The Bridge received a phone call last month from a business owner on First Avenue Northeast, demanding that we stop erroneously referring to his area of town as the “East Bank” neighborhood. “There is no ‘East Bank’ neighborhood,” he said. “This is Old St. Anthony.” He wanted to know why our reporters consistently got it wrong.
The answer is simple: “East Bank” is the city’s officially designated name for the small triangle of neighborhood between the eastern riverbank, Central Avenue to the east and the railroad tracks to the west. Along with Nicollet Island, it comprises the Nicollet Island/East Bank neighborhood.
He accepted that answer, but admitted that it made no sense to him; “East Bank” conjures images of the University of Minnesota — a mile upriver. At the risk of editorializing, we told him that we agreed that Old St. Anthony was probably a better name.
The name “St. Anthony” comes from Father Louis Hennepin, who christened the nearby falls after his patron saint, Anthony of Padua. According to the Minneapolis Public Library, the community of St. Anthony was platted as a townsite in 1849 — the same year that Minnesota was established as a territory. St. Anthony existed alongside the city of Minneapolis until 1872, when it joined the larger municipality.
The name stuck with the falls, of course, and, more than a century later, the St. Anthony East and West neighborhoods exist on either side of East Bank, but why no St. Anthony? A “St. Anthony Main” does exist, but only as the business node on Southeast Main Street in Marcy-Holmes, marked by its signature red and blue neon sign.
To further confuse things, the area business association recently renamed itself the NorthEast Minneapolis Business Association (NEBA), but a web search will still find a list of area businesses under the Old St. Anthony Association (OSAA). Again, at the risk of editorializing, we propose the compromise of a new, final moniker for the neighborhood: Old St. NorthEast Bank Anthony (OSNEBA). It just rolls off the tongue, like water over the falls…
No matter what you call it (and all joking aside), it’s what’s in the area that is important. For the purposes of this article, we will call it Old St. Anthony, because that looser, unofficial moniker describes the larger area: an active business and residential community that straddles Northeast and Southeast Minneapolis and breaches the boundaries of the Nicollet Island/East Bank and the Marcy-Holmes neighborhoods. It’s the gateway to both Northeast and Downtown Minneapolis; a hop, skip and jump from the university; and, most important, nestled as it is on the riverbank just above St. Anthony Falls, it is the birthplace of the city.
Despite the name, it’s a place where old meets new. This year, the Nicollet Island Inn celebrates 25 years of business in a 114-year-old building. Old St. Anthony features one of the city’s oldest residences (the Ard Godfrey House) and some of its newest, thanks to two building booms in the last quarter century. More development is ahead, including a major redevelopment of the Pillsbury “A” Mill, a National Historic Landmark.
Old St. Anthony boasts the best bar in America (Nye’s, according to Esquire magazine, and we won’t argue) and surely one of its oldest (The Terminal Bar, family-run since 1932). The area is rich with restaurants — from locally owned eateries to popular chains, fine-dining and wine bars to pub fare. This summer, Old St. Anthony will welcome Kim Bartmann’s Red Stag Supperclub and Alex Roberts’ Brasa Rotisserie, even as it says goodbye to Totino’s Italian Kitchen on Aug. 4 after 56 years in the neighborhood.
For things to do and buy, there’s bondage night and baby toys, conga dancing and coffeeshops, Segway tours and salvaged antiques, sports bars and a world-class liquor and cheese store, rugged trails and riverside drinks, and perhaps the most stunning views of the Minneapolis skyline, made better than ever since the opening of Xcel Energy’s Water Power Park.
Really, the best guide to Old St. Anthony is on its streets, exploring modern Minneapolis at the heart of its history, where it all began.