Photo by Saibal via Getty Images
The Aerial Lift Bridge
The Aerial Lift Bridge
Photography by Caitlin Abrams
Follow Lake Superior’s pointing finger to its westernmost point and there it is: the Zenith City. It used to be that people came for the setting alone. Gleaming sailboats on an endless horizon. Gargantuan ore ships lurching past the Aerial Lift Bridge. Gitchigumi. These days, when you turn the other way, it’s so much more. Destination dining and fine arts. Craft beer and cocktail rooms. You could spend a week (or a lifetime) discovering the many nuances of this new Duluth. For now, though, we’ll start with a weekend.
There’s an influx of new, high-end lodging options including Pier B Resort, located steps away from Bayfront Festival Park. But for luxury and history, you can’t beat Fitger’s Inn. The 62-room hotel is located in the 1885 Fitger’s Brewery complex and was completely renovated in 1984. The rooms are easy-going with soaring ceilings and exposed-brick walls.
Located within the Fitger’s complex are three restaurants (Midi Restaurant, Mexico Lindo, Fitger’s Brewhouse Brewery and Grille), two nightclubs (Barrel Room, Rex Bar), Bridgeman’s on the Lake Walk, and more than a dozen shops. For dinner, choose between Midi Restaurant and the Brewhouse. If you’re fee
ling like Lake Superior whitefish delicately prepared with capers, lemon, and parsley, then paired with local wild rice; authentic German cuisine; or roasted duck with an apricot-merlot glaze and a glass of French pinot noir, head to Midi. For next-level pub food—think locally sourced elk burgers, Lake Superior smoked trout wraps, three Minnesota wild rice specialty burgers—saddle up at the Brewhouse. Not only was Fitger’s Duluth’s first brewery, dating back to 1857, but the beer is still some of the best in the state. Head brewer Frank Kaszuba pushes the craft-beer bill with options like the cognac barrel–aged 1100 Wheatwine and funky Brett Witt, while still providing longtime favorites and staples such as the Apricot Wheat and Lighthouse Golden. There’s always something new and exciting on tap, so don’t be shy in asking for a sample or two.
A short walk up Superior Street takes you to Va Bene Caffe. The modern Italian restaurant serves up scratch sauces, dressings, breads, and desserts—as well as a dozen flavors of gelato and sorbetto. Pick your pleasure, order an espresso or cocktail, and relax on the restaurant’s outdoor grotto overlooking Lake Superior.
Pop out of downtown to At Sara’s Table at Chester Creek. Located in the old Taran’s Food Market building, it’s a neighborhood staple. Don’t be lulled into submission by the granola-looking menu: the cranberry wild rice French toast, “hippy farm breakfast,” and specialty pancake with maple mascarpone are life-changers, and will leave you forever wondering why you ever settled for anything less. It’s a popular brunch spot for locals and visitors alike, so get there early, or be prepared to wait.
The Snooty Fox Tea Shop, located kitty-corner to Sara’s Table. Outfitted with industrial-chic furnishings, local artwork, and miniature potted succulent plants, there are more than 100 loose-leaf teas —black, green, white herbal, yerba mate, oolong, local, and more—plus a bubble tea bar and tap kombucha. Take your tea to Chester Creek Books and Antiques. The former church is a labyrinth of bookshelves, interspersed with antiques. Owner Mark Kilen has been at it for decades, and scours the country for rare and mint-condition finds, only allowing the best to be displayed.
A few blocks south of Fitger’s you’ll find the whimsical clothing, jewelry, and catch-all store Art in the Alley. On the same block is Lake Superior Art Glass, filled with mostly Minnesota-made glass work, photography, cards, and other gift-worthy items. Peek into the classroom in the back of the store to see if a torchworking class is in session. Duluth Coffee Company is a good stop-in for some house-roasted coffee and a treat from Zenith Bread Project. The small-batch baked goods are made fresh by Duluth native Amanda Belcher and range from melt-in-your-mouth croissants to rhubarb hand pies.
Shop some more
One of Canal Park’s must-stop shops, Siiviis features the work of more than 60 regional artists. Don’t miss the letterpress artwork, prints, and posters of Rick Allen and Marian Lansky (AKA Kenspeckle Letterpress). Duluth Pack is where the paychecks of the outdoorsy disappear, thanks to the large selection of gear, clothing, accessories, and packs. Waters of Superior is a Crate and Barrel-meets-Patina-meets-art gallery: soothing, fresh, and filled with all things beautiful.
Northern Waters Smokehaus inside the Dewitt-Seitz Marketplace is a must. All their proteins, from bison pastrami to gravlax, are cured and/or smoked in-house. Order your sandwich to-go, and take it lakeside. When you’re done, swing over to Amazing Grace Bakery & Cafe. The basement-level coffee shop and full-service café uses organic, local ingredients, and includes a variety of gluten-free and vegan options. There’s always a line, but its creative breakfasts (wild rice benedict, sweet potato cake stir-fry) and small-but-satisfying lunch options of scratch-made soups and sandwiches, as well as its wide array of cookies, muffins, and bars, are worth the wait.
Duluth’s first and only cocktail room, Vikre Distillery is near the Aerial Lift Bridge. It feels like a chic New York City loft, but with the ambiance of your best friend’s home. Known for its gins and aquavits, the distillery rotates its cocktail menu with the season. Currently on offer are such brightly flavored, summer-friendly libations as the Funky Monkey (Boreal Cedar Gin, orange juice, grenadine, rosemary anise bitters) and Professionalism (Boreal Juniper Gin, Lake Superior Vodka, lemongrass riesling syrup, snap peas, tarragon).
Stroll toward downtown along the Lakewalk. As you meander, make a pitstop for cider (or something stronger) at Endion Station Public House, an 1800s railroad station-turned-bar. Stay on the Lakewalk, and enjoy the views, sculptures, and gardens on your way back to the hotel.
There’s always a crowd along the Lakewalk
Zeitgeist Arts Cafe is a catch-all arts space that houses a movie theater, per-formance art theater, art gallery, and restaurant and bar. Check out the mural and other artwork in the lounge, as well as the show schedules for Zinema 2 and Teatro Zuccone. Or, for patio dining and live music, hit Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake.
After, hop over to Red Herring Lounge on First Street. The music-focused bar fills its exposed-brick walls with a rotating display of local art and books bands ranging from Charlie Parr to Blitzen Trapper.
First stop: Enger Park. From the parking lot, walk up the hill to the rock outcroppings for an unbeatable view of Duluth. Next, head downhill through the meticulously landscaped park to the Japanese Peace Bell Garden, built in 2010 to honor Duluth’s sister city, Ohara Isumi-City. Take the gravel path over to Enger Tower and climb the 86 steps to the top for another spectacular view of Duluth and beyond.
The Duluth Grill is in a nondescript building tucked behind a gas station. At first glance it looks like your average small-town diner. It’s not. Locally sourced, organic food and above-average beverages (infused lemonades, antioxidant-rich tea blends, bottomless cold-press coffee) fill the menu. But what you really want is anything from the breakfast menu, plus a side of the red flannel hash. You can’t go wrong, so follow your stomach and dive in. After, hit up Frost River Trading Co. before hitting the road. The no-frills outfitter store makes its sturdy, wax-sealed canvas packs, bags, luggage, and accessories in-house, and everything it sells is made in the U.S.
On your way out of town hit Bent Paddle Brewing Company. The first production craft brewery and taproom in Duluth opened in 2013, and has since become known as one of the best breweries in Minnesota. Get a pint of Cold Press Black Ale on nitro and toast to your weekend, then grab a growler of something to go. Don’t fret too much about which one to choose—you’ll be back.