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Lyn-Lake: the twin cities' new artsy corner.

Fifty years ago Lake Street was the commercial artery of Minneapolis, following an arrow-straight course from the Mississippi River west to the city's iconic chain of lakes. Dreary Lyndale Avenue served the same purpose, transporting urbanites from north to south. Nobody called the neighborhood around the intersection Lyn-Lake back then, much less sought it out. Less than two decades ago the area's old Knickerbocker Bar, where the Jungle Theater now shines, was the target of more 911 calls than anywhere else in the city. That all changed once the theater's gay founder took a chance on the location in 1991; cams and boutiques quickly followed. Next came the rise of modest condos, replacing blighted bricks and dicey parking lots. A madly popular bike trail now supplants the former railroad tracks. But Lyn-Lake retains its funky vibe, providing a haven for gay and straight young actors, dancers, and painters who moonlight as waiters while awaiting their 15 minutes of fame.

1: CORNER STORE (900 W. Lake St.)

Vintage Levi's and leather are the forte of this retro clothing store, where gay shopaholics can snag pink Converses, rent a tux, or deck themselves out in haute drag. Glass cases filled with faux bling give a whole new meaning to costume jewelry.

2: BRYANT-LAKE BOWL (810 W. Lake St.; BryantLakeBowl.com)

Transformation sans gentrification was the owner's mantra when she bought a '40s blue-collar bowling alley and gently fine-tuned it into an alley-cum-cafe-cumcabaret. Gay lotharios and forward-thinking heteros flock here to sip espresso, Veuve Clicquot, or Budweiser while noshing on designer bar food (think salads with organic bison and Wisconsin blue cheese, or a breakfast frittata of smoked local trout, chevre, and spinach) before bowling a line or snagging a seat in the adjoining black-box theater, which showcases rising cutting-edge performers.

[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

3: JUNGLE THEATER (2951 Lyndale Ave. South; JungleTheater. com)

Gay artistic director Bain Boehlke, who led the area's renaissance, produces critically acclaimed productions, including gender-bending shows like I Am My Own Wife and the upcoming Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Dreamily decorated in murals and lush drapery by another gay artist and director of note, John Donahue, the theater hosts singles nights during every run. Patrons can sip merlot or French roast during the performances, adding to the cabaret feel.

4: JP AMERICAN BISTRO (2937 Lyndale Ave. South; JPAmericanBistro.com)

Chef J.P. Samuelson jumped ship from the city's primo big-bucks restaurant to launch his own contemporary, more informal cafe, and you'll spot him plating New American creations in the minimalist room's open kitchen. In the street-side bar both people-watching and martinis are top-shelf. The popular bistro is a leading sponsor of the Dining Out for Life project to fight HIV/AIDS, and it also hosts singles nights in conjunction with the Jungle Theater.

[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

5: INTERMEDIA ARTS (2822 Lyndale Ave. South; IntermediaArts. org)

Intermedia Arts doubles as a gallery (hosting provocative shows of trendsetting visual artists) and a performance venue. Its stage, leased to a variety of upstart troupes, has presented such standing-room-only hits as The Kung Fu Hamlet as well as a LGBT reading series, while the gallery often sponsors the outsider works of Vietnamese refugees or teens alienated from the system.

6: VERA'S CAFE (2901 Lyndale Ave. South; VerasCafe.com)

Double your pleasure: Vera's serves as the gayborhood's coffeehouse and meeting center, and it's also home to Query Booksellers--spell it "queer" to describe its thrust. Grab a book, a latte, or light meal and sink into the funky furnishings, or port your laptop (free Wi-Fi) to Vera's sweet patio garden aside the greenway's bike trail,

* READERS' TIPS

"Upscale condos as well as some slated for artists' housing, are rising all over this once seedy neighborhood. And developers are talking about a boutique hotel too."

--Dana Munsen, Minneapolis
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Title Annotation:GAYBORHOOD WATCH: MINNEAPOLIS
Author:Waldemar, Carla
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1U4MN
Date:Jan 29, 2008
Words:631
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