How Saint Paul Captured Mrs. Nerd's Heart Despite Its Outrageously Cold Winters

A series about Saint Paul, MN — Part 1 of 4 Even if you’ve never been to Minnesota, you’ve probably heard tales of its cold winters that last for half a year and the unfortunate souls who still have to go to work and school despite waking up to twelve feet of misery. Minnesotans are considered a hardy breed (how could we not be, living in these conditions?), but even we complain to our neighbors about how we can see our breath on the wind beginning in September … or how we sometimes feel like cartoons with little icicles hanging from our nose and eyelashes (and not in the fun way, like Julie Andrews sings to wide-eyed children in the Sound of Music.)

I (Mrs. Nerd) am a particularly vehement hater of Minnesota winters. Since my family moved to the suburbs in 2003, I’ve sworn up and down that the first chance I get, I’m leaving the state. I tell this to my husband, to my family, to my friends… Heck, I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen. “I hate Minnesota!” I shout as I scrape the 6” layer of ice and snow off my windshield in -20 degree weather, and all the other Minnesotans wrestling the ice off their cars tend to silently and miserably nod their heads in agreement.

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However, my feelings on moving away from Minnesota have changed recently—which honestly surprised me. For the girl who bemoaned every winter that next year would be THE year she moved to Colorado, California (again; I lived there for a time when I was younger), or even England, it came as a shock that a place in Minnesota could move me to reconsider my stance of hatred against its overall wintery gloom.

On my 21st birthday, Mr. Nerd (my boyfriend at the time) drove me to a bar in Saint Paul for my first, officially legal drink. He’d just moved to Saint Paul from Bloomington (a Twin Cities suburb), and so far I’d heard nothing but good things about it. Which boggled me a bit. I’d never been to Saint Paul before, and in the shrouds of darkness—with the moon overcast by heavy winter clouds—I didn’t think the streets and buildings looked any different from those I’d grown up around southwest of the cities.

“You’re going to love Saint Paul,” he told me as we drove past sleepy brick houses and the young, barren trees that dotted icy sidewalks.

“It seems pretty quiet,” I replied. Where was the nightlife? Even at 8 p.m., hardly any lights shone besides the street lamps, and only a few people were out taking their dogs for an evening stroll.

I wondered if perhaps Minneapolis would have been a better option for a 21st birthday celebration. I’d heard stories about having your first drink in Minneapolis. It always just seemed like something you should do as a Minnesotan, as if having a margarita downtown fulfilled some weird passage of rites.

Ben pulled off onto a street that had a few restaurants and shops. He parked, and we jumped out of the car. My breath billowed up around me, like smoke from an imaginary cigarette. Either that or I was turning into a dragon.

I rubbed my gloved hands together as we briskly crossed the street toward an old, red-bricked building. It didn’t look like much, but the warm light shining from the windows coaxed me forward. As Ben went to grab the door, I glanced up at the white letters printed on the awning above our heads.

SWEENEY’S SALOON

The chill melted as soon as we walked inside. A man, his grey hair pulled back into a ponytail, both peppered and distinguished, greeted us at the door. He smiled at me.

“Good evening, folks,” he said. “May I see your IDs?” I nodded and, fumbling, pulled my newly-minted adult Driver’s License out of my coat pocket. He studied it, front and back and front again, then winked at me. “A young lad on his 21st birthday, 42 years ago, wishes you a very happy birthday,” he said. “Enjoy it; you’re only young once.” And he gave me my ID and drew a green smiley face on the back of my hand.

As Ben ushered me to the nearest table and helped me shed my coat, I looked around at the cozy brick walls, the long, polished wooden bar, the groups of friends laughing and watching sports around crowded tables, and started to understand the charm of Saint Paul.

It didn’t appear have the magical drinking scene that Minneapolis allegedly did, but that seemed okay to me. Perhaps all Saint Paul needed was an old-world feel, as if we’d stepped from the 21st century into ye old England, and the personable charm of unique individuals.

That night, I started viewing Saint Paul differently. And eighteen months later, I moved not AWAY from Minnesota but ran into her arms … into the heart of Saint Paul itself.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people question my decision. “Why would you move to Saint Paul?” they ask. “It’s boring. Quiet! The shops close early and there’s nothing to do.”

When faced with these questions, I often look at the earnest vigor on the faces of these people, smile, and shake my head. “I always thought so myself,” I tell them, “but then I really gave it a chance.”

And when I ask them if they’ve given Saint Paul a chance, the answer is usually no.

It’s not that they’re wrong in their assumptions. Saint Paul is indeed a quiet city. I travel in and out of Saint Paul daily for work, and I completely see where they’re coming from when they say that she seems “boring.” But Saint Paul should be different from other Minnesota cities. That’s where her strengths come from. For example, if Minneapolis is the younger party sibling, who enjoys a bottle of whiskey and a zombie pub-crawl, Saint Paul is the organized, adult sibling who enjoys the sweet luxury of hot tea and a good book.

If you’re like me, and you appreciate good books, great drinks, and fine company, then I suggest you give Saint Paul a fighting chance to win your affection.

Join us in part two of our 4-part series on Saint Paul! We’ll cover the best of the best bookstores in Saint Paul, why they’re so great, and where you can find them!