Were you burned by the disaster of last year's Peavey Plaza Holidazzle? I was, and it took some sweet talking to get my friends to go with me to opening night of Holidazzle 3.0 this year. But we went, and cautiously, liked it quite a bit.
Here’s the deal. Holidazzle is no longer a short downtown parade of folks in costumes made largely of Christmas lights (Holidazzle 1.0), and it’s no longer a ticketed event permitting entry into a gated Peavey Plaza in which several thousand people packed tighter than a Tokyo subway car try to drink beer and shop while stepping through hazardous terrain and mud (Holidazzle 2.0). It’s neither of those things.
This year Holidazzle is totally new. Instead of Nicollet Mall (under lots of construction), it's off in Loring Park. And it's free! It happens on Thursdays and Fridays from 5 p.m.-9 p.m., then all day Saturday and Sunday into the night, from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. through Christmas. It’s basically part State Fair—eat cheese curds and mini donuts outside!—part European-style Christmas market—shop for ornaments!—and another part Minneapolis fun, with a Fulton beer garden, free ice-skating (BYO skates), fireworks, and outdoor movies.
Holidazzle 3.0: The Pros
1. So many picturesque picture picks: Do you want a cute Christmas photo on the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge leading into the Sculpture Garden? Yes, that’s what it’s called! Of course it’s better known as the cool bridge with the Berryman poem over the highway near the Basilica, and there has never been a good reason to get there mid-winter—until now. You can also take cute pics at the Spoonbridge and Cherry, at every sculpture in the sculpture garden, with Santa, while ice-skating… Call it a winter-wonderland or a selfie wonderland, and aren’t they nowadays the same thing?
2. Free urban ice-skating: We need as much free urban ice-skating as we can stand, obviously. Bring your own skates, there are none to borrow. And they won’t let you out there in your boots!
3. Warming tent: Little kids can’t think straight when they’re freezing, it’s good and important to have a place to go out of the wind to warm up.
4. Port-a-potties: In case you were wondering, yes, they are here.
5. Fulton beer tent: Warming tents are great and necessary, but warming tents with beer are obviously better. Sweet Child of Vine in a plastic cup while you’re watching ice-skating and eating a Kramarczuk sausage = yippee kai yay!
6. Light-up souvenir vendors working the perimeter: Pro-tip: If you put a light-up necklace on a kid they’re way easier to find in the crush.
7. Kramarczuk: Of course a winter beer garden needs sausage, it makes winter right.
8. Santa: They have a very adorable old-timey Santa, and he’s not asking for money or anything. I like to see little kids saying hi to Santa, and also packs of tipsy girls hoisting Fulton cups.
9. Movies: Why have we only done music and movies in the park in the summer? OK, well obviously. But if you have the right chair and snowmobile suit, this is very cool. Check the full schedule to find your holiday favorite. Next year: Please show It’s a Wonderful Life more than once, pretty please!
10. Food: I loved the potato pancakes and the Kramarczuk sausages, and will return to try the K-Town Korean taco bowl and the Black Forest stroganoff. There are also small pancakes, spaetzle, lefse, and pierogies. I tried to get the Sociable Ciderwerks hot cider, but after standing on line for 20 minutes discovered it was actually ice-cold because something was broken. Next year: More hot things in cups, please! And kid-friendly ones, too. Cocoa? Coffee? It’s an event that calls for holding warm cups.
11. Shopping: Folks do love standing in line to get into the Kathe Wohlfart store to look at the ornaments and decorations, there was a line out the door all night long.
Holidazzle 3.0: The Cons
1. Parking: It’s a tough neighborhood to park in on a good day, with a fair amount of one-way streets meant to get traffic out of the neighborhood. Think your parking situation through before you go, or you’ll be frustrated. There are pay-lots at the Walker, Parade grounds, MCTC, and near the Basilica.
2. Crowded: When I went (first night) the holiday-market area was wall-to-wall crazy packed, and I felt terrible for the families pushing strollers and dragging wagons through the throngs who had stampeded the ground into mud. Whenever a vendor line spilled into the throughway it was total chaos. It was hard to imagine why we were all shoved into such a tiny, crowded space with the whole park empty around us. It would be better if the vendor area was spread out, with at least twice as much distance in the ‘streets’ between facing rows of tents.
3. Needs more vendors: Once you’ve really committed to being out in the park on a winter’s night, it feels like there should be more to do and see. I’d have loved to encounter more vendors of everything—food, drink, ornaments, you name it.
Holidazzle 3.0: The Tips
1. Overdress: You may think you’re dressed warm enough, but really think again. It’s easier to stuff a hat into your pocket than suffer. That’s all I’m going to say.
2. Reserve: Reservations at Café Lurcat, The Third Bird, 4 Bells, and Loring Kitchen have never been so critical. Make your reservation, valet your car, partake of Holidazzle, dine, voila! Lurcat is adding special lunch service during the weekends when Holidazzle is running, and if you haven’t had their bar burgers you are not conversant in Twin Cities burgers. 4 Bells has the best fresh peanut hummus in the state and lots of raw bar and bubbly options. Never forget about Loring Kitchen’s famous happy hour and brunch. The Third Bird has a great wine list and a way with bison. If you fail to reserve and are freezing cold but want to keep the party going, brand new Lakes & Legends Brewery and Taproom is a hop-skip-and-jump away, and is plenty warm.
Have fun! It runs through Dec. 20, and the time has never been better for you to get a selfie with a snow-covered Spoonbridge and Cherry.