Features

The Insider's Guide to Lake Minnetonka

Everything you wanted to know but didn't want to ask.

Melinda Jacobs
Melinda Jacobs enjoys the lake with her English Bulldog Walter, daughter Madeline, and husband Howard Grodnick

LAKE MINNETONKA IS 125 MILES OF LAKESHORE, two centuries of tradition, and shorthand for the most seductive of lifestyles. With the right attitude, addresses, and accessories, The Lake can be yours for a weekend, a day, or a single golden evening.


Mpls.St.Paul magazine cover

BACK IN 1975, when Highway 12 was the primary two-lane thoroughfare between downtown Minneapolis and Wayzata, Mpls., an early version of this magazine, made “The Lake: Its Place, Its People, Its History” the July cover story. Author Dave Mona declared that “Tonka chic” could be achieved by living in Cottagewood, owning a Lund Runabout and a Ford LTD wagon, shopping at Nygren’s in Excelsior, having season tickets to the Guthrie, dining out at the Spring Park Soda Fountain, and skiing at Lutsen.

Lake Minnetonka has come a long way since the ’70s, but it remains a source of inspiration, fascination, and abundant commercial and social opportunity. Outsiders still peer at the high hedges, wondering what life is like on the inside.

Like a well-heeled grande dame with a series of husbands, scores of grandchildren, a gracious estate, closets full of evening dresses, and notebooks filled with birthdays of former lovers, Lake Minnetonka represents decades of graciousness and searing scandal, much of it too salacious for these pages.

Even if the stories were fit to print, no one would dare share all of The Lake’s many secrets, lest she banish them to social Siberia (or Edina), withdrawing her annual invitation to spend long summer weekends sipping icy gin bootlegs sludgy with fresh mint and listening to tales of vintage Wayzata, festive Excelsior, and elegant Deephaven.

Just as you can’t drive three hours on the Long Island Expressway and expect to be a Hamptons insider, you can’t drive 25 minutes west on 12 (that’s 394 to you new-money folks) and stumble upon the passionate heart of Lake Minnetonka. But, because we know your people (and their grandparents), we’ve asked the gardener to trim the hedges, just this once, to give you a glimpse of the good life on the big lake.

So, tighten the laces on your Topsiders and step aboard our vintage runabout. Hold fast as we gather speed, cutting across the wake of a much larger, much newer boat, waving gaily to the owners, who are, of course, good friends and neighbors. Navigating in and out of favorite bays, we’ll point out the right addresses and the wrong houses, key social settings, the most desirable spots to dine and shop, and bits of local color that the Chamber of Commerce would never even know, let alone share.

As the sun sets, we’ll pull into Fletcher’s and toss the keys to an adorable young wharf rat. Over a delicious dinner of pan-fried walleye and the famous Nixon-era house salad with sunflower seeds and peppercorn dressing, we’ll give you the lay of The Lake and the land. When dinner is finished, you won’t yet be a local, but you’ll know enough to open the right doors.

Melinda’s dress and necklace from Monique Lhuillier, moniquelhuillier.com; earrings from Hot Ice Jewelry, hoticejewelry.com; Howard’s shirt from Len Druskin, lendruskin.com; 2010 Larson Senza 206 boat, from Larson, larsonboats.com


LAKE MINNETONKA AND ITS HAMPTON COUSINS

Rick and Maggie Trenary on Lake Minnetonka

As connoisseurs and chroniclers of the good life, we’re amused by the similarities between Lake Minnetonka and her fancier, more fabulous Hamptons cousins on the eastern edge of Long Island.

Wayzata = East Hampton

Two picturesque towns with more flash, more boldfaced names, and more fashionable retailers than their low-key neighbors.

Deephaven = Bridgehampton

Both of these idyllic villages feel like Ralph Lauren ads come to life, with beautiful people and their even more beautiful houses.

Maplewood = Southampton

Two quiet enclaves that feel like summer colonies, with dowagers, bankers, and attorneys tucked safely behind tall green hedges.

Excelsior = Sag Harbor

The former whaling village of Sag Harbor feels a lot like Excelsior, with a funky downtown scene, movie theater, bookstore, and sushi bar.

Orono = Sagaponack

Like its Lake Minnetonka cousin, Sagaponack is a lush, rural paradise with stunning water views and acres of unobstructed wealth.

Big Island = Shelter Island

Just minutes from the mainland, these two tiny islands offer a blissful escape from everyday life.


THE BIG LAKE

A seagull's-eye view of the good life

THE STATS


125

Homes on the market worth more than $1 million

31

Channels

15

Islands

11

Public access points

9

Homes on the market worth more than $5 million
{1} In April, Lord Fletcher’s was the scene of a casting call for a reality show based on Big Island, billed as a cross between The Hills and Jersey Shore. Stay tuned . . .

{2} When Lora Noerenberg Hoppe, a Grain Belt Brewery heiress, died in 1972, she requested that her family’s estate be razed and transformed into a public garden.

{3} Tom Petters’s 9,300-square- foot home at 663 Bushaway sold for $5 million in April, only the second Lake Minnetonka home to sell for $5 million or more in the last two years.

{4} An $8.45 million home on Breezy Point Road is currently the costliest piece of real estate for sale on the lake.

{5} In 1912, Walter and Mahala Douglas of Deephaven celebrated Walter’s retirement on the Titanic. When the ship went down, Walter, ever the gentleman, refused to join his wife in the lifeboat. Mahala died at the age of 81 in 1945.

{6} In 1926, Frank Lloyd Wright was arrested on charges of infidelity at a Wildhurst cottage, where he had been hiding for six weeks with Olga Milanoff, who eventually became his fourth wife.

ILLUSTRATIONS BY ERIC HANSON
 


THE RIGHT ADDRESS

Where to live the good life around Lake Minnetonka


Lake Minnetonka is a many-splendored thing, consisting of 125 miles of lakeshore, 25-odd bays, more than a dozen towns, a brace of islands, private marinas aplenty, nine liquor stores, seven country clubs, four ice cream shops (not counting Culver’s and DQ), two independent bookstores, two pet shops, a sushi bar, and a movie theater with three screens.

To help decide where you fit in, here are The Lake’s most popular towns and neighborhoods, organized geographically and alphabetized to obscure favoritism.

North-ish

ORONO

Our own Town and Country, where local bluebloods, new money gentry, and their horses co-exist. A three-acre minimum and a five-star school are sources of local pride. Home to generations of Crosbys, Cargills, Pillsburys, Pipers, and Jaffrays.

WAYZATA

• The social center of the Lake Minnetonka universe, pronounced Wuh-zeh-teh by those who really know. Overheard recently in a local Lake Street boutique: “It really doesn’t matter what’s going on in the rest of the world. Wayzata is always the same.”

East-ish

DEEPHAVEN

Martha’s Vineyard on the shores of Carson’s Bay. Between sailing off Lighthouse Island, tennis at the public courts, and neighborhood get-togethers at the quaint Cottagewood General Store, it’s the good life done better.

West-ish

MINNETONKA BEACH

More enclave than neighborhood, Minnetonka Beach feels like vintage New England, even as tiny cottages give way to grander, more fabulous family homes. We’ve heard tales of old-timers who inform non-residents that they’re not welcome to use the beach, so discretion is the order of the day.

MINNETRISTA

Situated on the western edge of Lake Minnetonka, Minnetrista is a Northwest Territory-turned-suburb with palatial “new builds” and a big-ticket golf course.

MOUND

The most delightfully downscale lake community, with prices to match, Mound serves the pricier lake towns in much the same way that West Palm Beach serves Palm Beach. It’s considered sacred by the Dakota Indians, and we often wonder whether the native spirits have staved off gentrification and other so-called evils.

NAVARRE

It’s the gateway to Mound, and home of Culver’s, Dairy Queen, and The Narrows, a saloon/blues bar with a kids’ menu and a Facebook page. Navarre feels like a Brainerd Lakes crossroads without guile or pretension.

SPRING PARK

Not to be confused with Spring Lake Park near Coon Rapids, this small stretch of lake is home to Lord Fletcher’s and a row of funky lake cottages with cars for sale in the front yards, interspersed with towering two-lot trophy homes.

South-ish

EXCELSIOR

Nantucket meets Northern Exposure. Passionately iconoclastic individuals and a conservative old guard make city council meetings entertaining and occasionally enraging. The town was the epicenter of the Petters dyspepsia, but that’s another story.

GREENWOOD

Word has it that the 812 residents of Greenwood on St. Albans Bay seceded from amoeba-like Shorewood in order to make their own lakeshore rules. It’s a destination in its own right for Adele’s luscious frozen custard and live bait at the Lake Shore Market.

SHOREWOOD

With very little lakeshore to call its own, Shorewood barely makes the list. But since one must drive through Shorewood to get virtually everywhere on the southern side of the lake, we’ll give it its due.

TONKA BAY

Neither Wayzata nor Excelsior, but residents seem to like it that way. Heartbreaker, Joey Nova’s, and Hazellewood (on the former site of the Copper Stein, aka the poor man’s Lord Fletcher’s) have made this town-without-a-center a destination for fashion and food.

SEE AND BEE SEEN

Where to take a meeting, broker a deal, lunch with the girls, and find Mr. Right


WAKE UP!
You have a full day of fabulousness ahead of you!

6 AM
Life Time Fitness, Minnetonka

A who’s who of cosmetic surgeons, CEOs, and attorneys. Even Tiger Woods was seen on the machines hours before playing Hazeltine.

8 AM
Starbucks, Wayzata

The highest echelons of volunteerism vie for tables with C-level execs from the big firms on the western end of Lake Street.

8:30 AM
Dunn Bros, Excelsior

On this side of the lake, it’s where business gets done. After 3 pm, wine by the glass makes planning grade school parties that much more fun.

9 AM
Lakewinds Natural Foods, Minnetonka

Enlightened eco-types shop for probiotics, kombucha, antioxidants, and other foodaceuticals du jour.

10 AM
Caribou at the Bookcase, Wayzata

The sockless loafer set, Tour de France wannabes, cardigan-sporting book clubbers, and a passel of Jack Russells own this corner of town.

11 AM
Poolside at The Lafayette Club, Minnetonka Beach

Stay-at-home moms with nannies, personal trainers, and a wardrobe of bikinis, plus the next generation of teen country clubbers practicing the airs and graces of their grandparents.

Noon
Volnay Bistro, Wayzata

A little bit of Paris, with flavorful food and a dazzling array of expensive tarts of all ages and genders.

3 PM
Bridge at Woodhill, Wayzata

The Official Preppy Handbook was first published 30 years ago, but the rules still apply.

4 PM
Lunds, Wayzata

There’s something about the parking lot that brings out the worst in neighbors. Inside the store, it’s “lovely to see you,” but outside, it’s every Lexus owner for herself. Recent Denny Hecker sightings only add to the frivolity.

5 PM
Spasso, Minnetonka

Live music nights can be raucous, but with wood-fired pizza, wine at retail prices, and Deephaven’s premier divorcees, does it matter?

5:30 PM
NorthCoast, Wayzata

Locals tend to avoid it on summer weekends, preferring weekday happy hours for good apps, an attractive crowd, and a fine view of Wayzata Bay.

6:30 PM
Lord Fletcher’s, Spring Park

The spot for tanned and lithe wharf rats and Tonka Toys (and the sugar daddies who support them) since before the days of SPF. Good burgers, wings, and onion rings are served by sweet things in Nair-worthy short shorts.

7:30 PM
Maynard’s, Excelsior

A hallowed spot for singles, swingers, and merrymakers, plus flotsam and jetsam from Big Island. The former site of Stone-wings and T. Butcherblock offers good food and drink, plus a rousing bar scene all year ’round.

9:30 PM
Bayside Grille, Excelsior

The former Mai Tai, with great live music on weekend evenings and a fun crowd of locals and outsiders lured by the Key West vibe and a breathtaking view of the sunset.

10:30 PM
The Narrows, Navarre

This is slumming, Lake Minnetonka-style, with tricked-out, Harley-riding millionaires in leather pants drinking Miller Lite, eating dirty pork stew, and listening to Lamont Cranston live.

IF YOU'VE GOT IT, FLAUNT IT

Look like a Lake Minnetonka local with laid-back but luxe resortwear

LAFAYETTE LOVELY

Strut that finely honed Steele Fitness physique with a teal bedazzled bikini top ($78) and bottoms ($78) by V i X by Paula Hermanny, and a mesh hoodie ($86) by Sauvage.



DIVINE DIVORCEE

The bar at Blue Point is your oyster when you’re wearing a tankini top ($76) and bottoms ($56) by V i X by Paula Hermanny, a sheer snakeskin coverup ($171) by Sauvage, and wedge flip flops ($95) by OluKai.



VOLLEYBALL GOD

Who needs Venice Beach when you have Lord Fletcher’s? Show off that bronzed, beach-worthy bod with mod flowered trunks ($59.50) by Quiksilver and flip flops ($38) by Tommy Bahama.


MR. BIG (AS IN BOAT)

Aspen at Christmas, Key West in March, and The Lake all summer long. Wear a green (as in money) polo ($98) and khaki cargo shorts ($88) by Tommy Bahama. Brown flip flops ($130) by OluKai.

All items are from The Bungalow Beachwear, 229 Water St., Excelsior, 952-474-4537, bungalowbeachwear.com.


TONKA CHIC

Where to eat, shop, and play around The Big Lake

EAT

WAYZATA
SLURP A DOZEN FRESH OYSTERS
A welcome place to rest your Weejuns and toss back a tray of glistening fresh oysters and a cool glass of Mount Gay and tonic. Blue Point Restaurant, 739 E. Lake St., 952-475-3636, bluepointrestaurantandbar.com
SAVOR A REALLY BIG STEAK
Hunker down at happy hour with Maserati guys and trophy wives au jus. The tableside spun salad is rather nifty. Gianni’s Steakhouse, 635 E. Lake St., 952-404-1100, giannis-steakhouse.com
SIT ON THE DOCK OF WAYZATA BAY
Rub elbows with CEOs, dock guys, marquee-name families with Swedish au pairs, and other locals who love the Szechuan green beans and the view of Wayzata Bay. Sunset’s,700 E. Lake St., 952-473-5253, sunsetsrestaurant.com
DEEPHAVEN
GRILL OUT WITH THE NEIGHBORS
This picturesque vintage store brings neighbors and friends together for coffee, ice cream, savory chicken and beef brisket dinners, and Friday evening grill nights. Cottagewood General Store, 20280 Cottagewood Ave., 952-470-8400, cottagewoodusa.com
EXCELSIOR
WATCH THE WORLD GO BY
Ideally situated in the center of Water Street, this cafe offers a popular post-cinema bar, ambitious food, a good wine list, and a handful of sidewalk tables for chatting with neighbors as they stroll by with their dogs. Biella, 227 Water St., 952-474-8881, biella-restaurant.com
SIP CHÅTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE ONE THE PATIO
Possibly the truest old money experience on the lake. Buy a $62 Châteauneuf-du-Pape at the off-sale and crack it open while you sit on the patio in plastic chairs, snacking on $4 pizza. Haskell’s, 1 Water St., 952-474-0935, haskells.com
DRINK A DEEP, DARK PINT OF GUINESS
An authentically cozy pub and restaurant with a real bar from Ireland. The food is decent, but the beer’s the bait for burly lake guys and the women who hunt them. Jake O’Connor’s Public House, 200 Water St., 952-908-9650, jakeoconnors.com
LET THEM EAT BRIOCHE
A relative newcomer, Margo is already beloved for her deep, dark coffee, crisp croissants, flawless baguettes, gorgeous gateaux, and other Parisian-style pleasures. Patisserie Margo, 284 Water St., 952-746-2232, patisseriemargo.com
EAT IT RAW
There are those who believe that Yumi’s is the only fish on the lake worth eating. Order an Asahi and hobnob with the locals as you wait for a table. Yumi's Sushi Bar, 28 Water St., 952-474-1720, yumissushibar.com

SHOP

DEEPHAVEN
LIVE IN LUXURY
For ladies who understand the importance of luxurious linens, lovely lingerie, and gracious gifts, this boutique has been the gold standard for 35 years. Polly Berg, 18285 Minnetonka Blvd., 952-920-0183, pollyberg.com
EXCELSIOR
GEAR UP AND GET OUTSIDE
Outdoor enthusiasts are making tracks to this new shop for clothing and gear from Patagonia, Arc’teryx, Lole, Prana, Horny Toad, Fjallraven, and more. Brightwater, 256 Water St., 952-474-0256, brightwater-excelsior.com
EXCELSIOR
READ A GOOD BOOK
Every great resort town needs a fine independent bookstore. Stop by for best-sellers and juicy beach reads, plus cards, gifts, and toys. Excelsior Bay Books, 36 Water St., 952-401-0932
EAT AND SHOP LOCAL
This lovingly restored historic building has good things to eat (318 Café), home décor (DB & Company and Provisions), and shoes and clothing (Avanti and Ta Dah!). Excelsior Mill, 310 Water St., 952-474-7428, excelsiormill.com
BE FASHIONABLY HIP
A local fashion tradition for more than 30 years, but still hip enough to carry Miss Me, Michael Stars, Hanky Panky, and other of-the-moment brands. Martin’s, 212 Water St., 952-767-0788, and 1155 Wayzata Blvd. E., Wayzata, 952-473-0238, martinswayzata.com
FIND A TREASURE
It’s worth the trip downstairs to explore Mary O’Neal’s constantly changing inventory of antiques, furniture, home accents, and other consigned treasures. Mary O’Neal & Co., 221 Water St., 952-470-0205
SCORE SOME LAKE MINNETONKA BLING
Owner Connie Frederick offers a high-spirited collection of colorful clothing, gifts, and accessories, many with “Lake Minnetonka” spelled out in sparkling crystals. Ooh La La and Gifted Baskets, 256 Water St., 952-474-4962 excelsiormill.com
WAYZATA
BE THE HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST
Hostesses flock here for fine china, table linens, and accessories for the home, plus casual but stylish plastic tableware for the boat. , 309 E. Lake St., 952-473-4685, Five Swans, 309 E. Lake St., 952-473-4685, fiveswans.com
GET PREPPY
Find accoutrements for the well-bred life, including custom mailboxes, monogrammed cufflinks, tumblers with Labradors, and other haute prep necessities. Frost and Budd, 339 Barry Ave. S., 952-473-1442, frostandbudd.com
ACQUIRE GOOD TASTE AND STYLE
A local institution for more than 45 years, this fine antiques and consignment shop is the next best thing to a personal tour of Lake Minnetonka’s magnificent homes. The Gold Mine Antiques, 3332 Broadway Ave. S., 952-473-7719, thegoldmineantiques.com
DRESS LIKE AN HEIRESS
Calm, quiet, and carpeted—even the store name makes us feel cosseted. Find costume jewels, dresses, and sportswear for the lake, the club, and the beach, as in Palm Beach. Jan’s of Wayzata, 765 E. Lake St., 952-473-0747
SHOP LIKE A CEO
Well-dressed Wayzata execs and their progeny rely on Judd and team for bespoke suits and sportswear, English Barbour oilskin coats, plus expert tailoring and alterations. Judd Frost Clothiers, 339 Barry Ave. S., 952-473-4633, juddfrost.com
LOOK SMART
A well-curated collection of sportswear and dresses for fashionable Lake Minnetonka women, plus a fine selection of high-end shoes and accessories. The Side Door Ltd., 647 E. Lake St., 952-473-1937

PLAY

BOAT IN STYLE
For less than the price of a boat slip, membership includes valet service and a fleet of luxury boats, pontoons, wakeboards, and other toys for making the most of Lake Minnetonka and the St. Croix River. Excel Boat Club, 765 141 Minnetonka Blvd., Excelsior, 952-401-3880, excelboatclub.com
CHILLAX AND KICK BACK
Grab a bikini, a good book, and a bottle of wine and head for quiet Forest Lake, just north of West Arm. Once you’re through the gorgeous canal, it’s a great spot for soaking up the sun.
CRUISE THE LAKE
Charter a private boat or book a spot on one of the many public cruises that depart from Mound, Excelsior, and Wayzata. However you roll, it’s a lovely way to explore the many bays and inlets of Lake Minnetonka. Paradise Charter Cruises, Excelsior, 952-474-8058, twincitiescruises.com, or Al and Alma’s, multiple ports, 952-472-3098, al-almas.com
COVET AN ESTATE
For envy-inducing eye candy, cruise Ferndale Road on Wayzata Bay, Bracketts Point between Smith and Browns Bay, Bohns Point on Crystal Bay, and the Northome and Cedarhurst estates of Robinson’s Bay.
PACK A PICNIC
Pick up some cool salads, fresh bread, a Key lime tart, and a snickerdoodle cookie or two, and spend the day at Excelsior Beach. D’Amico & Sons, 810 E. Lake St., Wayzata, 952-476-8866, damicoandsons.com
PARTY LIKE A ROCK STAR
Leave your vintage Chris-Craft at home and take your friend’s boat to Party Cove on the northern side of Big Island. Beware of flying beer cans.
SKINNY-DIP IN BROAD DAYLIGHT
Seriously? You really thought we’d tell you our secret spot for stripping and dipping? Some Lake Minnetonka secrets just aren’t meant to be shared.

Special thanks to the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Historical Society, Carl and Ali Zinn of Zinn Family Realtors, Ellen DeHaven of Coldwell Banker Burnett, Gregg Larsen of Coldwell Banker Burnett, Tom Jacob of Excel Boat Club, Charlie Schoen, Paul Rexford Thatcher, and Steve Carney for their research assistance.

VIDEO: Melinda Jacobs on the Shores of NorthCoast

Travel to our lakeside photo shoot with Mpls.St.Paul Magazine senior editor Melinda Nelson as she chats with Melinda Jacobs about Lake Minnetonka memories and celebrity encounters.

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