The state's political center and the less populous half of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, St. Paul is situated along the banks of the Mississippi River. With a compact, manageable downtown and some of the Midwest's most charming historic neighborhoods, down-to-earth St. Paul makes for an enjoyable getaway, although it's less trendy and somewhat more conservative than Minneapolis, it does have a comparatively small but cohesive LGBT community and a few gay bars.
Looking for gay nightlife in nearby Minneapolis? Check out the Minneapolis Gay Nightlife Guide.
Here's a look at a few of the top nightspots and gay-friendly restaurants in St. Paul.
The high-ceilinged, attractively furnished Camp gay bar (490 Robert St. N, 651-292-1844) is on the northern edge of downtown St. Paul, just a short walk from the Minnesota Capitol Building, and close to many hotels and restaurants. Of the city's few gay bars, this one draws the most diverse crowd, from older "suits" who frequent the upscale piano cabaret in front to younger club kids or favor the expansive dance bar, where you can often catch drag shows, too. During St. Paul's warmer months, you can also enjoy your cocktails and conversation on the sidewalk, which has patio seating. The camp is equally popular with lesbians and gay men.
Across from a strip of shopping centers in western St. Paul, the Town House Bar (1415 University Ave. W, 651-646-7087) is St. Paul's eldest LGBT nightspot and the most popular women's club in the Twin Cities. It's about a 10-minute drive west of downtown St. Paul, but that also puts it closer to Minneapolis, which is just 15 minutes away. Although the crowd is mostly lesbian most of the time, men often frequent this friendly neighborhood bar, especially on Monday evenings (when it's guys' night). Country line dancing, karaoke, drag revues, and traditional dance tunes are offered during different nights of the week, depending on the bar - it's made up of the main space, and a smaller piano lounge in the back.
One of the most esteemed and romantic restaurants in the city, gay-friendly W.A. Frost (374 Selby Ave., 651-224-5715) occupies a handsome turn-of-the-20th-century building along Selby Avenue's stretch of popular restaurants in the upscale, historic Summit Hill neighborhood - it's just a few minutes' drive west of downtown, a few blocks beyond the soaring dome of the Cathedral of St. Paul, and in a neighborhood that novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald grew up in. As elegant as W.A. Frost is inside, the lush and spacious back patio (pictured here) is the best place to enjoy a meal in summer - it's shaded by a canopy of leafy trees and lighted with candles.
The kitchen here produces superb modern, sustainable sourced American food, and there's a first-rate list of international and domestic wines. Several vegetarian options are available, as are several first-rate seafood dishes (i.e., marinated diver sea scallops with grapefruit-apple-radicchio salad, tarragon, and a verjus vinaigrette). Note the stellar artisan cheese list, features several kinds of cheese from Minnesota and Wisconsin (the Northern Lights blue is particularly good, as is the aromatic Crave Brothers "Les Freres" from Waterloo, Wisconsin). Desserts are another strong point, including a knock-out organic carrot cake topped with mousse-style icing made with chevre and cream cheese.
Striking a perfect balance between a cozy and casual neighborhood tavern and a first-rate restaurant specializing in creative gastropub cuisine and serving an astounding list of craft beers on draft (plus about 400 in bottles) as well as some 300 varieties of whiskey, the cheerily named Happy Gnome (498 Selby Ave., 651-287-2018) occupies a grand, creeper-covered brick building with a distinctive turret - it fits in well with the many stately homes in the surrounding historic Cathedral Hill neighborhood.
The rambling restaurant with leather booths, a long wooden bar, and high ceilings serves a terrific weekend brunch as well as lunch on weekdays, and nightly dinners - there's also a lighter bar menu available when it's just drinking and noshing you're up for. The Gnome Benedict is a classic at brunch - poached eggs, prosciutto, hollandaise, and toasted English muffins served with fries. You can also build your own grilled cheese sandwich, and dine on such small plates as mussels in pear cider with sage; maple-glazed halibut with butternut squash, wild mushrooms, and toasted chestnuts; and wild-boar risotto with leeks, sweet-onion broth, and pumpkinseed oil. Chef Matthew Hinman's cuisine is hearty and well-suited to the vast beer selection (totally nearly 100 options), which includes a number of Minnesota microbrews: Summit Maibock, Surly Coffee Bender, Lake Superior Kayak Kolsch, and several others (plus beers from all over the country. There's also a cheese menu, an impressive dessert selection (including flawless chocolate pot-de-creme), and that aforementioned whiskey list that includes everything from reliable but ubiquitous Bushmill's Black Bush to such hard-to-find specialties as Macallan 1824 Master Series Rare Cask (a glass will set you back $75).
Located in the city's historic warehouse district, known as Lowertown and now buzzing with cool bars and restaurants, the gay-friendly Dark Horse Bar & Eatery (250 E. 7th St., 651-313-7960) fills up nightly - and especially on weekends - with fans of classy craft cocktails (including a mighty fine mojito). There's also an extensive list of special whiskeys and bourbons, plus plenty of microbrews. There's also a great afternoon (3 to 6 p.m.) and late-night (11 pm to 2 a.m.) daily happy hour featuring some excellent deals on the several bar nibbles served here (including shrimp tacos with ghost-pepper crema and pulled-pork sliders). The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, too, as well as weekend brunch and is a good bet for upscale modern pub fare, such as kimchi burgers, Italian sausage pizzas, and pan-roasted salmon.