Before we get started, what exactly is Dinkytown in Minneapolis?
Talk to any Minneapolis local, and they’ll tell you Dinkytown is one of the most character-packed neighborhoods in the city.
Located just across the river from downtown Minneapolis, Dinkytown weaves throughout the University of Minnesota campus. Not only does the area act as the bustling hub for student life, but Dinkytown also carries a lengthy history that’s filled the neighborhood with old historic buildings, eclectic shops, and even a buzzing live-music scene that continues to this day.
Best known for affordable eateries and quirky bars/social venues, Dinkytown is a Minneapolis treasure that you won’t want to miss!
As someone who spent four years living here while attending the University of Minnesota, consider me your neighborhood tour guide. Today, we’re highlight everything you need to know about one of the Twin Cities’ coolest pockets.
- Before we get started, what exactly is Dinkytown in Minneapolis?
- Map of Places to Visit in Minneapolis’s Dinkytown Neighborhood
- A Quick History of Dinkytown
- Why is it called Dinkytown?
- Dinkytown Neighborhood Attractions
- Restaurants and Bars
- Coffee Shops & Bakery
- Other Chain Restaurants and Retailers
Map of Places to Visit in Minneapolis’s Dinkytown Neighborhood
A Quick History of Dinkytown
Dinkytown centers around the intersection of 4th Street and 14th Avenue near the University of Minnesota east bank campus. The commercial district runs a few blocks in each direction, creating a hub for dining, bars, and live music for the local college scene. But perhaps what Dinkytown is most famous for is the hundreds of artists, writers, and musicians who have found inspiration in this tiny corner of Minneapolis.
In the late 1950s, a young Bob Dylan roamed the streets of Dinkytown in the early days of his journey to become a beloved American folk music icon. He would be in good company with hundreds of other ‘counter culture’ figures who found comfort in the coffee shops and bookstores of the eclectic neighborhood.
Dinkytown has one of the most active historic preservation groups in all of Minneapolis. Their non-profit group works hard to ensure the buildings maintain their unique character and aren’t subject to the urban development that’s happened elsewhere around the U of M campus.
Why is it called Dinkytown?
Before exploring the neighborhood today, let’s first stop to answer the question on everyone’s mind. Why is it called Dinkytown? Like the rest of Dinkytown’s history, how the area got its name is still up for some debate. According to the Preserve Historic Dinkytown association, here are some of the most popular theories:
- Obviously, there’s the size. Since the bars and restaurants here are some of the smallest in the city, some think Dinkytown describes the compact size of the venues (and the tiny apartments above them).
- Others cite the namesake from 1940 Gopher football player Frank “Dinky” Rog.
- In the 1890s, a passenger rail station at 14th and University was called the Dinkytown station, a nod to the steam trolleys that rolled down the tracks known as “Dinkys.”
- Finally, an original theater in the neighborhood opened with only four rows of seats and was often known by locals as “The Dinky.”
Either way, the neighborhood received its official designation in 1948 with the founding of the Dinkytown Business Association (DBA). The organization supports a vibrant small business community that includes owners of the many attractions, bars, restaurants, and coffee shops below.
Dinkytown Neighborhood Attractions
University of Minnesota Sports – As the “college” neighborhood, Dinkytown is home to the University of Minnesota’s many athletic events. Don’t miss a Golden Gophers football game at TCF Bank Stadium, ice hockey at the Mariucci Arena, basketball at the Williams Arena, and countless other NCAA Division 1 Athletics around the neighborhood.
The Dinky Dome – When you approach Dinkytown from University Avenue on the East Bank campus, one of the first landmarks you’ll see is the Dinky Dome. This large, glass-domed building has held various tenets since its construction in 1915, including a theological seminary, a food hall, and most recently, part of a complex containing more than 200 market-rate student apartments.
The Varsity Theater – If you’re not a student or alumni, your first encounter in Dinkytown was probably an event at the Varsity. The iconic yellow marque is one of the anchor landmarks here, located just down from 14th and 4th, in the heart of the neighborhood. The ultra-intimate theater was initially built as a vaudeville playhouse in 1915. It now hosts local and national acts, along with weddings and special events.
Gray’s – Located on the corner of 4th and 14th, the Gray’s Drug Store building has been a hallmark Dinkytown hangout. Over the years, the building held a school supply company, Gray’s Drug Store, the Loring Pasta Bar, and now, most recently, an open-air coffee shop and cafe. The mosaic tilework out front still honors the heritage and charm of life in Dinkytown as it was in the 1950s, back when Bob Dylan lived in this building.
The Dinkytown Greenway – Directly below the street level and commercial district, the Dinkytown Greenway shuttles hundreds of bikers and pedestrians into Downtown Minneapolis from the east. A former railroad corridor, the greenway runs the length of Dinkytown from TCF Bank Stadium, through the neighborhood, and to the pedestrian bridge crossing the Mississippi River to the West Bank.
The Murals – One of the best parts about Dinkytown is the hidden gems you’ll find tucked between buildings and down back alleys. These include several murals covering the history of Dinkytown and some of its famous residents. The most famous is the Bob Dylan Mural marking “Positively 4th Street,” located on the west side of the Autographics building. The Welcome to Dinkytown mural near Goldy’s Locker Room is another neighborhood favorite. For a complete list of the murals, check out the Preserve Historic Dinkytown list.
Arvonne Fraser Library – While most of Dinkytown’s architecture reflects a different era, the Arvonne Fraser Library (formally the Southeast Library), located at 15th and 4th, is a classic example of brutalist architecture. The building was designed by Ralph Rapson, who was Dean of the School of Architecture at the U of M for more than 30 years and one of the most prolific architects in the world.
Restaurants and Bars
Al’s Breakfast – A Minneapolis institution and a true definition of “hole in the wall” dining, Al’s has served made-from-scratch diner breakfast to patrons since 1950. There are only 14 counter spots in the entire place, so don’t be surprised to stand in a line down the block on weekends.
Annie’s Parlour – A campus institution for burgers and ice cream, located in a historic building that once held a popular dance hall in the 1920s and 1930s. Annie’s has a great patio with views of campus and downtown in the summer.
Blarney Pub & Grill – Everything you’d expect from an Irish campus bar. Standard bar fare. A cozy and clean interior. Soccer playing on the big screens all night long, and of course, plenty of Guinness to go around.
Burrito Loco – A popular student hangout, open for lunch through late night. The bar can be loud and rowdier on the weekends with the student crowd, but a good spot for Mexican fare on campus.
The Cove – A newcomer to Dinkytown, The Cove specializes in fresh poke bowls and banh mi. A popular counter-service lunch spot.
Kitty Cat Klub – To get a real sense of the Kitty Cat Klub, you really need a visit of your own. Located below Annie’s Parlour on 14th, someone we know once described it as “a combination bar, night club, and a bunch of living rooms full of antiques.” Stop in for live music on weekends.
Kbop Korean Bistro – Newcomer to the Chateau student apartments, Kbop offers counter-service Korean favorites, including bulgogi and bibimbap.
Kollege Klub Dinkytown – It’s hard to keep track of how many different iterations this college bar on 13th and 4th has had over the years. Currently operating as the Kollege Klub (sister bar to the UW-Madison/State Street location), expect a sea of maroon and gold on game days and a rowdy, younger crowd on weekends.
Lands End Pasty Company- I mean, why would you expect Dinkytown to have the best Cornish pasties in the Twin Cities? And at the end of a back alley tucked between Shuang Cheng and the Varsity Bike shop, no less. Lands End Pasty Company has served up the potato and rutabaga pockets that dreams are made of since 2014 in Dinkytown.
Le Pot – Arguably some of the best hot pot in the Twin Cities, Le Pot has become a popular spot for lunch and dinner in Dinkytown. Their build-your-own style menu keeps us coming back for more options and more flavors.
Mesa Pizza – Is it wrong that I can honestly say I survived an entire semester of college on Mesa? Given the long lines at lunch hour and late-night for this pizza-by-the-slice standout, I probably am not the only one. Mesa’s known for eclectic flavors you won’t find anywhere else. The Mac and Cheese, Southern Gentleman, and Southwest Taco are personal favorites.
Pho Mai – a new Vietnamese spot from the owners of MT Noodles in Brooklyn Park. Known for having one of Sean’s top3 best banh mis in the Twin Cities.
Shuang Cheng – For more than 30 years, Shuang Cheng has been the go-to Chinese restaurant on the U of M campus. The menu here always satisfies (and happens to be Andrew Zimmern’s favorite Chinese in the city).
Tasty Pot – Another strong option for hot pot in Dinkytown, Tasty Pot is located on 14th in the heart of the neighborhood. You’ll find traditional Taiwanese menu options and a decent take-out menu, although expect portions to be smaller than other Twin Cities options.
Tony’s Diner – Looking for game day breakfast but don’t want to stand out in the cold for a seat at Al’s? Tony’s Diner around the corner has been hosting students and visitors for breakfast for more than a decade. On weekends, Tony’s is open until 3 AM for anyone looking for sausage biscuits and gravy at bar time.
Wally’s Falafel & Hummus – Even though Wally’s doesn’t have an eye-catching storefront or a flashy menu, they continue to be a campus favorite for Middle Eastern lunch and dinner options. The large portions and perfectly seasoned dishes are some of our favorites in the neighborhood.
Coffee Shops & Bakery
Dinkytown might be better known for dining and nightlife now, but the coffee shop scene is what drew artists and musicians to the neighborhood initially. In recent years, most of the locally-owned shops have been replaced by national chains. Here’s what there’s to choose from for coffee and a bite:
Bordertown Coffee – Non-profit coffee shop located in an old fraternity building. Home to ethically sourced coffees and some of the best bakery in the neighborhood. Proceeds from your coffee purchases benefit local social justice causes and organizations in Juarez, Mexico, the border community this shop is named for.
Chatime Dinkytown – Chain cafe serving bubble teas, espresso, smoothies, and more. Chatime may not have the most fantastic “sit-for-hours” feeling here, but the grab-and-go menu is popular for students walking to campus.
Insomnia Cookies – National chain catering to college campuses, Insomnia Cookies offers late-night, freshly made cookies delivered to your door in copious quantities. Stop in all day long for a warm chocolate chip cookie, ice cream, or combination sandwich. If nothing else, walk by the shop on 14th. They pump the free cookie smells right on the street.
Kung Fu Tea – Another national bubble tea brand, Kung Fu is a relative newcomer to the Dinkytown area. Again, more modern counter-service than a cozy-up vibe here. But you’ll still find a rainbow of different drink options and friendly staff.
Lastly, although Dinkytown is known more for its restaurants and nightlife than its shopping, there are a few spots worth mentioning on the local’s guide:
The Book House – Since 1976, the Book House has been the best source for affordable, used books near the U of M campus. There’s always something interesting here, and the labyrinth of shelves is a perfect way to burn time between classes or appointments. As one of the last original shops in the neighborhood, the owners continue to advocate for preserving Dinkytown as a historic area. (Ask those owners about the store’s view of Bob Dylan’s old apartment!)
Goldy’s Locker Room – If you need maroon and gold for your next tailgate party (or would like to pick up a fun alumni gift), Goldy’s Locker Room on 14th and 4th has all the U of M merch you’ll ever need.
The Hideaway Boutique – New and gently used clothing boutique with a random assortment of ‘whatever else.’ Not to be confused with the Hideway tobacco shop just around the corner, which happens to be one of the more popular headshops in the Twin Cities.
Target – Okay, so maybe it’s a stretch to add a Target to a local’s guide to the neighborhood. But in this case, there’s a bit of trivia tied to the location on 14th and 5th. This particular store was the first TargetExpress neighborhood concept store that the Minnesota retailer built in the entire country.
Other Chain Restaurants and Retailers
- Potbelly Sandwich Shop
- Erik’s Bike Shop
- D.P. Dough
- Crisp & Green