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Why parties are so important in Minnesota

I'm awfully keen on parties. I think everybody should be at a party, or be preparing to attend a party or preparing to throw one, all the time. And they're undeniably important here in Minnesota. This is a place where any act of self-promotion is seen as being some sort of unforgivable boasting, which is frowned on. You don't call attention to yourself here. You keep your head down, do your work, and, if you're lucky, somebody will notice you. But parties? Oh, by all means, throw a party, and send out invites. That's just being social, and if it's OK for a Lutheran church to do it for its hotdish potlucks, it's OK for anybody.
 
And so local businesses, when they are especially clever, try to pass everything off as a party. For those of you with long enough memories, this is why car dealers used to have clowns and balloons and soda pop at their sales. It's why, when Kieran's moved from its old, lamentably now closed location to Block E, its had a parade led by bagpipers. Because who can resist a party?

 
I can't. And I'd like to suggest, if you're to throw one, it is incomplete without the presence of at least one arts writer. From MinnPost. I can't promise to make it, but I promise I'll try. I don't even mind when they're nakedly commercial, existing as a promotional gimmick. I respect a good gimmick. You may yet see me wandering around an automobile lot, sipping a wax-coated cup filled with Coke and applauding the clown. Parties were so important to Andy Warhol that he wrote an entire book on the subject, just before he died, consisting mostly of black and white photographs of him with Grace Jones, or Sting, or Joan Collins. If it was good enough for Andy, it's good enough for me.
 
I went to two parties this past week, and both were, in their way, quite memorable. Firstly, the Minnesota Opera has a club, of sorts, designed to drum up interest in younger people. Opera tickets can be pretty spendy, and opera is seen as a sort of rarefied world. So how do you get young people involved? Quite smartly, as it turns out. This club, Tempo, decided to throw a party on the 10th anniversary of Baz Luhrmann's entirely preposterous film "Moulin Rouge!"

Burlesque in front of "Moulin Rouge!"
MinnPost photo by Max Sparber
Burlesque in front of "Moulin Rouge!"

If you've seen the film, you know that it's a rather dopey love story, set in fin de siècle Paris at the eponymous cabaret, in which Ewan McGregor woos Nicole Kidman by singing Elton John songs as she dies of whatever makes people cough blood in a handkerchief every once in a while, but otherwise show no symptoms of any illness. Despite its perfectly idiotic storyline, the film manages, at least for its first half, to be an utterly enjoyable confection, a pyrotechnic wonder of jump cuts, bombastic choreography, and an astonishing soundtrack of anachronistic pop songs. When you have an entire room full of top-hatted men dancing together and singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit," well, you've got something.
 
Why "Moulin Rouge"? Because its idiotic narrative is stolen, in part, from Minnesota Opera's next production, "La Traviata," in which a courtesan finds true love and then dies from tuberculosis — the story works quite a bit better when addressed by Verdi. But I suspect the film was also selected because it has a bit of a cult following, and so Tempo showed it in the only venue in the Twin Cities where it makes perfect sense: The Varsity Theater, which looks like somebody has taken over a basement bistro in bombed-out Dresden and thrown glitter everywhere. And Tempo didn't just show the film, they made it a proper event, in the style of Sid Grauman, who built the Chinese Theater in Hollywood and would always begin a film with an elaborate floor show.
 
So Tempo invited fortune tellers to set up camp in the building's nooks, where they did rather typical cold readings ("There's a blond in your life who is rather important. No? There must be somebody with blond hair. Light colored hair?") In the balcony, a photographer set up a Moulin Rouge-themed canvas backdrop and photographed people on a park bench, digitally manipulating the photograph so it was sepia and had that blurry oval framing we associate with early photography. And, on the stage, there was Cafe Accordion, a local band that plays the sort of music you might imagine Maurice Chevalier would have on his iPod, had he lived long enough to have an iPod. Tango dancers danced, opera singers offered a selection or two from "La Traviata," and, when the movie started, dancers performed burlesques in front of the screen as the audience sang along with the pop songs on the movie's soundtrack.

Max gets his fortune told at a Minnesota Opera party
Photo by Coco Mault
Max gets his fortune told at a Minnesota Opera party

All told, it was well done, although my one piece of advice is that there should have been a specialty cocktail. There should always be a specialty cocktail. Absinthe is drunk in the film, and it's legal again in the U.S. There should have been absinthe. Then, when Kylie Minogue leaps off a bottle of the liqueur in the film, quite literally taking the role of La Fee Verte, it would have seemed a delightful hallucination, rather than ridiculous.
 
Last night I went to Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine's Best of the Twin Cities party, up atop the IDS building in a banquet space called Windows on Minnesota, which, once upon a time, was the building's observation room, and has an extraordinary panoramic view of downtown Minneapolis. The last time I was up here, the top of the IDS also had a museum called "UFO Alert," as I recall it, which focused on human contact with the extraterrestrial. But I seem to be the only person alive who remembers this museum, which wouldn't surprise me, as, whenever I went, I was the only person there. But it's all starting to feel like some strange "Twilight Zone" episode, in which I was the only one who ever went to the museum, and, for everybody else, it didn't exist at all. So I make a habit of mentioning it when I get a chance, in publications like this one, in the hopes that somebody can confirm my memory, and provide some physical proof. Without it, I am simply going to go ahead and presume I was actually abducted repeatedly by aliens, and this is how I am choosing to remember it.
 
But I was talking about the Best Of party. It was purely commercial, for the most part consisting of booths set up by vendors who had been declared the best of something or other. They served food samples, most of which I couldn't eat, as I have the dietary restrictions of a pet cat who has been losing its hair and vomiting in shoes. They also had cocktails, served by a Polish vodka company called Sobieski. Now, this is a very good vodka, made from rye, which gives it a bold enough flavor that it can be drunk straight and be quite enjoyable. But Americans have always been a bit odd about vodka. They like it, because they are afraid of brown liquors, and positively terrified of gin. So vodka, which is relatively flavorless, can easily be mixed with stuff that Americans already know they find palatable, such as chocolate, or Red Bull, or orange juice. However, as Americans are also easily bored, eventually they were going to want vodka with some flavor to it, and so the phenomenon of steeping things like strawberries or melons in vodka became popular in trendy nightclubs a few years ago. And so vodkas started releasing their own flavored vodkas to capitalize on the trend. And that's the tale of how Americans started drinking schnapps without having any clue that's this is what they were doing.
 
So Sobieski was there with orange vodka, and they had three cocktails made with them, which went from bad to worse — one, called a fizz and made with orange juice and vanilla vodka atop the orange vodka, tasted alarmingly like those Orange Creamy ice cream bars that seem intended to send you into a diabetic coma.

Fortunately, Cosmos offered little shots of liqueur mixed with real fruit juice and something in the middle — perhaps a boiled grape — that exploded in your mouth like a little bomb of fruit flavor. These were quite good, although quite small, and perhaps that's for the best. I was there with my girlfriend Coco, and we had smartly decided to leave room for cocktails by not eating, and so after we sampled three of the orange vodka drinks the room was spinning. We noticed that the evening's sponsor, Sun Country Airlines, had, for some reason, set up beds in each of the four corners of Windows on Minnesota, and it seemed like a good idea for me to lie down and wait for the aliens to take me again. But the moment we lay down, the bed broke under us. I leaped up, of course, and cried out "That's the fastest that has ever happened," of course, and that made us sort of heroes to everybody around us. But if I had been able to drink as many shots of the Cosmos explosive fruit shot as I wanted, I might have slept through it all.

Max between shirtless dancers at MSP Magazine's Best Of party
Photo by Coco Mault
Max between shirtless dancers at MSP Magazine's Best Of party

I may be making the party sound like a bit of a drag, and I don't mean to. There were shirtless Chippendales-style dancers wandering around, and I got my photo taken with them, and there was a deejay playing some terrific Afro-Cuban R&B, and two semi-clad women in knee-high, fur covered, high-heeled boots, and they somehow danced in them. We danced, too, although we were the only ones to do so and the deejay immediately punished us by throwing on some post-bop jazz with some sort of odd time signature, but that was all right, as the room had started spinning again. The party might have been improved with the additional of a clown, but, then, what party wouldn't?

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Comments (2)

oh funny!
Not that it's anything like your parties, but I often found myself explaining to southern relatives WHY we were having a big party when my son graduated from high school. When they came and found the tents, the food, the balloons, decorations, the beer and yes, the bouncy castle, they could not believe it.
But hey, that's the way we roll... Still, my TX husband refuses to see why I have these sudden urges to have a party for no particular reason every six months. Now I can show him this article!

UFO Alert! OMG! No, you are not alone, I too remember that great exhibit! It WAS on the obversation deck floor of the IDS, but I think that was on the 51st floor, one floor above Windows, but I may be wrong. I was born in 1967, so as a teenager, I hit that exhibit all the time when I was downtown. Actually, before UFO alert, there was some Patriotic exhibit there, something left over from 1976 or so I think. But UFO alert was great. Little kiosks on close encounters, models, and other fun exhibits. I also remember two video rooms where they played the same videos over and over and over. One was on the Apollo program if I recall, but the other was "Powers of Ten" - which I just found again recently on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fKBhvDjuy0 - man, watching that brings back memories. After a few years, UFO Alert downscaled to maybe 2/3rds it's size, the other space allocated to some exhibit on the soul, photos of the soul, reincarnation, etc. But to me, I miss the great views up there AND UFO Alert...