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January 6, 2011

A night at the Foshay

On childhood trips from South Dakota to Minneapolis, I sat in the backseat, steeling myself for my mother's announcement that there was the Foshay Tower, tallest building in the city. She said it on every trip, every time. By age 12, my sarcasm in full flower, I landed hard, as predictable in my objection as she in her cry of recognition.

Whatever was in the Foshay Tower, or what it was for, I never knew, but I was always suspicious of its Frenchified name (why not Fochet?). "Foshay" suggested a futile, embarrassing reach for refinement. Sashay on over to the Foshay! (Sure, you betcha, as soon as my Jell-O sets up.)

Two years ago, the Foshay became, with much fanfare, a hip new W Hotel. But I did not see the transformation until recently, when my husband and I checked in on the evening of New Year's Day. I was curious; the rates were good; and we had had all that we could take of paralyzing snowstorms (first in Massachusetts, then in South Dakota, and all within the same star-crossed week).

The hotel lobby features a long narrow walk to an illuminated check-in desk, which glows in the low light like a futuristic Rosetta Stone. What is behind the idea, which seems to be everywhere lately, of these twilit reception areas? Maybe we are meant to calm down, but I longed for a pocket flashlight, the better to see what hair-raising numbers I was signing my name to.

Wonderfully, the hotel's designers retained what must have been the lobby's original Art Deco lighting, along with its ornate elevator doors. But mixed in were spare arrangements of orchids and stylized furniture, some of which appeared blown from pink balloon material and inspired by Jeff Koons. In a lounge area off the lobby were oversized chairs for two, a minimalist fireplace, and a bar so sleek you needed to change into basic black to acceptably perch there. The chairs for two, I suppose, were meant for intimate chats, but they looked as though, securely hooked and borne aloft, they might have nicely outfitted a carnival ride.

Our room was a cold box (both design- and temperature-wise), although the bed was a heavenly down cocoon.

As advised by the guidebooks, we went to the Prohibition bar, on the 27th floor, for a drink and a look-see; here the same blend of old and new pertained, including the comfy chairs in icky-pink vinyl. The lounge forms a square around the central elevator shaft, and you can take your pick of views. The feel of the place (yes, bedtime bedimmed) was private and clubby, but somewhere out there was an enraptured city lit for Saturday night and bearing up against the cold. A few glimpses from Prohibition's discreet windows, and morale goes up.

Probably no architectural rebirth should be scrutinized on New Year's Day. Even if you are not hung over, a certain sensation that you missed the party will dog you. The Foshay's corridors felt cramped and already a bit worn, as if the B Team had come in to give them a sweep but with C Team enthusiasm.

Everything about the hotel suggested that Fun was the point; that yes, the W chain could do Art Deco, but it was not going to take that or anything else too seriously. Certainly, being in step with the attitude du jour can be a shrewd choice. It's just that the Fun felt Forced.

The Foshay was completed in 1929, just before the crash, and was meant to resemble the Washington Monument. Flanked now by other taller buildings, it stubbornly hangs on as a quintessential symbol of Minneapolis. Its builder, Wilbur Foshay, grew rich buying up utilities, and planned to live and work where Prohibition is now. He lost everything in the crash, however, and even did a stint at Leavenworth for mail fraud.

It's a Gatsby-style pity. But I thought less about Wilbur Foshay while roaming through his dream tower than about my mother. She never lost her attitude of absolute respect for the Foshay, nor, I think, her certainty, every time she saw it, that she had arrived.

January 6, 2011 3:45 PM | | Comments (2)


Saaayyy, what's the big idea of makin' fun of the Foshay? Any place that looks like the Washington monument and serves drinks is OK in my book.

That's an excellent point about the things your parents point out over and over again, just in case you didn't see them the last eight times they were pointed out. There are so many ways we can't help's lucky we've gotten this far. (Great to read your blog, MJ. As Mr. Rossheim said, more words from you is a plus in the world of words.)

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