.

Stephanie [00:05:30]:

You can imagine that. Yep.

Julie [00:05:32]:

Yeah, they they really came back from that. In fact, there was a moose in there. They have these animal heads mounted all throughout the restaurant. And the moose in the back room had been stolen from during a fraternity party there. And I think this group, whoever had stolen it, felt so bad because of fire that Reopening day, they anonymously returned it, leaning it against the front door. Welcome, everybody back. But yeah, my daughter was just there the other day. She’s like I’m a glicks. I’m like, do you know that’s in my book? No, I didn’t even know that.

Stephanie [00:06:05]:

I had no idea either. Now, the Monte Carlo has been near and dear to my heart for some time, and my mom and dad got divorced, and my dad moved downtown. And that was really like, wow. Because we were suburban girls. And the first weekend my dad had us, he took us into this CD alley, and he went through this back door that had this weird sign above it and brought us in. And I thought he was bringing us into a pool hall. And I was like, oh, my gosh, my dad has really tipped over here, and it turned out to be the Loveliest bar inside. It was actually the Monte Carlo, and he was kind of a regular there. What’s the historic nature of the Monte Carlo?

Julie [00:06:47]:

Yeah. Well, yeah, the hum of the neon sign is going to remain a constant in the North Loop Bar. It’s really exquisite in there with this mirrored wall behind the bar. One’s kind of an elegance to it, to it all. But the whole North Loop area, the warehouse district is where the Milky Way candy bars and cream of pasta and pop up toaster were invented. This was a real industrial place. The neighborhood has more than 60 buildings that are over a century old. A lot of them have been repurposed. Some of them. A few of them are rehearsal spaces for the Minnesota Opera, and a lot of them are faded. Business signs are repurposed. You see the old signs, ghost signs, sort of. But the Monte Carlo Bar and Grill have stood the test of time. It used to be mostly only for men, but then when it changed ownership, mr. Rimsick, who owns a number of places in the Twin Cities, he kind of turned it into a destination for all the patty, is a great happening place. Now, Beijing style wings, they’re really famous for.

Stephanie [00:08:06]:

Yeah, the dry rubbed wings are my favorite. Yeah, a kind of funny one that I didn’t expect would reach me and grab me, but it did. So I work on the Stone Arch Bridge festival and I curate a culinary market that happens underneath the Hennepin Avenue Bridge. And underneath that bridge, we have 38 ten x ten booths of vendors that produce Minnesota made food products. And as I was looking through your book, it’s the oldest bridge relic at First Bridge Park, which is where I am during these two days of the festival from 1855. Underneath that bridge, there’s these giant anchors, and I sit on those anchors. That’s my chair during the two days of the festival. So I didn’t realize they were so old.

Julie [00:08:56]:

Well, yeah, those don’t date back to the very first bridge to cross the Mississippi River anywhere. Right there at St. Anthony Falls. I mean, prior to that bridge back in 1855, people were crossing over the falls to get to the other side. That first bridge didn’t last real long, and then they created another one and another one. So anyway, these archaeological excavations revealed anchors from the original bridges, and so now they are under the Hennepin Bridge. Now you can see and sit on them if you want. There’s plaque. So cool. Really interesting history at that park. Yeah. Right down from Melrose Park.

Stephanie [00:09:42]:

The oldest island venue in 1893 is the Nicolette Island Inn, which is still operating as a hotel, as a restaurant. It is a beautiful, gorgeous spot. If you ever just want to pop in for a drink or they have delicious food, too. Yeah, that’s a great spot. And I didn’t realize that David Shea was kind of responsible for bringing that back. He’s designed so many restaurants in the Twin Cities.

Julie [00:10:08]:

Yeah. I didn’t realize he was connected to that either until I started research. Talented guy. Yeah. That place I learned a lot about. I didn’t really know a lot about that fire that had kind of spread through Nicholas Island and all northeast Minneapolis. A very ravishing fire, and only one of two structures, industrial structures, on the island to survive it. A fire started by some boys smoking. And so, again, these places that have endured. And at one point, it was a men’s shelter, salvation army men’s shelter. So I really and, you know, I can’t help but continue then to learn about and read about Nicholette Island.

Stephanie [00:10:52]:


Julie [00:10:53]:

So many storied history there. Couple donkeys, Pearl and she. But I really focused on that island and my secret Twin Cities.

Stephanie [00:11:01]:

Who would have known that the oldest bowling alley was the Bryant Lake Bowl?

Julie [00:11:08]:

Yeah, I mean, that’s a legendary spot in the Lin Lake neighborhood, and that’s really evolved over the years. It used to be a Ford garage, and apparently it’s haunted by a mechanic who was crushed by a car there. But at the heart of it is the eight lane bowling alley. Old school. But around it now is a really funky groovy restaurant that you never super funky for. A bowling alley and a cabaret with these red leather seats from Stillwater Junior High School, where you can go to all kinds of events there. And there’s a really cool drone video that went viral in 2021 that they created to support businesses struggling through the pandemic. It’s a cool right up our alley. You can Google it went viral. Yeah.

Stephanie [00:11:57]:

In 1964, Boca Chico became the oldest Mexican eatery, which is interesting, because I know that the Silva family opened El Burrito Mercado a little bit further down the street in the 70s, early seventy s. I didn’t realize Boca Chica was that old. And it’s still run by the family, isn’t it?

Julie [00:12:17]:

Yeah, it sure is. Grandma Fria seasoned pork tamales are still on the menu. Yeah, this place was a really delightful surprise. Walking into you can go there after visiting the Wapisher Caves, the gangster tours there. That’s a great place to go to afterwards. You just walk in and every wall tells a story of the family’s heritage murals. But, yeah, Uramo Frias and Gloria Coronado, who’s a petite, spunky lady, they fell in love and started this little place. She was actually linked to a dynasty, cultural dynasty in Minneapolis. Her parents owned the first Mexican restaurant in St. Paul, and then in Minneapolis called the Casa Coronado, but that has long closed.

Stephanie [00:13:10]:

And there’s the oldest family Italian restaurant in St. Paul. Yuruso’s.

Julie [00:13:15]:

Yeah. Yuruso’s and giant meatballs. And again, that’s family owned. Same family. And what I love about that place are giant murals of Sweet Hollow especially. It is located right across from Sweet Hollow. You would never know that across the street there is a hidden valley below street level. Right. We’re former immigrant shanty town and in the book I give directions on how to get there because it’s a little kind of windy but you can find it.

Stephanie [00:13:50]:


Julie [00:13:51]:


Stephanie [00:13:53]:

When you were writing the book, what was one of your favorite discoveries?

Julie [00:14:00]:

Well, I fell in love with the New York Life Eagle. And that’s a Summit overlook park in the Summit neighborhood. It overlooks the river valley.

Stephanie [00:14:09]:

I lived right there. It’s right across from the University Club on Point of Land.

Julie [00:14:16]:

Maybe because of a mother. She’s a mother. She’s there taking her tail ons into a serpent, digging in there, protecting her nest of eaglets there in that pose she was almost discarded. She used to be on the third story entrance of the New York Life building in downtown St. Paul. And when that was removed, she really was nearly forgotten and discarded. And she was kind of put on a pedestal in front of a parking lot for a while until she found her new home here. And now she’s in all her glory. There a nice spot while you’re mansion goggling over mansions there in that area.

Stephanie [00:14:54]:

Yeah. I had no idea about Newman’s being the oldest bar in the state.

Julie [00:15:00]:

Well, that’s the big question because it’s a tie between Newman’s and the Spot Bar in St. Paul. The feud. I’m sure St. Spot fans will be mad at me for including Newman’s, but I included the Spot bar in secret to the city, so I had to be fair. But those two kind of feud over. They both have very good reason but different reasons to want to claim that title. So yeah, Newman’s is famous for their frog tank in the window.

Stephanie [00:15:30]:

What is the story of the frog tank? Do you know?

Julie [00:15:34]:

You ask people there and the Tank of Frogs has just been there as long as anybody can remember. It’s just a tradition that they keep going and I guess the frogs have disappeared every now and then. One was found in a pitcher of beer. But this place has a hidden door behind the Tank of Frogs. It’s only used for special events, but they used to hide have kind of speakeasy up there during prohibition and that’s where you could speak up there and have a legal hooch. And there was like a phone that connected upstairs to the main bar to let the bartenders know when the cops were coming sniffing.

Stephanie [00:16:13]:

That’s hilarious. Yeah. I love it. You go into all this detail like 1972. The oldest food co op is the Seward food Co op. Who knew that that was I mean, I don’t know. The Twin Cities co op movement has been so strong, but who knew Seward was the first? I didn’t. I thought the wedge was the first.

Julie [00:16:36]:

Yeah, no, they were really kind of the first, and now the most enduring. And what I didn’t know was what a violent struggle the food co op went through in those early years. It sounds kind of like stuff going on these days with, you know, there was a takeover yeah. That tried to take over with steel bars and fire bombs, but they failed because there was such a difference of philosophy. And these were really some veteran radicals really disagreed with what they called the white bourgeois elitism. That’s kind of how the opposing group.

Stephanie [00:17:21]:

Those bourgeois co op people.

Julie [00:17:25]:

And there’s a new documentary about that called The Co op wars that was created in 2021. Super interesting to learn about the whole early Twin Cities.

Stephanie [00:17:34]:

Yeah, that sounds neat. Well, this is a great book. Your second book, Julie. Joe Sieverson Oldest Twin Cities a Guide to Historic Treasures. Are you already working on your third?

Julie [00:17:44]:

Not yet. Promoting this is full time right now.

Stephanie [00:17:49]:

Yes. Well, it’s fun to visit with you and to hear the story and to just get more history about some of these great spots. Pick up the book and then take your own kind of historical tour, right?

Julie [00:18:03]:


Stephanie [00:18:04]:

I love it. Thank you, Julie Joe. And thank you for highlighting some of our relics. Treasures, a fabric of a community is always about the history. That where you come from. Right. And it’s good to be reminded of some of these great spots. I sat on that anchor all summer, last summer, and I never knew. So I love it. Thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate you.

Julie [00:18:29]:

Absolutely. Thank you.

Stephanie [00:18:30]:

All right, we’ll talk soon. Okay, bye.


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