Wrath of the Keller: The story of the Minnesota State Capitol’s lost rathskeller

The rathskeller at the Minnesota State Capitol // Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

The rathskeller at the Minnesota State Capitol // Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

 Even accounting for home state favoritism, Minnesota’s State Capitol is the most beautiful architectural specimen of the fifty. The dome is nicely proportional, while some have seriously mutant dome shapes. The white marble on the outside is the perfect background for the golden Quadriga above the main entrance. The grand stairwells, vast paintings, and colored marble features draw the eyes upward toward the government chambers and then to the spectacular rotunda. The architect, Minnesota’s own Cass Gilbert, was one of the most important neoclassical architects of the era, and even with the Supreme Court building and New York’s Woolworth Building to his credit, the Capitol may be his most perfect design.

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I spent a lot of time in the Capitol during 1985, when I worked as a Senate intern. The back stairwell, which was reputed to be the longest unsupported staircase in the world, went all the way down to the tunnels, some hearing rooms, and the cafeteria. Somehow, years of seeking efficiency rather than beauty had turned a vaulted cellar into a utility basement where architectural character went to die. While convenient, we almost never ate there. Our group preferred to go into the neighborhood in search of flavor—and sometimes a beer. While the Minnesota craft beer scene had yet to emerge, more and more imports were finding their way behind local bars. There was a place a few blocks away that had Whitbread Ale, which was a rare find at the time. If only we could get some malt and hops right there in the Capitol.

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