The seating area next to the main bar at Can Can Wonderland // Photos by Kevin Kramer
The expression on my face must have conveyed awe to the bubbly host that greeted me at the door. “It’s weird right?!” she asked with boastful pride and earnest excitement.
Having successfully navigated a catacomb-like warehouse in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, I had arrived at Can Can Wonderland, which officially opens today. And weird it is.
In fact, the entire project is steeped in that sentiment of celebrating strange and embracing the extraordinary. From 18 whimsical holes of mini golf (see before and after photos of their construction on the next page), to a live entertainment venue, to an aggressive, spirited cocktail list, Can Can Wonderland is unlike anything else in Minnesota, if not the world. The 20,000 square-foot space that formerly served as a SPAM can factory has been transformed with the help of dozens of local and regional artists.
“The most unique thing is the unexpected,” says co-founder Rob Clapp. “It will never be the same experience twice. One night you might see amateur wrestling and the next night you might see a DJ spinning in our artist-built treehouse.”
Clapp’s co-founders Christi Atkinson, Chris Pennington, and Jennifer Pennington are no strangers to the Twin Cities art scene. The group has had their hands in a bevy of Twin Cities art projects through the years, including the artist-designed mini golf course at Walker Art Center, the Ten Second Film Festival, and Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement.
Drawing on past experiences, the group has created something truly unique in this new venture. While the imaginative and enchanting mini golf course is absolutely the main attraction, they didn’t cut corners on the artistry of their bar program either. Crafted by the beverage brains at Bittercube, the adult offerings at Can Can Wonderland are served at two different bars, and are appropriately outlandish in their own right.
The Happy Birthday!!!!!! is perhaps the most extreme example of this over-the-top mentality. The drink, which features “a secret blend of four birthday cake flavored vodkas,” and comes equipped with a sprinkler, sparklers, poppers, and a song, is one of many eccentric delights on the quirky cocktail list.
“If you thought the cocktails were going to clarify what the hell is going in this building you were sadly mistaken,” quipped Nick Kosevich of Bittercube as we sampled through a list that includes That Carrot Drink, a well balanced carrot juice cocktail with rum and sherry that’s served in a clay pot-shaped glass and garnished with edible dirt; and the return of Monkey Business, a chocolate banana adult malt which you may remember from the seminal bar program at the original Town Talk Diner. They also offer a selection of canned wines and local craft beer. (See the full menu from the Main Bar and Wee Bar.)
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Photos by Kevin Kramer, The Growler
Adults don’t get to have all the fun though. For the kiddos and the non-drinkers there will be an array of house-made sodas and non-alcoholic malts.
Without the benefit of a full kitchen, the group worked with Scott Pampuch of Mise en Place Consulting to conceive a menu of concession-type fare for hungry patrons which includes a selection of grilled cheese sandwiches, six different hot dogs, pizza, mini donuts, and cotton candy–wrapped bourbon bacon on a stick.
In a Twin Cities dining and entertainment scene that has had a habit of emulating itself over and over again, Can Can Wonderland stands out as something weird and one-of-a-kind. And that’s exactly what we think you’ll like about it.
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