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Unique Outdoor Business Venues
Madden’s on Gull Lake, Brainerd, is a popular destination for corporate outings.

Unique Outdoor Business Venues

Whether you’re planning a board reception, a company celebration or a team retreat this summer, here are 20 unique venues with distinctive outdoor spaces, beautiful views, event planning services and other amenities.

It’s been more than a century since American author Henry James proclaimed his preference for summer, declaring, “Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” To us, James’s words still ring true, especially given the beauty—and brevity—of summer in Minnesota. To make the most of this precious season, we’ve gathered a selection of distinctive hotels, resorts and other venues ripe for summer business entertaining. From Pier B, Duluth’s newest waterfront resort, to Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery in southern Minnesota, with iconic Grandview Lodge, Cragun’s and Madden’s in between, each of these venues offer beautiful beaches, verandas, patios or other outdoor spaces for memorable company picnics, high-energy team-building activities, unique board meetings and other corporate outings.

Hotels, Restaurants & Event Centers

Le Méridien Chambers, Minneapolis
If your out-of-town partners have only flown over the Twin Cities, invite them to touch down for a fabulous confab at Le Méridien Chambers in downtown Minneapolis. Named Best Hotel in Minnesota by Travel & Leisure and one of the 10 Best Art Hotels in the U.S. by USA Today, this intimate boutique hotel features a variety of meeting spaces including Art Rooms, the Boardroom and the Rooftop Lounge, a sophisticated space with floor-to-ceiling windows and a private balcony. Treat your guests to luxurious suites overlooking the glittering Hennepin Theatre District and then gather in the stylish urban courtyard for cocktails and dinner. The next day, take a tour of the hotel’s contemporary art gallery before heading over to the Walker Art Center to see the colorful collages of Minnesota-based Native American artist Frank Big Bear. Bonus: Present your guests’ hotel key cards for complimentary admission. 901 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, 612-767-6900, lemeridienchambers.com

The Liffey, St. Paul
If your team could benefit from a new perspective and a wee bit of fun, move your weekly staff meeting to the Liffey, the Irish pub on the rooftop of the Holiday Inn St. Paul Downtown. Save the Kennedy Lounge, a cozy private room lined with plush banquettes, for fall and winter meetings and head outside to the Liffey’s legendary patio. Take a large table and order pints of Guinness, Finnegan’s Amber Ale, and Strongbow Hard Cider all around. As you wait for the drinks to be pulled, admire the views of Xcel Energy Center, the Minnesota State Capitol and other St. Paul landmarks. Debate the merits of the appetizer line-up and reach consensus on the pot roast sliders with caramelized onions and horseradish cream, sriracha pork sliders with ginger apple slaw, crispy calamari, pub pretzels with sharp cheddar cheese sauce and spicy mustard, and sweet-potato fries with maple aioli. The Liffey, 175 W. Seventh St., St. Paul, 651-556-1420, theliffey.com


Nicollet Island Inn, Minneapolis
If you’re entertaining a group of first-time visitors to Minneapolis, welcome them with a reception at the Nicollet Island Inn. Nestled under the Hennepin Bridge, the 48-acre Nicollet Island is the only inhabited island on the Mississippi River. One of Minneapolis’s most distinctive urban neighborhoods, the island is home to nearly two dozen Victorian-era homes, the Nicollet Island Pavilion, DeLaSalle High School, and the 23-room Nicollet Island Inn, in an 1893 building that once housed the Island Sash and Door Co. Greet your guests in the cozy lobby, then gather ’round the 150-year-old bar for cocktails before moving out to the patio for dinner. Take in panoramic views of the mighty Mississippi and downtown Minneapolis as you enjoy Champagne, oysters Rockefeller and lobster bruschetta, followed by walleye with wild-rice pilaf, a house specialty. Linger over chocolate mousse and cognac as the sun sets behind the skyline. 95 Merriam St., 612-331-1800, Minneapolis, nicolletislandinn.com

Rudy’s Redeye Grill, White Bear Lake
When the agenda calls for an equal balance of business and pleasure, take your team out to Rudy’s Redeye Grill in White Bear Lake, the charming resort town featured in Mark Twain’s 1874 Life on the Mississippi. Located in the White Bear Country Inn, Rudy’s offers seven banquet and conference rooms with A/V, smartboard capabilities, video conferencing and event planning services. After successfully completing the business portion of your agenda, move the meeting to Rudy’s rooftop patio, an expansive space with colorful flowers, seating for 70, a bar and a lounge with a fireplace. Reward your team with pints of Jack Pine Savage or summertinis made with pink grapefruit vodka and an endless procession of Rudy’s famous appetizers, including jumbo onion rings, buffalo wings, bull bites, coconut shrimp, tuna taki, Szechuan salmon and New Orleans shrimp. 4940 Highway 61 N., White Bear Lake, 651-653-6718, rudysredeye.com


Tria Restaurant, Bar & Event Center, North Oaks
If you want to create an event with the warmth and intimacy of a retreat but without the long drive up north, take your guests to Tria, the destination bar/restaurant/event center in North Oaks, about 15 miles north of downtown Minneapolis and 15 minutes west of White Bear Lake. Tria offers a variety of meeting spaces, including the Patio, an inviting outdoor area with canvas umbrellas and seating for up to 80 guests. For an intimate dinner al fresco, a smaller patio seats up to 24 people. Greet your guests with a choice of refreshing Lemon Drop martinis or tangy cosmopolitans, followed by the signature North Oaks buffet of carved beef tenderloin with béarnaise, salmon with lime gastrique, chicken chardonnay, parmesan leek potatoes, and other specialties accompanied by award-winning wines from Tria’s cellars. 5959 Centerville Road, North Oaks, 651-426-9222, triarestaurant.com

Resorts & Golf Clubs

Breezy Point Resort, Breezy Point
If it’s your turn to host the annual board meeting, show the out-of-towners how it’s done with a retreat at Breezy Point Resort on Pelican Lake. Established in the 1920s by millionaire publisher Wilfred Hamilton Fawcett, this iconic resort was the Montecito of Minnesota, playing host to Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and other Hollywood A-listers. Book the 11-bedroom Fawcett House, a log mansion handcrafted of Norway pine and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Start with breakfast in the Observatory and then take a meeting in the Governor’s Room, with a break for lunch on the Marina Deck. Before dinner, cruise the crystal-clear waters of Pelican Lake on the Breezy Bell, an authentic paddle wheel boat. The next day, continue the conversation at Deacon’s Lodge, the par 72 championship course designed by Arnold Palmer and named after his father, Deacon. Breezy Point Lodge, 9252 Breezy Point Drive, Breezy Point, 800-432-3777, breezypointresort.com


Cragun’s Resort & Hotel on Gull Lake, Brainerd
When business objectives call for fresh thinking and a change of direction, take your team out of the office and head up to Cragun’s Resort & Hotel. Founded in 1940, this classic resort serves up an ideal mix of Up North hospitality and comprehensive conference planning services for groups of all sizes. After everyone bunks up in cozy lakefront cabins, gather for a barbecue dinner on the beach followed by karaoke in the Bear Trap Lounge. The next day, fuel up with a hearty pancake breakfast on the Sun Deck overlooking the lake, followed by a productive blue-sky planning session in the Paul Bunyan Meeting Center. Spend the afternoon fishing for walleye, biking and hiking on the trails, or golfing on the Cragun’s Legacy Golf Course, then reconvene for a celebratory walleye feast in the Lakeside Dining Room. 11000 Craguns Drive, Brainerd, 218-825-2700, craguns.com

Golden Valley Country Club, Golden Valley
If the spirit of competition runs high among your teams, raise the stakes with a private golf tournament at Golden Valley Country Club. Founded in 1914, the club features a scenic and challenging par 73 course designed by A.W. Tillinghast, one of golf’s best-known architects, and a contemporary clubhouse with floor-to-ceiling windows, 10,000 square feet of meeting space and expert event planning services. Customizable golf outings include tournament scoring, motorized golf carts, merchandise credits at the pro shop, bag drop and other amenities. Kick off the afternoon with a picnic lunch before warming up on the rolling terrain of the driving range. After the tournament, gather in the clubhouse ballroom for a Champagne toast, followed by a buffet feast of fresh salads, Scottish salmon, grilled chicken, roasted vegetables and homemade desserts. 7001 Golden Valley Road, Golden Valley, 763-732-4100, gvgcc.com


Grand View Lodge, Nisswa
If your company’s organizational chart has rapidly expanded to include multiple offices, telecommuters and part-timers, it’s time to convene the entire team at Grand View Lodge on Gull Lake. Established in 1916, this historic resort features luxurious suites in the main lodge, spacious cabins, cottages, townhomes and villas, as well as 25,000 square feet of meeting space, a business center, conference planning services and other amenities. Kick off the retreat with a beachfront happy hour and a hearty Minnesota buffet dinner with wild rice soup, tater tot hot dish and other specialties. The next morning, head over to Camp Lake Hubert, a Grand View sister property, for breakfast and a memorable day of rock climbing, raft building, kickball, geocaching, scavenger hunting and other activities, followed by hamburgers, brats and veggie burgers ’round the campfire—and s’mores, of course. 23521 Nokomis Ave., Nisswa, 218-963-2234, grandviewlodge.com

Madden’s on Gull Lake, Brainerd
If your team is well on its way to exceeding 2017 performance goals, reward members—and up the ante—with a company retreat at Madden’s. Situated on 1,000 acres of prized Gull Lake shoreline, this classic resort is well-equipped for corporate getaways with 42,000 square feet of meeting space, a choice of rustic cabins, luxurious houses, villas and spacious guest rooms, and an array of high-energy team-building contests. Choose from Survivor on Gull Island, Madden Olympics, Amazing Race, Iron Chef and other competitions, or create your own decathlon with tennis, croquet, lawn bowling, volleyball, waterskiing, wakeboarding, canoeing, kayaking, trap shooting, horseback riding, mountain biking and golf on four legendary courses. After a long day of competition in the invigorating north woods air, treat your team to a lavish barbecue dinner on the beach, followed by dancing to live music in the O’Madden Pub. 11266 Pine Beach Peninsula, Brainerd, 218-829-2811, maddens.com

Pier B Resort, Duluth
If your West Coast clients have never seen outstate Minnesota, pick them up at the MSP airport and head up to Duluth, nicknamed “the San Francisco of the Midwest” for its hilly topography. In less time than it takes to get from the Golden Gate Bridge to Lake Tahoe, you’ll be at Pier B Resort, Duluth’s newest waterfront hotel. Once everyone’s admired the views from their luxurious suites, stroll along the pier and watch ships loaded with iron ore navigating the harbor, and then repair to the resort’s private outdoor deck for drinks and dinner. The next day, convene in the Pilot House Boardroom for a breakfast meeting with views of the historic Aerial Lift Bridge. After lunch on the patio, head over to Canal Park for a tour of the William A. Irvin, the flagship of U.S. Steel’s Great Lakes fleet, followed by happy hour at one of Duluth’s many craft breweries. 800 W. Railroad St., Duluth, 218-481-8888, pierbresort.com


Town & Country Club, St. Paul
If your clients have played St. Andrews, the legendary birthplace of golf, and Muirfield, home of the world’s oldest golf club, give them another “first” with a day on the links at Town & Country Club, where the first round of golf in Minnesota was played in 1893. Meet your guests in the landmark clubhouse designed by Cass Gilbert, architect of the Minnesota State Capitol building and many of St. Paul’s legendary mansions, and enjoy a breakfast of eggs Benedict and warm caramel rolls in the President’s Room overlooking the putting green. Properly fortified, challenge your clients on the fast, demanding greens and tight, rolling fairways of the par 72 “shot-makers course.” Afterward, celebrate the winning foursome with drinks on the patio and a private dinner in the tartan-clad Saint Andrews room overlooking the beautifully landscaped grounds. 300 Mississippi River Blvd. N., St. Paul, 651-646-7121, tcc-club.com

TPC Twin Cities, Blaine
If your guest list includes serious golfers, impress them with an invitation to TPC Twin Cities, Minnesota’s only PGA Tour property and host of the annual PGA Champions 3M Championship in August. Located in Blaine, an easy 25-minute drive from downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, the club offers an array of outdoor spaces for business receptions, board meetings and teambuilding events. In addition to the par 72, 7,164-yard golf course designed by Arnold Palmer and Minnesota native Tom Lehman, corporate events can be held on the open-air veranda, the lush green lawns or at the 20-acre practice facility and the driving range. If a Minnesota summer thunderstorm scotches your plans, head over to the 31,000-square-foot lodge-style clubhouse and reconvene over drinks in the cozy Northwoods Den, followed by dinner in the elegant Minnesota Room. 11444 Tournament Players Parkway, Blaine, 763-795-0800, tpc.com/twincities

Distinctive Venues


Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery, Spring Valley
If you’ve been challenged to switch up the annual company summer outing, Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery offers a welcome change of ambiance, agenda and scenery. Situated in Spring Valley, an easy, two-hour drive from Minneapolis or 30 minutes from Rochester, this family-owned enterprise is the largest winery and cidery in the state, with numerous honors to its credit, including official wine provider for the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. The winery includes a variety of contemporary, light-filled meeting spaces including the Cocktail Room with a two-level patio and the Barrel Room, with glass garage doors that open onto an expansive patio overlooking the vineyard. After a tour of the vineyards, gather your team for a wine-blending class and a multi-course gourmet meal paired with Loon Juice hard cider and a flight of award-winning Four Daughters wines. 78757 State Highway 16, Spring Valley, 507-346-7300, fourdaughtersvineyard.com

Glensheen, Duluth
When your guest list includes A-listers, luminaries and other VIPs, engrave the invitation with Glensheen—Minnesota’s most famous mansion—as the destination. Designed by Minnesota state architect Clarence Johnson for the Congdons of iron mining fame in the early 1900s, the 39-room Jacobean-style home is nestled on a 12-acre estate overlooking Lake Superior, 10 minutes north of downtown Duluth. Dazzle your guests with a private tour of the mansion and then convene for cocktails on the three-tiered Juliet Balcony and Terrace with views of the landscaped formal garden and the lake. Move to the lush Carriage House Lawn for dinner and dancing under a tent, then return to the house for postprandial drinks and billiards in the Amusement Room. Extend the evening with an after-party bonfire on Glensheen’s private beach with the historic Aerial Lift Bridge sparkling like a diamond bracelet over the Duluth Ship Canal. 3300 London Road, Duluth, 218-726-8910, glensheen.org


Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska
If your team always goes the extra mile, reward members with a relaxing and restorative day in nature at the award-winning Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Recently named Best Botanical Garden in the USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards, the 1,200-acre arboretum beat out the New York Botanical Garden for top honors. Begin the day with breakfast on the Snyder Terrace with views of woodlands and wetlands, followed by a shinrin yoku (Japanese for “forest bathing”) mindfulness experience. After a picnic lunch overlooking Lake Minnewashta, enjoy a private tram tour of the legendary gardens, woods and prairies, and an interpretive walking tour of the Harrison Sculpture Garden. Conclude the retreat with a wine tasting featuring wines made with Frontenac, Marquette, La Crescent and other cold-hardy grape cultivars developed by the University of Minnesota. 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska, 952-443-1400, arboretum.umn.edu

Raspberry Island and Harriet Island Regional Parks, St. Paul
If you and your colleagues have been spending too much time in cubicles, conference rooms and cafeterias, issue a calendar invite to escape to an island for a day. Conveniently located on the Mississippi River near downtown St. Paul, the Raspberry Island and Harriet Island regional parks are ideal for company picnics and other outdoor gatherings. Raspberry Island, St. Paul’s last true island, is beneath the Wabasha Street Bridge and connected to the mainland by the Raspberry Island bridge. The 2-acre island is a tranquil setting for the Minnesota Boat Club, a rowing club that does double-duty as an event venue with two outdoor verandas. South of Raspberry Island, Harriet Island is home to the Clarence W. Wigington Pavilion, a 5,000-square-foot event facility listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Raspberry Island Regional Park, 2 Wabasha St., St. Paul, 651-292-7010, stpaul.gov; Minnesota Boat Club, 612-253-0255, mintahoe.com; Harriet Island Regional Park, 200 Dr. Justus Ohage Blvd., St. Paul, 651-292-7010, stpaul.gov

Summit Manor Reception House, St. Paul
When an esteemed colleague deserves to be recognized for decades of dedication and service, book a celebration at Summit Manor, an elegant turn-of-the-century mansion on Summit Avenue, one of the best-preserved Victorian boulevards in the U.S. The house was designed by Minnesota state architect Clarence Johnston for Charles Schuneman, owner of Schuneman’s, a St. Paul department store that eventually became Dayton’s. After cocktails and Swedish meatballs and other signature appetizers in the parlor, serve a buffet dinner of roast beef au jus, pork tenderloin with apple-raisin chutney, vegetable lasagna and other entrées with a selection of salads, relishes and dinner rolls. Invite your guests to dine outdoors on the lawn as fireflies—and the spirits of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald—dance among the trees in the dusky evening air. 275 Summit Ave., St. Paul, 651-387-3283, summitmanor.com


Surly Brewing Co., Minneapolis
If your colleagues are craft beer enthusiasts, reinvent your company picnic at Surly Brewing Co., the brewery that helped repeal a Prohibition-era law that prevented breweries from being in the taproom business and created a fascinating case study on the power of vision, passion and follow-through. To join “Surly Nation,” as its fan base is known, take over Scheid Hall, an event space with a balcony overlooking the always-packed beer garden. Treat the team to 20 different kinds of beer on tap, including Cynic Belgian-style pale ale, Furious IPA, Hell lager and other signature Surly brews, followed by a classic picnic feast of ribs, brisket and smoked pork accompanied by honey buttered cornbread, potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw and grits. If anybody’s got room for dessert, go whole hog with peanut butter pie and ice cream floats made with—what else but—Surly Coffee Bender. 520 Malcolm Ave. SE, Minneapolis, 763-999-4040, surlybrewing.com

Wayzata Bay Charters, Excelsior
For an easy crowd-pleasing summer outing, treat your team to a relaxing afternoon on the Big Water, aka Lake Minnetonka. Caravan out to Excelsior, the historic yet hip village on the south shore of the lake, and park on the aptly named Lake Street adjacent to the Commons. Meet your crew at the Port of Excelsior at the nexus of Water Street and the water, where your two-level, 60-foot cruiser awaits at the dock. Once aboard, enjoy cocktails, wine, beer and champagne paired with chilled jumbo shrimp, citrus-glazed chicken skewers, antipasto and other appetizers as your captain navigates the lake and points out grand estates, celebrity homes and other landmarks. After the boat returns to port, line up with the locals at Tommy’s Tonka Trolley, a sunny yellow, non-working trolley that serves Sebastian Joe’s ice cream, popcorn and other summery treats. 2 Water Street, Excelsior, 952-451-9001, wayzatabaycharters.com

Melinda Nelson is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer and TCB’s Concierge columnist.