January in Minnesota brings many challenges but this year was exceptional. Besides a sub-zero cold punch and bouts of political strife, the beloved Oak Grill is slated to close. Popovers are on the endangered eating list – at least in downtown Minneapolis.
The Oak Grill tradition goes back a long way with my family. I can see my mother and sister seated up straight against the backdrop of over-sized chairs and an old English fireplace. Everyone is dressed in her Sunday best right down to her purse strings. Our worries fade into a melody of agreeable table conversation. It’s the 70s. We’re on holiday. The country club-style surroundings feel comfy and inviting. These oak trimmed walls are a public forum, the crowning glory of a shopping paradise that defined the civic pride of Minnesota since 1947.
Decades pass. The glitz and glamor is gone. An elevator ride to the restaurant’s 12th floor confirmed my worst worries. On the way up, the doors opened up to cavernous floors dotted with remnants of merchandise. The premiere shopping spot of Minneapolis was reduced to a clearance sale.
Neither the familiar setting of the Oak Grill nor the company of a dear friend soothed my strain. Even a succession of three popovers did little to curb the pain and not just because they charge extra for seconds now. No. I wanted my store back, the Oval Room trimmed to the hilt with alluring top designer fashions, the Marketplace with those ornate boxes of Long Grove candy that looked almost too beautiful to open.
What happened to my childhood shopping mecca?
I was loyal. This was still the place I came to buy clothes, luggage, cosmetics, candy, sheets, towels, china, stationary, pots, pans, kitchen gadgets and more. My house is filled with the bounty of Dayton’s turned Marshall Field’s turned Macy’s.
But it wasn’t really the things, it was the experience buying them that counted. Nothing beat an indoor Bachman’s flower show during the slow thaw of spring. The cleverly animated Easter and Christmas shows were as much for the adults as the kids. We came to the 8th floor shows and they marked the passing of the seasons better than any calendar ever could. Throughout it all, we ate at the Oak Grill. No shopping trip was complete without a good old fashioned meal started by popovers.
It’s a sad day for retail. We’ll miss you Dayton’s and Oak Grill, more than you’ll ever know.