We got tattooed! We rode the 5D mystery mine ride! We asked ourselves, “Why on earth did this seem like a good idea?”
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend a whole-ass weekend at the Mall of America? You haven’t? And you think that it sounds like an awful, awful idea? Well, you’re in luck, because we—Natalia, aka Nat, and Joel, aka Beef—recently did it so you don’t have to.
This monumental mall weekend was a celebration of our sixth wedding anniversary. Sure, we could’ve gone to some exotic destination like Arkansas or Delaware or Winnipeg, but unlike scenic Bloomington, Minnesota, those places are too far away for a quick weekend getaway. Instead, why not spend an entire anniversary weekend exploring Minnesota’s best non-inclusive resort, the Mall of America? A MOAnniversary, if you will.
Follow along as we detail our slow, theme-restaurant-filled descent into mall madness.
We arrived at 8:10 a.m. Saturday morning, expecting to hear only the gentle shuffling of early morning mall walkers. Much to our surprise, we were instead greeted by the blasting throb of Cher’s “Believe” emanating from the rotunda. Confused, we proceeded with caution, and were soon surrounded by the sea of pink that was the ACS Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk.
We headed to one of the few MOA spots open at 8 a.m.—Dunkin’—which overlooks the rotunda, giving us a bird’s eye view of the walk while we enjoyed Boston’s greatest contribution to humanity. Supporters and survivors wore sashes proudly proclaiming their cancer-free status as they gleefully danced the Macarena, Cupid Shuffle, and Electric Slide. The joyfulness was just the boost of energy we needed to embark on our journey.
Before the start of the pandemic, we were mall people through and through. But neither of us has visited much in recent years, and MOA has changed a lot in our absence. Stores closed, new ones took their place, and others moved to new locations; we needed to do a little recon before the mall opened at 10.
Our sweep included a stop at the Holiday, which, to the best of our knowledge, is the only place in the mall to stock up on motor oil and a pack of smokes. As a middle finger aimed directly at the nearby Edina Public School District, Holiday proudly and defiantly displayed a whole endcap of Paqui’s “One Chip Challenge” butthole blasters.
Approaching Nordstrom on the first floor, we began to detect the distinct scent of fish, which turned out to be… fish. We were “lucky” enough that our mall weekend coincided with the grand opening of Karl’s Fishing and Outdoors. To commemorate the occasion, Karl himself (presumably) stocked the fucking fountain outside of Nordstrom with a bunch of stinky ass trout for enthusiastic mallgoers to catch over and over (and over) again. It was a real “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” type of deal, and almost certainly some kind of animal crime. Humans are fucking terrible.
We noticed the nearby Dr. Martens store had been replaced by an overly masculine, hella-douchey outdoor luxury brand called Moose Knuckles. (Post Malone apparently helped the company design a line of $1,000 camo jackets.) “HOMOPHOBIA!!!” we cried, until we rounded a corner and saw our beloved boot proprietor had moved to a more appropriate place for all mall queers: adjacent to the Carhartt store.
We passed by enough Lids, Finish Lines, Claire’s, Starbucks, and Cold Stones on our recon laps to make us feel like we were in the Matrix. We also came to the firm conclusion that mall music is good. As we walked, the PA bathed us in bops ranging from Dua Lipa to other artists who are good but not as good as Dua Lipa. (If you’re reading this: Dua Lipa, please, step on us.)
Just before the clock struck 10, heralding the mall’s official opening, we came across Blasted Ink. Tattoo artist King Kanvis stood below one of his stunning airbrush pieces, a purple portrait of Prince, and warmly greeted us while apprentices and colleagues swept, cleaned, and finished the fine details before opening. The three-month-old MOA shop is Blasted Ink’s second location, with the first in St. Paul.
After listening to what kind of tattoo we wanted, Kanvis set us up with resident script expert Smiley to do the gothic-y old English style 33’s we were looking for. While we waited, we met a nice lady who’d just turned 60 and was looking to get her first tattoo. The mall brings in all kinds.
The tattoo experience itself was a breeze. Soft-spoken and sweet, Smiley had a light hand and was very detail-oriented, laying in super crisp lines with skill. Nat was done in no time, and while Beef got settled into the chair, Nat went on a mission. On a recon lap, we’d seen Playboy trucker caps at one of the mall’s many Lids locations. Super sweet Lids worker Sonee helped with some crisp-ass custom “Natty Daddy” embroidery (also old English, natch) on the back of the hat.
Next, we reconnected to waste away a little bit at the local Margaritaville. No visit to the mall is complete without a stop at M-Ville. The Perfect Margaritas are perfect, the Landshark beer is fine, and the Lava Lava Shrimp are hot ‘n’ crispy, bathed in a mildly spiced mayo sauce on a bed of wilty lettuce. Unfortunately, the Margaritaville stilt walker was nowhere to be found, but there was a dude wearing a “VILF” (Veteran I’d Like to Fuck) shirt. Win some, lose some.
Post-shrimp treat and craving something sweet, we followed our noses to the scrumptious, bready scent of Wafels & Dinges. After tittering like adult teens (dinges!), we read that not only does “dinges” mean “tasty shit to put on top of your waffle,” we also saw that the owners once beat that smug prick Bobby Flay in a cookoff! Bless ‘em, and the Belgian-style liege wafels were pretty damn close to the real deal: crunchy, pearl sugar-encrusted, piping hot, and smeared with sticky speculoos (cookie butter).
Next we needed a salty counterbalance that Ichiddo Ramen provided. Their brothless shredded char siu ramen had little pebbles of oyster-sauce-bathed pork mixed in with bouncy noodles. (Beef note: I went to the bathroom at the food court and was immediately subjected to what I can only describe as a cacophony of toilet slop. Dudes… are y’all OK?)
We departed the food court, but not before witnessing a man using a jeweler’s loupe to look intently at his cell phone. Seems bad for the eyes.
Round about 2, we figured we’d better stimulate the economy with a little shopping. PacSun, Sephora, Zumiez, Vans, Lush… we stimulated it all, baby! (Nat notes: Devastated that the ugly, dELiA*s-core clothes from my youth are back to haunt me.) The sounds of Sephora are uptempo pop music and the din of 100 femmes bumping into one another and apologizing for existing. It’s truly a fucking magic trick that $70 worth of makeup doesn’t even cover the bottom of a 4×6 bag.
Throughout our shop-till-we-drop montage, we met up with our pals Tones, Bryan, and Em (yes, that Em!). Finally, we made it to the Carhartt store for some protective workwear to keep us safe at our jobs as marketing professionals (beanies to keep our smooth little brains warm).
Our newly procured shit in tow, we headed to our lodging for the evening, the J.W. Marriott, to check in. It wasn’t immediately clear how to enter the hotel from the mall. You have to arrive through the hotel restaurant next to the bizarre war memorial-style display of oversized NFL helmets. After bowing our normal-sized heads in reverence to gridiron warriors, we headed up to the room to dump our stuff and attempt to relax for a bit.
Around 5:30, we headed back down into the belly of the mall once again. Turns out 5:30 is extremely peak “mall time.” Everyone (especially us) was exhausted, emotionally drained, hungry, and crabby. It felt like there were way more people than there had been all day, and it sucked. There were way too many unattended youths. The mall music gets shittier throughout the day (more saccharine family-friendly pop, less Dua Lipa), and you could easily spot the other poor souls who’d been there all damn day. Why did we think this was a good idea?
We steered ourselves toward Auntie Anne’s for a snack, and after demolishing our twisted bread and molten cheese, we headed for Nickelodeon Universe. (Beef note: Fuck that, it’ll always be Camp Snoopy.) First stop: The airbrushed tee stand. Apparently, airbrushed tees are a hot commodity around the Universe, as it was about a three-hour wait to pick up the finished masterpieces. After settling on our designs, we paid the very modest fee of $21.95 per shirt. That price for a custom shirt? Makes you wonder why you don’t see more airbrushed tees out in the world.
From the tee stand, we headed over to the 5D experience that is the Mystery Mine Ride. Now, the Mystery Mine Ride was Beef’s absolute favorite thing in the entire mall when he was just a little dipshit, so we were curious to see if it would live up to those fond memories. It absolutely did. While it was for sure a little stomach-churning (Nat note: This thing almost made me puke), it was still fun as hell. Surprisingly, it was even scarier than when Beef was a kid. Probably because the crushing weight of adulthood and the general trajectory of the planet has us all expecting to die in the mines at some point.
Though queasy, Nat was especially excited to experience dinner on the mall’s magical fourth floor. Despite working at MOA for their first job upon moving here 12 years ago and countless trips since then, Nat didn’t know there even was a fourth floor! We hauled our tired bones to the Fair On 4, a boozy carnival and activity zone. We sipped Three Floyds Oktoberfests and enjoyed a dinner of corn dogs and pizza (the hand-battered corn dog has the Natty Daddy Seal of Approval). We were too exhausted for axe-throwing, go-karts, and the other amusements Fair On 4 had to offer, but we’ll be back.
We had to hustle after dinner to claim our T-shirt masterpieces, drop them off at the room, and force ourselves to leave for the comedy show at Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy. The experience was sadly underwhelming, and we needed all the booze that the STRICTLY enforced two-drink minimum provided to sit through it.
Host/ex-jock Daniel Bridge-Gadd patronized the crowd, assuming we thought he was “queer because his ankles were showing.” Opener Greg Berman bombed at the beginning and talked a lot of shit about his wife for a guy who no doubt has her bankrolling his comedy career. There were moments he spoke so effusively about his dogs we were fairly certain he fucks them. Headliner Kevin Iso, star of the Showtime series Flatbush Misdemeanors, redeemed things, but not enough to validate the $120 we spent on tickets and spendy mandatory drinks.
There’s nothing like leaving a terrible comedy show and immediately walking through the spooky-ass mall after hours. It reminded us of walking through late-night Venice on our honeymoon, after all the tourists returned to their hotels for the night.
Yep, the Mall of America really is the Venice of North America.
Walking through Nickelodeon Universe felt extra creepy until a mouse scurried across the walkway in front of us, no doubt heading home to their family after a long day’s work. And while all the stores were locked up, mall music still blasted through the speakers, adding to the eeriness—and it was finally good again!
We had to walk outside to get to our hotel since the restaurant was closed, and we briefly tasted sweet, fresh air for a moment. After grabbing snacks and water at the front desk, we settled into the crisp white sheets of our hotel bed. Pitch Perfect 2 lulled us to sleep on the TV, a pitch perfect end to a… well, a day.
We slept the exhausted sleep of people who’d walked 11 miles around the mall the day before and arose sore and ready for breakfast. After awkwardly walking through the Cedar + Stone restaurant at J.W. Marriott, it was nice to sit down and eat a meal there finally. The restaurant was by far the best meal we had over the weekend—and not just because we’d eaten trashy mall food the whole time. Natalia had shrimp and grits that featured extra large shrimp that were succulent and perfectly cooked and sat on a bed of cheese atop fluffy, decadent grits drizzled in a spicy, smoky sauce. Beef’s croque madame pizza was rich and delightful.
Breakfast scarfed, it was time for the day’s body modification. This time, a nose piercing for Beef at Almost Famous Body Piercing. We had some time to kill before our appointment, so we explored the Mirror Maze. As something we walked past many times but never checked out, it was more challenging than we anticipated—and more fun. There was a brief moment of fear that we wouldn’t make it out, left to rot away for eternity in the maze. But at least we’d get to witness our deaths from many different reflected angles!
After, a trip to Spencer’s Gifts was in order so Nat could smell the plastic-and-incense odor that all Spencer’s possess and look at the sex toys. There appeared to be more varieties, more body-safe options that won’t chemical burn your holes with phthalates, and more strap-ons than when Nat worked there in high school, slingin’ vibes, band T-shirts, and “If You’re Going to Ride My Ass at Least Pull My Hair” bumper stickers.
Professor Z’s Old Time Photo sang its siren song, and we answered as a throwback to when we got married. The day after the ceremony, we headed to the Black Hills. While we were there, the photographer, who definitely would rather not talk about his whereabouts on January 6, wouldn’t allow us to dress in drag.
We sought redemption at the Mall of America, and Professor Z came through for us! We posed as Renaissance Queen Beef and Knight Daddy for a lovely group of folks who were wonderful enough to ask us for our pronouns multiple times. Consent was important to these folks who asked before they could touch us to help put on clothes and check in about how to address us.
The photos themselves were STUNNING (see above); we felt so accurately depicted it was difficult to select the two photos we wanted framed. The photographer who helped us, Corey, loved our session so much that he asked us to sign a waiver to submit to competitions in his field. Of course, we obliged. We’re gonna be old-time-photo famous! Hope that asshole from the Black Hills sees us with a blue ribbon and sheds a single tear.
Finally, it was poking time for Beef. Much like Professor Z’s, we saw some gender awareness at Almost Famous, with the check-in person asking if the name on the license supplied is the name the piercee goes by. His piercer, Eren, was a true pro and explained all the steps before anything began. Beef selected a nice little blue stud for his schnoz and, in no time, had a needle in his beak and a new piece of jewelry in his face. After detailed care instructions, we were good to go. Sadly, we did not have time to visit one of the “breathtaking” three Claire’s locations to get his lobes pierced, but there’s always next time.
For our brief bit of retail therapy on Sunday, we swung by the great cultural equalizer that is the Crocs store. Where else can you find healthcare workers, line cooks, country folk, hype beasts, and cybergoths in platform Crocs shopping in harmony? We took our place alongside our foam-shoed brethren, sistren, and theystren to sift through the Jibbitz assortment like modern-day goofs panning for gold. After settling on a pair of flamingo Jibbitz, we headed again to the fourth floor to Hoot some wings and big beers at the mall’s (and Minnesota’s) only owl-themed breastaurant, Hooters.
Now, everyone has the creepy uncle who always talks about how he only goes to Hooters for the wings. No one likes him, no one believes him. As we sat at the bar, we realized that society’s collective lecherous uncle was sitting across from us wearing a Vikings jersey, fedora, and pinky ring and refusing to break eye contact with the bartender’s chest. The dude was seemingly in a very shitty mood despite a Vikings win that day—we’re speculating here, but it could be due to his most recent restraining order.
Perverts aside, the wings at Hooters do fuck, and the big mugs of beer are a hell of a good deal. It’s absolutely worth swinging by next time you have a hankerin’ for some mall wings. And hey, the more mild-mannered Racket readers that go to Hooters means fewer spots for fedora-wearing creeps.
By far the most fun we had all weekend was at Tactical Urban Combat. For only $15 each, we enjoyed 30 intense minutes of Nerf battles. The sets they designed for army crawling and crouching, paired with the vast array of Nerf guns, made it so much fun. The games were exhilarating, and we were dripping sweat by the end from scrambling around, grabbing foam “ammo” balls from the ground to refill our Nerf guns. We olds got our asses kicked by the kids we played against. (Nat note: If you can, sign up with pals or be prepared to play with strangers.) We immediately needed frozen yogurt to cool us off from a nearby Freschen’s, then headed for the roller coasters to catch a nice breeze.
The Pepsi Orange Streak coaster was our weapon of choice because it cut through all of Nickelodeon Land. It felt a little steep at $9 each for a single ride, but it was a rush! There were no big drops, but it was still nice and fast. We’re already planning a day when we can get the unlimited wristbands and really get our money’s worth from all of the rides at the mall. For the day, though, Orange Streak served its purpose in drying our pits and cooling us down.
We’d looked lovingly at the Rainforest Cafe for many years but never entered its lush tropical interior because the line was always too long. However, on this day, with a “priority seating pass” provided by our pals at Professor Z’s, we got in immediately. With the dark lighting, fake palms, goofy animatronic critters, and regular “thunderstorms,” it was “just” “like” walking into a “real” “jungle.” The cocktails were delicious, and we got to keep the glass, so it was basically like drinking and shopping simultaneously—the platonic MOA ideal. The appetizers were much bigger than expected, and we felt like we got our money’s worth for our smoky corn chowder, beef chili con queso, and a delightful Caesar salad with a dressing that was pleasantly anchovy and garlic-forward.
It was nearly 7 p.m., so we hopped the first metaphorical float plane out of the Rainforest and headed up to the fourth floor again to catch a showing of Halloween Ends at B&B Theaters. It was our first time seeing a movie at the Mall of America, but it’s safe to say that it ruined all other movie-going experiences. A convenience market-style concessions area, fully reclinable leather seats, and ear-ringing sound—B&B has it all. They also played a heartwarming pre-preview video about how they make the movie theater experience more inclusive for film fans with sensory accommodation needs.
At 9:26 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 16, we escaped the Mall of America after writhing in its bowels for 37 hours and 16 minutes. Throughout our time in that consumer hellscape, we walked over 17 miles in nearly 40,000 steps. As we were making our way to the exit to finally taste fresh, uncirculated air, we found a single child’s shoe that hauntingly seemed like a fitting end to our time there.
On the drive home, we discussed the highlights and lowlights of the weekend, along with all the things we ran out of time to do. No ear piercing at Claire’s. No go-carts and axe-throwing or arcade games. We didn’t go to SEA LIFE (though, frankly, we did see enough life throughout the weekend), and we didn’t play a round at either of the two mini-golf courses. Perhaps the saddest miss on our part was not riding the mechanical bull at Cadillac Ranch. We’re sorry.
So, would we recommend spending an entire weekend at the Mall of America? Definitely not! But would we discourage you from spending an entire weekend at the Mall of America? Hey, knock yourself out. As for us, seems like we need to have part two of this supremely dumb (and fun!) getaway to Bloomington.
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We got tattooed! We rode the 5D mystery mine ride! We asked ourselves, “Why on earth did this seem like a good idea?”