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
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.