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Do you have a community? Who's in it?

As we increasingly live our lives through a virtual sphere, the notion of “community” has shifted. Are you closer to your neighbors, or to people on Facebook?

Do you interact more with family, or with an online community of people with shared interests?

Virtual relationships aren’t inherently lacking. In fact, the Internet in general—and social media in particular—have enabled people to reconnect or establish connections with people who would otherwise be too far away. And there’s something for everyone. Fascinated with 17th century Belgian poets? There’s a group for that online, surely.

The problem, however, comes when the internet offers your primary—or only—community.

What other communities do you have?
How about people in your neighborhood?
Do you have a neighbor whom you’d trust to watch your house?
How about one whom you’d trust to watch your children?

Do you meet up regularly with a book group? People from work? Other parents at your kids’ school? People from your institution of faith?

Study after study confirms the importance of real, face-to-face, in-person interaction and community support. But what if you don’t have a strong community? Perhaps you’re retired or your co-workers or neighbors are private (or unpleasant). Perhaps your family lives far away.

If you don’t have a built-in community around you now, it’s never too late to find one. And community comes in many variations. We’ve made a conscious effort to cultivate community at Commonwealth Properties. We set the stage, but the people who enjoy our properties are the ones who bring community to life. With happy hours, member nights, clubs, classes, and space for grand parties and intimate gatherings, your new community is waiting.

Achieving your New Year’s Resolutions

The statistics on New Year’s resolutions are dire. We start out the year with great expectations, but the majority of us have abandoned our best-laid plans by mid-February.

Are we really all that unmotivated?

Or are we simply making it too hard on ourselves?

It’s important to put ourselves in environments that facilitate our resolutions. Make it convenient. Make it pleasant. Make it easy.

It helps to make our resolutions concrete and actionable.

A few ideas to get you started:

Instead of simply saying: “I want to work out more,” join a fitness facility that you enjoy spending time in. Hire a personal trainer and schedule regular appointments.

Instead of saying: “I want to spend less time behind a screen and re-ignite personal relationships,” get out of your routine and start scheduling plans to meet up in person.

Instead of saying: “I want to learn more,” join a club or a class that aligns with your interests.

Resolutions don’t have to be earth-shattering. Small adjustments add up. What will you change this year?

Match Your Workout Patterns with Your Personality

What’s stopping you from exercising regularly?

You might think it’s your schedule or your energy level.

But what if it’s simply a personality quirk—and there’s an easy fix?

Gretchen Rubin is a writer who studies happiness and habits. She developed the Four Tendencies to describe four primary personality types.

Upholders are easily able to meet both internal expectations (those they set for themselves) and external expectations (those that other people or outside forces set for them).

Obligers are easily able to meet external expectations but struggle to meet internal expectations.

Questioners are only able to meet an expectation if it is justifiable, makes sense to them, and alternative options have been researched and considered.

Rebels struggle to meet both internal and external expectations.

If you’re an upholder, you’re probably already committed to your routine. But if you’re not, you might need to approach exercise a different way.

For example: If you’re an obliger, simply planning to exercise isn’t enough. You need accountability. Consider hiring a personal trainer and scheduling appointments. That way, if you skip an appointment, you’re not just letting yourself down—you’re using up someone else’s time, too. You could also find a workout buddy. The two of you could plan to attend a group exercise class together or even share a personal trainer.

If you’re a questioner, you might benefit from trying several different types of exercise strategies to find one that makes sense to you. You won’t be able to force yourself to do exercise that feels ineffective. Bonus: a good personal trainer can help explain why certain strategies make sense. 

If you’re a rebel, you’re going to need to make it fun so exercise feels like a choice instead of an obligation. Try playing a sport like squash or basketball, or try a new, novel group fitness class.

Which type are you? You can take the quiz on Gretchen Rubin’s website. Once you understand your motivations, it can be easier than you might think to develop a new habit.

Spotlight on: Richardson Romanesque Architecture

Aside from being a delightful tongue-twister, the Richardson Romanesque architectural style is an offshoot of the Romanesque revival style. Romanesque style dates back to medieval Europe, and while it is typically associated with Italian tradition, its influences span from Italy through Spain and even southern France.

The Richardson Romanesque style is attributable to Henry Hobson Richardson. He is the architect behind the famous Trinity Church in Boston, which was made in the style that bears his name.

One of the signature architectural elements of the style is a semi-circular arch that can often be seen above doors and windows. Buildings in this tradition also feature heavy stone construction and often include contrasting colors.

Richardson Romanesque style most popular between 1870 and 1895, which was right around the time that an influx of money from booming industry enabled some local titans to build their statement homes. The James J. Hill house, built in 1891 is a famous local example of the Richardson Romanesque style applied to a private residence.

The style was more frequently used for churches and larger buildings, perhaps due to the “grandness” inherent in the design elements. The Dacotah Building, located on Selby Avenue in Cathedral Hill, is a classic example of the style as it applies to a commercial building. The Dacotah Building was constructed in 1879 and has been painstakingly preserved, retaining much of its original architectural integrity. It currently houses a restaurant on the main floor (W.A. Frost) and office space on the upper floors.

Spotlight on: Italianate Architecture

Italianate architecture arrived in Britain in the very early years of the 19th century. It meandered across the pond to the United States a few dates later and remained extremely popular through the late 19th century.

Italianate architecture draws from the Italian Renaissance style, also called “Neo-Classical.” Italianate architecture differs from Victorian architecture (which was popular around the same time) in a few notable ways. At a most basic level, the Italiante style relies more heavily on sharp edges, robust shapes, and cleaner lines than the more ornate, delicate, and rounded features of the Victorian style.

While both Victorian and Italianate architecture often included dramatic towers, an Italianate building might well have a squared-off tower, whereas a Victorian-style building is more likely to feature a rounded “turret.”

Can’t decide which you might prefer? There’s also a style that blends Italianate and Victorian architecture, which can famously be seen in the “Painted Ladies” houses of San Francisco.

The Burbank Livingston-Griggs Mansion

Here are a few key features of Italianate architecture:

·         Stone construction, or wood made to look like stone

·         Roofs that are either flat or feature a very low pitch, often with pronounced, overhanging eaves supported by corbels.

·         Balconies with dramatic railings (either wrought-iron or stone)—think Juliet’s famous balcony scene.

·         Decorous framing around windows (also known as “architraving”)

The vast majority of the Twin Cities were built after the heyday of the Italianate era, but lucky visitors to Saint Paul can stroll by a noteworthy example on Summit Avenue in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood. The Burbank Livingston-Griggs Mansion is one of them is one of the finest examples of Italianate architecture in Minnesota. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was originally built for wealthy businessman James C. Burbank. The mansion is a private residence (sorry, no public tours!) but is divided up into separate units and is available for residential inquiries.

The Balance of Office Space

Increasingly, business isn’t conducted within formal office environments on a traditional 8-5 schedule. Perhaps part of your team telecommutes. Perhaps your company supports flexible work schedules. Perhaps your company relies on a lot of contractors and specialists who come and go as needed.

More and more business leaders are discovering that it doesn’t make sense to hold on to a large, exclusive office space, let alone a standalone building.

Perhaps you’re an independent specialist who tries to work from home—or whatever coffee shop is most likely to keep noise levels to a dull roar.

Are you ready to rethink?

If you’re a business leader who’s spending too much on a large office space that doesn’t make sense anymore, you don’t have to abandon the office environment entirely and send everyone home. You have options.

And if you’re an independent professional who needs a better place to conduct business, you have options, too.

Spending focused time together, in person, is still important. Why not choose something flexible, that’s more formal (and less distracting) than your living room, quieter and more professional than the neighborhood coffee shop, but without the commitment and overhead of a traditional office building?

The University Club and Saint Paul Athletic Club can accommodate everything from an informal coffee meeting (without the hubbub of a crowded coffee shop) to a formal meeting complete with A/V and catering.

Impress your clients. Bring your team together for some focused, collaborative time as often as you need to. And if you do still need dedicated office space, Commonwealth Properties has options in a wide range of sizes.

Let’s meet to talk about it. We know a good place.

Hotel 340 is What You’ve Been Looking For

There’s a reason that hotel banquet halls are such a popular choice for weddings and other large events: Hosts are willing to put up with a generic space because it’s so convenient for guests to be able to stay overnight without commuting.

Business professionals appreciate being able to pop downstairs from their hotel room for a corporate breakfast meeting.

Wedding and party guests appreciate being able to quickly retire for the evening after a celebration—without worry of securing a safe ride.

Many hosts would prefer to select a unique space with a bit more history or character, but the lure of on-site accommodations proves too tempting.

What if there were a place that offered the best of both worlds?

(Hint: There is.)

One of the many features of 340 Cedar Street, the iconic building that houses the Saint Paul Athletic Club, is Hotel 340: the boutique hotel that occupies the upper floors. Hotel 340 is routinely ranked among the region’s top hotels, and it offers sophisticated rooms with rich history and modern amenities—not to mention spectacular views of downtown.

Guests of Hotel 340 can eat, drink, and be merry without ever leaving the building. (Which is particularly appealing during Minnesota’s notorious winters!) And, of course, guests also have access to the Saint Paul Athletic Club’s award-winning fitness facilities.

With several event spaces, including a stunning grand ballroom that can accommodate hundreds, the Saint Paul Athletic Club offers flexible options for events of any size, along with gourmet catering, A/V capabilities, and much more. And when the festivities are over, the “commute” to bed couldn’t be simpler.

How We Can Help on Your Fitness Journey

You’ve made the decision to invest in your health. 

You’re going to drink more water. 

You’re going to eat more fruits and vegetables. 

You’re researching fitness memberships. 

How do you get from making a decision to change  to actually changing your lifestyle?  

Sure, willpower is a big component. But go easy on yourself. If it were easy to simply will yourself into adopting healthier habits, we’d all be Olympic athletes. 

You need to set yourself up for success. And that means surrounding yourself with the right resources and incentives for you. 

Having a gym membership doesn’t mean you’ll work out. It needs to be the right membership for you, so you’ll actually use it. 

Think through the following: 

  • Do you need to distract yourself while you do cardio? Pick a gym with TVs built in to the machines. 

  • Do you thrive off the energy of others? Sign up for group fitness classes. 

  • Do you need someone to proverbially kick you in the tail and hold you accountable? Try a personal trainer. 

  • Will you be more likely to work out if you know that there’s a steam room, sauna, or even a massage waiting for you at the end? Pick a fitness center with those options available. 

Just like being a gym member doesn’t mean you’ll work out, having a fridge full of lettuce doesn’t mean you’ll eat healthily. 

If you struggle with making healthy food choices, schedule a meeting with a dietician or nutritionist to set you on the right path.  

You don’t have to do this alone. In fact, we’re inclined to say that you shouldn’t do it alone. Questions? We’re here for you. 

Percieved Identity vs. Real Life

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” 

—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

This is one of those quotes that sticks in the back of your brain, rolling around and making its presence known every now and then. 

So many of us view ourselves in a certain way. We’ve carved out an identity and, we think, a lifestyle that reflects that identity. 

But what do our day-to-day choices, priorities, and time expenditures truly reflect about that identity? 

An example: We know someone who always described herself as a voracious reader. She listed reading as a top hobby and favorite pastime. But life gets busy. And when she actually sat down to look at how many books she’d read in the past several years, the total was abysmal.  

Her solution? She abandoned a long-held preference for physical books and started checking out audiobooks through her library, using an app. Now she “reads” up to 25 books per month. Double-speed. 

What’s the gap between your perceived identity and your day-to-day choices? 

Perhaps you see yourself as an avid learner but you haven’t actually taken a course since college.  

Perhaps you see yourself as a social butterfly but you haven’t made any new friends in ages.  

Perhaps you see yourself as highly cultured but you attend cultural events once in a blue moon. 

Perhaps you see yourself as an athlete but you haven’t picked up a tennis racket since John MacEnroe retired. 

You get the idea. 

Your gap might not be quite so concrete. Maybe it’s simply about the amount of time you devote to pursuits outside of work. 

Whatever it is, we all have a gap. Many of us have a lot of gaps. Mind the gap. Close the gap. It’s never too late. 



Re-thinking Your Corporate Retreat

Considering organizing a corporate retreat for your company? Maybe you’re resisting because you’re picturing awkward trust-falls. Perhaps you assume it’ll just feel like being stuck at work 24 hours per day. 

It’s time to re-think. A well-planned corporate retreat at a great destination can completely re-energize your team. It provides a major shake-up, changing pace in a way that few other corporate actions can. 

Corporate retreats can facilitate camaraderie among team members, but it’s not just about making friends. It’s about finding common ground, and aligning together toward a common goal. That’s powerful, and the effects can last far past the end of the retreat.  

What would it be like if your entire team suddenly got along better, understood and supported one another better, had a stronger sense of what everyone brought to the table, felt valued both individually and as a group, experienced increased loyalty to the company, had a clear idea of what their superiors expected of them, and felt motivated to reach their potential? 

Sounds like a pipe dream. But these are all common outcomes of good corporate retreats. The key word here: good corporate retreats.

Planning is key. Choose a destination where people can immerse themselves in the event. It needs to be sufficiently removed from their daily lives so as to cause a clear and positive disruption. It needs to be a place that offers a blend of comfort and challenge. And it needs to be somewhere that can accommodate your logistical and technological needs. 

It just so happens that we have a place in mind.

Get in touch with us and let us help you plan a memorable, transformative event. 



Why Offline Relationships are Better Than Online

Could your social media habit be ruining your social life—and maybe even damaging your mental health? 

In theory, social media is a great way to stay connected with other people. After all, how else would you have reconnected with that girl you used to hate in preschool, or the guy you waved at one time in high school?

We jest, of course, but many of us rely heavily on social media to cultivate, reignite, or maintain social relationships. 

However, we may be doing ourselves a disservice. A significant study from the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health at the University of Pittsburgh found a remarkable association between social media use and feelings of social isolation. 

The study focused on young adults (up to age 32), but the results are eye-opening for those of us in any age group. You might think that the heaviest users of social media felt the most connected, but the study found the opposite to be true.

Those who spent more than two hours per day on social media were twice as likely to experience feelings of social isolation than those who spent 30 minutes or less per day on social media. 

Does that mean that cutting down on your social media consumption will improve your feelings of connectedness? Not necessarily. And the study didn’t attempt to prove causation.

But one thing is for sure: research has demonstrated time and time again that face-to-face social connectedness is strongly associated with an individual’s wellbeing.

So whether or not you plan to start cutting down on your social media use, you might want to consider investing time in offline relationships. Your social life and your mental health will thank you. Now go schedule a coffee or dinner with someone.  

A Bit of History at The Commodore

If you’ve spent any time around a toddler—or teenager—you likely know that the best way to get them to do something is to insist upon the exact opposite. 

That’s the exact philosophy adopted by a significant portion of the population during the Prohibition era, which extended from 1920 to 1933. Rather than eliminate alcohol from the culture, as the legislation intended, it drove the practice underground. Literally, in many cases. 

One such case: The Commodore Bar & Hotel. This St. Paul landmark originally opened in 1920, the same year Prohibition went into effect. According to reasonably verifiable local legend, a speakeasy operated in the basement of the hotel.

This space was reportedly frequented by a who’s who of St. Paul society, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda (who lived in the hotel upstairs). It also attracted some notorious out-of-towners, including members of murderous matriarch Ma Barker’s gang, and possibly even Al Capone himself. 

We certainly don’t condone illegal activity, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t enjoy hearing tales of the Commodore’s nefarious roots. If these walls could talk—well, they’d probably keep their mouths shut due to 90-year-old threats of gangster retribution. 

Once Prohibition ended, the Commodore opened an above-ground (and legal, this time) bar with stunning Art Deco detail. It thrived as a hotspot that exemplified the joie de vivre of the jazz era. 

Today, the bar and accompanying restaurant have been painstakingly restored. The bar features original design elements and the whole space evokes throwback glitz and glamour. Join us for a crafted cocktail so good it should probably still be illegal.

The Timelessness of WA Frost

When you’ve successfully operated the same thriving restaurant for more than forty years, you have the unique opportunity to witness myriad wine and food trends come and go. 

We’ve also watched a lot of restaurant trends come and go. 

At W.A. Frost, it’s not in our wheelhouse to aim for trendiness. Instead, we opt for timeless. We’ve found a recipe (pun intended) that works: excellent food and service in an unbeatable setting with built-in ambiance and character. Consistent, durable popularity seems to be a byproduct of nailing these fundamentals. 

Of course, evolution is par for the course over four decades. We’re classic but not stodgy. We’re constantly searching for the best wines, the best ingredients, the best recipes, and the friendliest faces to serve them all. 

It’s refreshing to not have to compete with every flash-in-the-pan trend that comes along. No, we will not be serving you deconstructed Twinkies on a garden trowel. If that’s what you seek, you’ll be able to find it somewhere. (This week, that is. Until something else becomes hip next week.) 

This immunity to bandwagons permits us to follow other sources of inspiration, such as which ingredients are the freshest in any given season, or which vintages of a certain wine are tasting exceptionally at the moment. 

While we may not court novelty in the sense of trend bandwagons, our longevity is, in itself, novel. Statistics vary depending on the research, but it is said that up to 90% of restaurants fold within the first year, and of those that make it past that initial test, five years is an expected average run. 

What does it say about us when we have people meeting on dates whose parents also met here for dates? 

We have loyal patrons who have been dining with us since the beginning, and every experience is just different enough to be memorable—while still delivering on the same basic promises of quality and service that make us a trusted go-to for celebrations big and small. 

Feel free to try the trowel Twinkies. We’re not offended. We’ll still be here. 


Rethinking the Importance of Your Social Network

That lunch date might just save your life. 

Technology allows us to stay more connected than ever before, without ever having to leave our homes. We can conduct meetings with people around the world, dialing into the same conference room. We can Snapchat someone in Paris while texting someone in Ontario while sending a Facebook message to someone at the North Pole. 

That’s incredible. 

But it comes at a serious cost. As we become increasingly able to connect virtually, the quantity and quality of authentic, in-person social connectedness suffers miserably. 

And it could be seriously affecting our health. 

A meta-study with a whopping 300,000 participants across all ages found that adults can expect an astonishing 50 percent boost in longevity if they build and maintain a strong social network. And when we say “social network,” we’re not talking about Facebook. 

According to the research, a strong social network “turns out to be just as good for long-term survival as giving up a 15-cigarette-a-day smoking habit,” and is “more crucial to physical health than exercising or beating obesity.” 

You read that right. 


More important than exercise. 

More important than beating obesity. 

More important than a serious smoking habit. 


We were stunned, too.  

Now, we’re not suggesting that you develop a bunch of bad habits thinking that your strong friendships will protect you. 

On the contrary. Why not double up on positive benefits? 

Meet a friend for a group fitness class. 

Meet a few friends for a delicious dinner made with real, fresh ingredients. 

Whatever you do, meet someone. In person. If you don’t already have a strong social network, it’s never too late to start. 

Places like the Saint Paul Athletic Club and University Club of Saint Paul are built-in social networks, filled with interesting, friendly people who automatically share something in common with you, simply by nature of your shared membership. 

Be well. Live longer. Be social.

Experiences > Possessions

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods.” 

That nugget of wisdom comes from Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University (as reported in Fast Company). Dr. Gilovich has spent more than 20 years examining money and happiness.  

You’ve probably heard that “money can’t buy happiness.” It turns out that money can buy happiness, but only to a point. Dr. Gilovich studies the Easterlin paradox. This phenomenon states that purchasing things does make us happy, but the happiness wears off. We adapt quickly, growing accustomed to the thing. Therefore, the perceived value of the money we spent declines. 

Experiences, however, have the opposite effect. When we spend money on experiences, Gilovich and other researchers who study this paradox find that our satisfaction with the experience (and, thus, the money we spent on that experience) increases over time. 

This might seem counterintuitive: If you buy a thing, you get to keep it. An experience is fleeting. Shouldn’t the thing produce longer-lasting happiness? 

Nope. Not even a little bit. 

Shared experiences are even more valuable, according to Dr. Gilovich. “We consume experiences directly with other people,” he says. “And after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.” 

Are you thinking you need to book a world cruise in order to take advantage of the Easterlin paradox? Hardly. As reported in Forbes based on another study from San Francisco State University, the accumulation of smaller experiences are what really matters, and even small moments trump purchases: “Enjoyable evenings out in the company of loved ones will provide a much longer lasting and more fulfilling happiness than the temporary thrill of a large purchase,” writes author Ilya Pozin in the Forbes article. 

Conclusion: Invest in experiences. Invest in memories. Make the dinner reservation. Throw the party. Plan the quick weekend getaway. Your happiness just might depend on it. 

Twin Citians and Utepils

The word “Utepils” looks as funny as its pronunciation. It’s pronounced “OOH-tah-pilz” and it’s a Norwegian word with no direct English equivalent. The closest we can come to a translation is: “The anticipation and longing of the first beer enjoyed outside in the sunshine after a long, hard winter.”

Most Minnesotans would agree that we understand the feeling. Appropriately, there is a new brewery in the Twin Cities named Utepils. Of course, Twin Citians embraced the concept of Utepils long before the brewery arrived, even if we didn’t know the name for it.

Evidence of our embracing of Utepils: restaurant patios. It takes a certain chutzpah to build a good restaurant patio in Minnesota, because we spend so much of the year under a suffocating blanket of snow and ice and subzero temperatures and misery.

In a state where the weather is always temperate, building a patio is no big deal. It’s essentially an extension of the indoor space. But there’s something incredibly optimistic about a place with an excellent patio in Minnesota. (And we’re not talking about tossing a table or two on the sidewalk. We’re talking about a really good patio.) Investing in outdoor restaurant space in Minnesota says: “We know this won’t work every day. But we’re going to take advantage of every second when it will work.”

In Minnesota, when it’s gorgeous outside, no one wants to be stuck indoors. A great patio enables people to enjoy delicious food without sacrificing fresh air and sunshine. It’s the best of both worlds. And if the space has fantastic ambiance? All the better.

We’re fortunate enough to have what has been called the best patio in the Twin Cities at W.A. Frost. When it’s nice out, getting a table is like getting tickets to Hamilton. But our favorite part is how in-demand the patio is even on days that aren’t quite perfect, weather-wise. Minnesotans are a hardy bunch. They show up anyway, letting the wonderful ambiance overshadow the less-than-perfect temperatures. (And yes, we do have patio heaters.)

Thinking Outside the Box of Cabin Ownership

Cabin culture is an ubiquitous part of living in the Midwest. Many of us look forward to our regular summer escapes. Cabins mean a slower pace of life, more time to spend with friends and family, and less time spent staring at screens or staring down work deadlines.

And yet, cabins are a lot of work. For those of you who own cabins, you know all too well that it can feel as though you spend more time maintaining your cabin than you do actually enjoying it. Do you show up and immediately get to enjoy a cocktail on the dock? Or do you show up and realize the laundry list of items that need to be taken care of (lawn maintenance, cobweb clearing, not to mention putting in that dock)? You could hire that out, of course, but owning a cabin is expensive enough. Outsourced upkeep trades headaches and backaches for wallet aches.

Even if you rent a cabin using one of those vacation rental property sites, you still have to bring everything with you, make your own food, and make sure the place is spotless when you leave.

What if you could get away from it all, within driving distance of the Twin Cities or Chicago, and stay in rustic elegance with all the perks of a cabin escape PLUS world-class service? (Okay, how many of you are still reading this, and how many of you just closed your computer so you can start packing?)

Why shell out cash for upkeep or rental fees when you’re still responsible for taking care of everything? Instead, make it a real vacation.

If you haven’t been to Stout’s Island Lodge, you don’t know what you’re missing. As the former summer estate of a lumber baron, Stout’s Island Lodge is nothing short of an oasis. It’s called the Island of Happy Days, and for good reason. Roast S’mores under the stars, dine at the on-site gourmet restaurant, participate in one of dozens of activities, and leave all the stress at home.

We’ll take care of everything. And, of course—you can consider heading to the dock for a cocktail as soon as you arrive.

Breaking Down Wine Pairings

You: "We’ll do the tasting menu."

Server: "Wonderful. Are you interested in the wine pairings?"

You: [Internal panic. I don’t recognize some of these wines. Will I like them? Why were they chosen? What are they supposed to do to the food, and vice-versa? Ack! I don’t know what to do. Decision paralysis.] "Um, I’ll just have a beer..."

When done well, pairing specific wines with meal courses results in a truly exceptional sensory experience. Everyone should experience it once. Or perhaps on a regular basis. (Life is short.)

It’s fairly common knowledge that certain wines are supposed to pair well with certain foods. But many of us write off wine pairings as an activity exclusive to oenophiles and foodies.

The truth: Anyone — ahem, over the age of 21 — can enjoy food and wine pairings.

Here’s a crash course:

Wine pairing is a delicious blend of art and science. Wine was originally preferred as a more sanitary alternative to water, so it was regularly served at meals. While few people likely gave a lot of thought to complementary flavors during the Middle Ages, over time, a symbiotic relationship developed between a particular region’s preferred wine style and preferred food style.

Today, wine and food pairing is very deliberate. It’s about creating balance.

Evan Goldstein, a Master Sommelier (a.k.a. fancy wine expert) explains of wine and food pairing: Wine and food pairing is akin to two people having a conversation. One must listen while the other speaks or the result is a muddle.

Sometimes that means pursuing weights that meld well together, such as a heavy, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon with a heavy dish like steak. Sometimes that means finding matching flavors, such as a wine with lots of earthy notes (flavors) paired with a food with lots of earthy notes.

Sometimes that means deliberately creating contrast, such as a white wine with lots of acidity that will "cut through" a heavy cream sauce and balance it out.

When paired well, a wine will enhance the dining experience by accentuating and/or balancing flavors. Food will enhance the experience of the wine by bringing out certain notes that you might not otherwise have tasted.

The next time you see suggested wine pairings on a menu, give it a try. It’s a particular treat on a tasting menu, which will allow you to experience lots of different combinations. Don’t be afraid to ask about the logic behind the pairings.


The Authenticity of History

"We really like historic style. Please add some character."

If commercial construction companies and interior design firms had a dollar for every time they heard this request, they’d have...well, a lot of dollars.

We all know that building trends come and go. (Case in point: Anyone can recognize a kitchen designed in the 1980s.) And yet, a lot of people gravitate toward classic styles with historic charm that will stand the test of time. After all, construction and design is an investment, and you’d hate for your space to look dated six months after you finish it. This goes for office buildings, coffee shops, restaurants, and private homes.

Here’s the thing: You can add design elements. You can choose crown molding and certain paint colors and other items that evoke classic, historic style — but you can’t make a space historic.

The best construction and interior design operations in the world can’t make a brand-new building feel authentically historic.

Old buildings are just different. They were constructed using different materials. They have self-selected over the years, decades, and generations to survive acts of nature and bulldozers. Even if a space has undergone top-to-bottom renovation, the historic bones remain and infuse an irreplaceable allure.

Character is earned. You can’t paint it on. You might be able to achieve the look, but you’ll never be able to achieve the feel. And you don’t need to be an expert to be able to tell the difference.

The next time you’re in a space with visually apparent historic elements, try to play detective: Is it really historic? Or is it a shiny coat of paint? What are the give-aways?

The Character of Saint Paul

One of the most striking elements of Saint Paul is the distinctive character of different neighborhoods. The city has been called: "17 small towns with one mayor." It seems as though you can cross a street and enter a whole different world, with each area brimming with pride over their own special niche of architecture, ambiance, and style. We’re in love with the whole city but have a particular soft spot for Cathedral Hill.

In order to understand Cathedral Hill, you have to know what predated it. For the first three decades or so of Saint Paul’s existence, the city was limited to what is now Downtown. Things started to get a bit cramped as the steamboat boom funneled more money into the city. And then the relatively short-lived steamboat era was replaced by a much larger and much more enduring railroad boom. Residents with extra cash wanted more space — and a better view. Thus, they moved on up.

Literally. Since Downtown was nestled at the bottom of a hill, it made sense to trek up the hill to take advantage of panoramic vistas and a lot more breathing room. (Looking for the best place to see the views that made the original residents fall in love? Check out the terrace at the University Club, perched right on top of the hill.)

The neighborhood gained traction in the 1870s. The grid-like organization of the streets contrasted with a somewhat — okay, a lot — more jumbled Downtown structure. Grand mansions, beautiful churches, and a whole lot of stone construction gave the hill an elegant, robust aesthetic. This was no hasty urban sprawl. That’s perhaps why many of the original buildings constructed in the late 19th and earliest 20th centuries still stand today. Built in 1879, the Dacotah Building (home of W.A. Frost) is a prime example of boom money that fueled durable construction. Eastern Summit Avenue still has many original properties whose owners continue to invest in this extraordinary neighborhood.