If you follow Highway Highlights on Instagram, you may occasionally see me post one of the many vintage neon signs scattered around the state. As my collection grew, I figured it was only a matter of time to start putting together my list of the Best 50 in the state, starting with……
50. Lowry Hill Liquor Store, Minneapolis – The list starts with an iconic, arrow-shaped, 3-piece neon in Minneapolis’s Lowry Hill Neighborhood just outside downtown. They even deliver!
49. Great Bear Center, Bloomington – Signs with animals are always great, and this one in Bloomington outside of a strip mall is one of the best. Although you would think this one would be located in White Bear Lake.
48. Chevrolet, New York Mills – Once outside of a Chevrolet dealership, the vintage Chevy neon sign in New York Mills has long outlasted the building and now hangs outside of an auto marine shop. The owner reports that people frequently stop for photos, often in the middle of the street.
47. Arcade Bar, St. Paul – Seedy, divey, towny bars are where some of the best vintage neon is found, like this one at Mike’s Arcade Bar in St. Paul’s Lake Phalen area.
46. Sherburne’s Jewelers, Stillwater – The vintage sign in Stillwater’s historic downtown above a jewelry shop is in great shape and even features a working clock.
45. Schmidts, Shakopee – The Schmidt’s Beer sign was a mass-produced sign from the 1950’s. There is also an identical sign in Shafer, MN. The one in Shakopee is hanging above Arnie’s Bar downtown.
44. Kay’s Kitchen, St Joseph – Kay’s Kitchen is a classic little mom-and-pop diner in the college town of St. Joe. Stop in for a burger or ice cream cone or just for a gander at their sign.
43. Park and Lake Carwash, Minneapolis – Although this one is missing its original neon tubes, it has been restored and repainted and is an absolute icon of the East Lake section of Minneapolis.
42. George’s Ballroom, New Ulm – George’s Ballroom in our 2nd favorite Minnesota town New Ulm is a pure Art Deco-designed entertainment center that is sadly currently sitting vacant and falling into disrepair.
41. Teds, Roseville – Ted’s is a dive bar on Larpentuer Ave in Roseville with a great vintage Deco sign out front on its facade.
40. Pierce Motel, Anoka – A great multi-colored vintage sign from the 1950’s advertises a motel in the great little town of Anoka.
39. Pine Grove, Grand Rapids – This winner in Grand Rapids has a sole pine tree on top, an arrow on the right, and a sputnik ball up top. Home run.
38. Hum’s Liquor, Minneapolis – Hum’s Liquors is an iconic sign in the Whittier neighborhood just north of Lyn Lake in the Uptown section of Minneapolis. The sign dates back to the 1960’s.
37. Edgetown, Hermantown – Outside of Duluth is the Edgetown Motel in Hermantown, in the shape of a house. Bonus points for the little tiny chimney.
36. Ebner’s Bait, Elk River – Ebner’s Bait shop in Elk River features a hand-painted sign with a fish on the top and an arrow on the bottom. It doesn’t get more vintage than that.
35. Hueys Cocktail Lounge, Maplewood – East of St. Paul in the suburb of Maplewood is the classic sign for Huey’s Cocktail Lounge. It features a large light-up beverage glass in the middle.
34. Dairy Queen, Starbuck – There are a few of the original Dairy Queen signs still around Minnesota, (the other notable location in Roseville), but I like the one in Starbuck purely for its simplicity and color.
33. Leftys, Staples – Lefty’s Liquors in Staples is a great arrow-shaped sign downtown that has been painted and faded several times.
32. Starlite Motel, Dilworth – One of two StarLite Motels on our list, the Dilworth location was originally called Charlie’s Motel and dates back to the 1950’s.
31. Pines Motel, Longville – The Pines Motel in Longville even features neon pine trees over painted pine trees in front of real pine trees.
30. Pelican Motel, Pelican Rapids – The Pelican Motel features a great vintage sign with an arrow and the words “Yes-Sorry” instead of “No Vacancy.” There is also a small pelican statue out front as well.
29. Gail Motel, Pine City – The Gail Motel in Pine City has a classic old vintage sign which dates back to the late 50’s. The girl on the sign appears to be a later addition.
28. Tastee Freez, Moorhead – Very much a
rip-off big competitor of Dairy Queen, the Tastee Freez even went so far as to mimic the layout of their signage to feature the ice cream cone pointing off the front (See #34). But who does it better?
Photo credit: el_roso
27. Sportsman, Mora – The Sportsmen’s Cafe in Mora features an angler reeling in a perfectly painted lunker. The sign is from the 1950’s.
26. Dee’s Bar, Ely – Dee’s Bar in Ely features stars on on side on a light-up graphic of a cocktail shaker pouring into a martini glass. What a beauty.
25. Liquor Keg, Beaver Bay – Out front of the Green Door Liquor Store is a wooden keg with the word “Liquor” on the side. It’s huge and awesome.
24. Heinz Insurance, Owatonna – The Heinz Insurance Agency goes back to 1941, although the sign was put up around 10 years later and was recently restored and plastic was added over one of the circles. Owatonna is home to a lot of great vintage neon.
23. Brede, Minneapolis – Brede is a tradeshow innovation company in an industrial area of Minneapolis near the Midway with a great Art Deco sign out front.
22. TeePee Motel, International Falls – The TeePee Motel in I-Falls has some great faded neon and paint with a graphic of a teepee of course, and dates back to the 50’s.
21. Snelling Liquors, St Paul – The Snelling Liquors sign in St. Paul is recognizable for its two-tone blue colors and inexplicably, the Target logo. It is found on a very iconic stretch of old-school working class St. Paul just south of the fairgrounds and Hamline University.
20. Anderson Homes, Sebeka – Anderson Homes in Sebeka has a great old vintage sign with a damn crown on it. Their motto is from the Roger Miller song, “King of the Road.”
19. Starlite Motel, Hilltop – The tiny landlocked enclave of Hilltop, MN, is found all inside the city limits of Columbia Heights, and is the location of the seedy “Starlite Motel.” This sign dates back to the 50’s and was originally painted blue.
18. Main Street Theatre, Sauk Centre – The Main Street Theatre is an Art Deco sign dating back to the 1930’s or 40’s and is a direct reference to author Sinclair Lewis and his famous novel “Main Street.”
17. Aqua City Motel, Minneapolis – Aqua City Motel is one of those motels that you would stop at on a family vacation in the summer and swim in their fenced-in pool back in the day. Their sign is killer.
16. Bahr’s Motel, Deer River – About as old-school as it gets, the signage for Bahr’s Motel in Deer River, MN, has changed very little since the 1960’s.
15. Moose Lodge, Hibbing – The old Moose Lodge sign in downtown Hibbing has been restored to its bright blue original colors. It is likely from the 1960’s.
14. Bottle Barn, Moorhead – Signs shaped like buildings, or a barn in this instance, are always great. Bonus points for the lightbulb-lined arrow.
13. St Cloud Glass, St. Cloud – The St. Cloud Glass sign and building have been around for decades and you know they haven’t been changed once whatsoever. This one also dates back to the 1960’s.
12. Teskes, Hibbing – This classic sign featuring Art Deco styling, a diamond, and a clock is one of a mass-produced set from the 1930’s. This one has recently been restored.
11. Murrays Steaks, Minneapolis – Murray’s Steakhouse in downtown Minneapolis keeps it old-school with the classic neon marquee, 1970’s style retro colors, and even a picture of their legendary Silver Butter Knife Steak.
10. Apollo Superette, Austin – Our top 10 begins with the Apollo Superette in Austin. It has a rocketship on it. Enough said.
9. Vals, St. Cloud – This local tradition- a walk-up diner in east St. Cloud features a brightly-colored red and yellow painted sign with a hamburger depiction. Val’s commonly pops up on lists of “Must Try Before You Die” lists in Minnesota.
8. Ideal Diner, Minneapolis – This classic neon on Northeast’s Central Ave has been repainted and has an arrow pointing to the tiny little cafe which seats about 8.7. Dutlers Mankato – Jerry Dutler’s Bowling in Mankato is undoubtedly one of the best vintage signs in Minnesota. It features bright, iconic, 70’s-style lettering and a spiky roto-sphere ball. Although the bowling alley is closed, the iconic sign on the way into Mankato will be a landmark for years to come.
6. Sheps Bar, Cologne – Although the actual bar is closed for business, the gorgeous vintage Deco sign out front remains, and we hope it will for a long, long time.
5. Gold Medal Flour, Minneapolis – Standing tall among the skyscrapers and architecture of Minneapolis’ downtown, the emblematic Gold Medal Flour sign is one of the most important reminders of the milling history of Minneapolis. Gold Medal Flour dates back to the late 1800’s, and was later acquired by what is now General Mills.
4. Viking Motel, Detroit Lakes – The Viking Motel sign in Detroit Lakes has been around for decades. It’s been repainted, weather-worn, and the neon tubes are long gone; however, it remains an iconic sign of the folksy cottages and resorts that once lined the beachfront.
3. Sharrett’s Liquors, Minneapolis – It’s simple, faded red neon under an old analog clock that seems to still be working. It’s found on University Avenue on an ever-changing section of town near the University of Minnesota.
2. Nordic Lounge, Ulen – Viking ship imagery can be seen around parts of Minnesota, what with its Scandinavian history and all. The Nordic Lounge in the tiny town of Ulen has one of the best old neons in the state.
1. Grain Belt Beer, Minneapolis. Without a doubt the most famous sign in Minnesota, the ever-iconic Grain Belt bottle cap sign stands on the east side of the Mississippi River facing downtown Minneapolis. It dates back to the 1940’s and at the time was one of the largest neon signs in existence. It hasn’t been illuminated in decades but there is a plan in place which may result in it being fixed up and shining once again by 2017.
Old neon tells the story of the small business in America, and not all of these will be around forever. Go see them while you can! Did we miss any you would like to see included?
1. Spot Cafe in Staples. Disappeared in 2014.
2. Town Talk Diner in Minneapolis – Closed in the mid 2000’s, sign moved to a private collection.
3. Porkys, St Paul – Porky’s Drive Inn sadly closed in 2011; The sign was relocated to the Pioneer Village in Hastings.
4. Ralph’s, Moorhead – Closed in 2005 to make way for “urban modernization.”
5. Morningside Motel, Frazee – Motel closed in 2014, the sign was removed and laid flat on the ground out front.