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Here there be zombies — and paint and lutefisk

Start out at Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den on 2nd Street North and you’ll find everything from an alternative dance studio to the world’s largest lutefisk factory.

Andy Sturdevant is taking the next three weeks off, but have no fear: He has once again left The Stroll in very capable hands. This week your guide is writer Bryan Thao Worra, author of numerous books, including a volume of Laotian American speculative poetry, “On the Other Side of the Eye.” On Jan. 16, you’ll have the pleasure of following artist and activist Katie Hargrave around town. Urbanist and contributor Alex Bauman is up on Jan. 23. Andy will be back Jan. 30. Happy strolling!

So, you felt a little pre-apocalyptic and went to Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den on 2nd Street North only to find out you have some time to kill because you didn’t check its somewhat eclectic hours? What now? You could take a moment to appreciate a little Minneapolis history that you’re standing on:  the corner of what used to be Stand-Up Frank’s, one of the classic dive bars where more than one visitor has famously wondered, “Am I going to get stabbed in the eye here?”

Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den on 2nd Street North
MinnPost photo by Bryan Thao Worra
Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den on 2nd Street North

But assuming you don’t want to linger on the corner and decide to take a stroll, you can take in a number of interesting sights. Head west, down 21st about a block to Washington Avenue North, and a few steps south; if you’ve called ahead, you’d be able to stop in at the BurlesqueMN Alternative Dance Academy, where you could pick up techniques in aerial silks, the go-go fly, belly dancing, or naturally enough, burlesque. Would those skills be handy if you’re trying to deal with a zombie outbreak?

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If you’d gone south and crossed Broadway about 5 blocks to 16th Avenue N.  you could visit the Lundstrum Center for the Performing Arts, “Where Broadway Meets West Broadway.” But right now, it’s the middle of January, so you may want to keep your stroll about a little shorter.

Although they don’t broadcast it too loudly, there’s Classic Auto Storage nearby, where, if you’re nice you might get a chance to see some real beauties parked there along with some historic signs from the landmarks of yore. It’s definitely worth a few minutes to appreciate the character and craftsmanship of these vintage cars.

On the corner of Broadway and 2nd next to Diamond Vogel Paint is the Vogel Sculpture Garden —  or at least it’s supposed to be a sculpture garden. Currently, it looks a bit austere, with only a few decorative elements suggesting its intended purpose. It was perhaps most notably the site of a living chess match back in July 2008, with various city officials and residents of the Hawthorne Neighborhood playing pawns and royalty during the Minneapolis FLOW! Celebration. They really ought to bring that back one of these days.

You can recognize Broadway Pizza by the old rail car they use as a landmark on t
MinnPost photo by Bryan Thao Worra
You can recognize Broadway Pizza by the old rail car they use as a landmark on the corner.

Heading east on Broadway under the bridge, you usually won’t run into a troll, but you will be making good time toward Broadway Pizza, which you’ll recognize by the old rail car they use as a landmark on the corner. Once you make it up the hill, you’ll get an underappreciated view of the Mississippi River crossed by the old Soo Line and Burlington Northern rail tracks. There’s a particular poetry to it, so bring a pen and cocktail napkin at the very least.  

Nearby is  Orvin “Ole” Olson Park, remembering a former park commissioner as part of the first phase of the Above the Falls plan. He’d been on the board during the Dutch Elm crisis of the 1970s.  The park has a nice bench where you can watch the river flow by, heading toward the Minneapolis skyline. But bundle up during the winter.

You’re now also a short stop away from the headquarters of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Here you can spot any number of bronze sculptures of children cavorting about, as if Goldfinger’s cheaper cousin had gotten hold of them.

A bronzed fisherman
MinnPost photo by Bryan Thao Worra
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board headquarters features a number of bronze sculptures of children.

But getting back onto 2nd and 21st, if you go a little north of Donny Dirk’s, you can see current headquarters of the world’s largest lutefisk factory, the Olsen Fish Company, which has been in business since 1910. They process close to 650,000 pounds of fish a year. For better or worse, you can’t get samples if you stop in here, but at least now you know where it comes from. Growing with the times and people’s appreciation for spice, they have a creamy Cajun herring available. There’s no word on how soon it will be before we see creamy ghost pepper herring, but I suppose one can always hope. You’ll know you’re close to the factory from the aroma of fish in the air.

If you’re willing to take a stroll up to 24th, you’d be able to check out the Minneapolis Photo Center, and take some classes and workshops there. They also have darkrooms for people who still like to take pictures old-school style. The space is also used for some amazing exhibits. Recently they finished a moving exhibit by Mark Seliger, the former chief photographer of Rolling Stone Magazine, “When They Came To Take My Father,” which featured Seliger’s portraits of Holocaust survivors and their testimonies. They also had portraits of Nobel laureates taken by Doug Knutson. They take their cameras seriously up here.

bauer bros
MinnPost photo by Bryan Thao Worra
All your old home parts needs under one roof

If you’re into housing, you ought to stop by Bauer Brother’s Salvage nearby. Jeff Skrenes, the housing director of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Association, says they have an amazing selection of old home parts to revive your living spaces.

But by now, either Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den should be open or you should go home. If they’re  open, you’ll find that the décor has come a long way since Stand Up Frank’s. If nothing else, they put in chairs, finally.  It’s not every day you see a bar connecting horror with your cocktails. They let you keep your own drinks on file there. I’ve got a Bloody Mai on file — which, in case you’re wondering, is a Southeast Asian variation of the Bloody Mary. They also play a pretty good selection of classic horror movies on the TVs. As one might expect, the bartenders wear shirts that are a nod to the classic zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead,” and there’s a small chainsaw behind glass in case of zombie emergencies.

Is 2nd Street North your go-to zone to survive the apocalypse? It’s not the perfect place to hole up, but it would be a good start. And that’s all right.

An award-winning Laotian American writer, Bryan Thao Worra’s writing is recognized by the Loft Literary Center, the Minnesota State Arts Board and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has served as a consultant to the Minnesota History Center, the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans and the Minnesota Humanities Commission. He is also an active professional member of the Horror Writer Association and the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and represented Laos as a Cultural Olympian during the Poetry Parnassus of the London 2012 Summer Games. You can visit him online at