Water Cooler

Share this:
July 12, 2004 // UPDATED 2:30 pm - April 25, 2007
By: David Brauer
David Brauer

Hats off

Longtime readers know that Cooler is obsessed with the Downtown streetscape, and on a recent cool, sunny summer day (is there any other kind this year?) we were practically thrumming with joy on our daily stroll.

Partly as a challenge to ourselves and partly as positive reinforcement to those people and institutions that give a damn about making Downtown nice, we decided to find as many new things to celebrate on the streetscape as we could in 60 minutes. Here they are, as we stumbled upon them in our random route:

The new hip-hop clothing store Balance, 1111 Hennepin Ave. S. Check out the eyeballs. Just step inside and you'll know what we're talking about. You'll fee like Salvador Dali's melting ghost alighted here.

The excellent planter/benches on the new Hennepin Avenue streetscape. Really clever urban design, combining tree protection (one planter saved a tree from a car crash last month) and always-hard-to-find public seating. Still, no good deed goes unpunished: skateboarders have already taken chunks out of the front seat edges (because they were meant to be sat on, the seats lack Skate-Stoppers --those little screwed-in L-shaped pieces of metal that ruin the boarding fun.) Closed circuit to the Hennepin Avenue businessfolk who generously funded the improvements: put the Stoppers on anyway. The seats will still be plenty functional.

Forecast Public Art exhibition in the vacant 705 Hennepin Ave. S. storefront. We're not sure if it's started, or ended, or if it's supposed to look slapdash, but we're all for art livening up surplus commercial spaces.

Chevy's Fresh Mex Caf/, 701 Hennepin Ave. S. Be careful what you wish for: we've wanted more Downtown sidewalk cafes for years, and now we've got 'em -- except many (especially on Nicollet Mall) practically push pedestrians into the street. We'll slam the greedy sidewalk-gobblers some other time, but Chevy's does a nice job of balancing outdoor dining with the Right to Walk the Streets. Plus, their cool garage-door frontage extends the outside vibe indoors several feet.

Block E benches, 600 Hennepin Ave. S. They didn't have to put these in! It would have been so easy to make this a barren, utilitarian streetscape, but these are actual amenities available to nonshoppers. Say what you want about the public subsidy or the bewildering interior design, but they did a nice job out front.

Plaque, Olive Garden, 533 Hennepin Ave. S. Usually, you have to have a billion dollars to get your name on a Downtown building. Gjon Prendi has done it merely by being an Olive Garden general manager. In a fit of Japanese-like corporate responsibility, the faux Italian chain puts its manager's name in bronze right outside the front door. Gotta make Mama Prendi proud. Next question: what kind of a name is Gjon?

Syphilis prevention billboard, 5th & Hennepin. We know, not a savory topic. But these billboards are so damned weird as to be entertaining. A naked gentleman has what looks like a large clam or a giant pink diaphragm stretched from bellybutton to knee. The message is . . . what? Radioactive seafood prevents sexually transmitted diseases? Laminate yourself with latex? Whatever -- made us look.

Microbikes at Scooter & Cycles, Washington Avenue North and the railroad tracks. These two-wheelers are about 6 inches high, but 6-foot-tall bruisers peel down the sidewalks looking like punk Shriners. A heart-stopping, gut-busting sight.

JD Hoyt's, 301 Washington Ave. N. White tablecloths on outdoors tables by the relentlessly bleak Washington Avenue streetscape (and I-394 exit ramp!). Truly a demonstration of the power of positive thinking.

The Gateway Fountain, North 2nd Street & Hennepin Ave. Thanks to the generosity of nearby residents, this public fountain spurts again. When it DOES warm up, the fountain's cool plume-shadow will be the place to be. The colored lights are neat, too.

Red spiral staircase to nowhere, 1st Avenue North & 3rd Street. Once, a fire escape, now, vivid whirling whimsy. A gift of impractical beauty from an unknown benefactor.

Yellow LRT bumpers, 1st Avenue North & 5th Street. LRT looks pretty slick and modern, but these giant yellow ingots (designed to keep runaway trains at the end of the line from demolishing The Loon) send the message that this is powerful mechanical stuff.

Fountains and gardens, 1st Avenue & 6th Street at Block E. We've already had one complaint here at Cooler that Block E and Bellanotte have co-opted a public fountain. Truth is, it's all private space -- but that people would feel it's theirs indicate how nicely designed it is.

Have your own list of Downtown streetscape faves? We're all eyes at cooler@skywaynews.net