Hidden Gems

One thing I think most urban cyclists can agree upon is that biking provides a means to find hidden gems in the city that via a car, you may just miss. This happened to me a few winters ago while out on a cruise with a friend. We were biking through a more downtrodden (but the next hot spot in my opinion) part of Minneapolis, Elliot Park, when I came across a place I had never seen before. It instantly sparked my curiousity – but more about that locale later.

Elliot Park has a two-sided history; on one hand it’s heroic and on the other, it’s tragic. Elliot Park was named after Dr. Joseph Elliot. He donated his farmland which now makes up the actual park called “Elliot Park” within the Elliot Park neighborhood. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Minneapolis and given it’s immediacy to the industries downtown and to St. Anthony Falls, it was quickly a draw to prominent citizens whose mansions lined its streets, particularly Park Avenue. Furthermore, it was an area of major importance as hospitals/medical facilities were prominent in this area and sought to serve the working class and disenfranchised.

As the population quickly rose however, higher density apartments and housing made their place in the area. As population growth slowed and we entered the Great Depression, the neighborhood and it’s housing became a new home for lower income and working class people. Some mansions were divided into multi-family dwellings. And as we know, in the entirety of the US, after World War II major movement of families out to the suburbs was where the tragedy of Elliot Park began. To quicken movement out to the suburbs, Interstate 94 was built in the 1960s. It cut through Elliot Park, and thus many of its properties were demolished. Elliot Park lost 54% of its population – leading to further disenvestment in the area. (http://elliotparkneighborhood.org) Beginning in the 1980s, the Elliot Park Neighborhood sought to revitalize the neighborhood, a mission they continue to work on today. In my opinion, the neighborhood has some of the single most awesome row houses and buildings in the city. I believe, that given some more time, it will be THE place to be in Minneapolis.

But enough about the neighborhood, you are wondering what is the hidden gem?! Get to the point already! Okay, okay! That winter day on my bike ride, I came across this gem…

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A gem just tucked away in a nearly forgotten corner of Elliot Park.

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The Band Box Diner! What is this?! A place that looked out of this century! And I immediately fell in love with it. You know how there are some places that just make you feel like you are taken back in time and you forget that it’s 2014? This is one of those places. When I saw it, I new I had a mission to visit, eat and learn more about it.

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In 1939, Harry and Bert (short for Bertha) “Wyman” actually “Weisman” (changed due to anti-semitism sentiment at the time in Minneapolis according to Wikipedia. As such, you will find both last names used in different articles) had this diner built. The term, “Band Box” refers to, “a small box of cardboard or chipboard covered with paper and used for the storage of collars, caps, hats, and millinery” (Wikipedia). There were 15 of these built in the Minneapolis area by 1950 and only this single Band Box remained in 1972. The Butler Manufacturing Company, an Iowa silo company more well-known for making agricultural bins, prefabricated structures, and feed storage for farming, created these diners for the Weismans.

In 1998, the owner and chef, Brad Ptacek, purchased this historical diamond in the rough and has been serving up great breakfast food and burgers ever since! In 2013, it was named City Pages’ Best Diner!

If you have whizzed past this area in your car many times and didn’t see Band Box, you are truly missing out. We recommend you take a deep breath, hop on a bike, take a ride to Band Box Diner and stuff your face with this greasy spoon goodness!