Red Wing, MN, USA ~ St. James Hotel

August 2021

The St. James Hotel

Labor Day Weekend 2021. It’s still the pandemic. We’re in the Twin Cities but desperately looking for something that will get us out our COVID routine for a night, and Red Wing was one of the few towns within a short drive that we hadn’t visited for an overnight stay. What’s more, a few friends had recommended the St. James as a classic historic hotel in a Minnesota river town.

When we made the booking, we chose the most expensive room available, with a note that it wasn’t very expensive. We just wanted the best experience and, mistakenly in this case, equated room rates with experience. Lesson learned. (More on that in a moment.)

Heading south down the Mississippi

Red Wing from Barn Bluff

The hour-long drive from St. Paul to Red Wing is lovely. We chose a route as close to the Mississippi River as possible, which took us right by the Treasure Island Casino, a local landmark we had never actually seen. Not being gamblers but with $12 in our wallet, we decided to go for broke. Five minutes later, that adventure was over, and we continued on to Red Wing through the scenic river valley.

We arrived prior to check-in and explored the town, which has a big dose of civic pride. After a few hours, a visit to the Red Wing Shoe store, some ice cream, an art gallery exhibition, the ski jumping museum, and a drink at the hotel rooftop bar, we were ready to check into our junior suite.

St James Hotel: old versus new

The St. James was built in 1874 and is a “historic hotel of America,” in company with properties like the The Plaza in New York City, The Mayflower in Washington DC, the Palmer House in Chicago, and the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. We thought it was pretty neat that Red Wing with a population of 16,000 people could claim a hotel in this company. Today the hotel is owned by the Red Wing Shoe Company, and it seems to be doing a good business. On the night we stayed, the hotel was entirely booked.

The St James has an old wing and a new wing, something we learned when we got there and did some exploring. Our room was in the new wing (we’re guessing circa 1970’s), and while it perfectly acceptable, it felt like a modern room trying to be something from the 1870s. The front desk staffer told us that all of the rooms are different and appointed with the same amenities and furnishings, but she also admitted that the historic wing is her preference — specifically Room 402, which we will ask for next time we visit.

A room without a view

The St. James resides on the charming Main Street in Red Wing, so rooms that look out the front have that view. Rooms toward the back face the Mississippi River. Somehow we managed to get the room with a smallish window and a view to the brick wall of the building next door. This wasn’t a big deal — one of our very favorite hotels in New York City offers similar views — but it did seem a little claustrophobic in this setting with the small window and low ceiling, and on a beautiful sunny day in early-September.

The room itself was spacious with a king bed, seating area, fireplace, wet bar, and an oversized bathroom with a shower and jetted tub. (We were in an ADA room so weren’t sure if the bathroom size was an ADA accommodation or typical for that room style). Everything was clean and well-maintained, and the bed was comfy. We could picture spending a few nights in this room during a Minnesota winter when the sun is scarce and a fireplace is most welcome.

The place to be in Red Wing

Downtown Red Wing offered more than we expected, and the St. James was definitely the center of activity. There seemed to be a bustle about the place that made you feel like you were in the right spot. We had a drink at the rooftop bar in the afternoon and then ate dinner in the accompanying restaurant, Scarlet Kitchen and Bar, later in the evening. In fact, we couldn’t get a booking until 8:30 pm, which is pretty cosmopolitan for a small Midwestern river town. While the bar and restaurant were short-staffed — so typical of service industries during the pandemic — the hard-working staff more than exceeded our expectations.

Stay details:

  • St. James Hotel on Main Street in Red Wing
  • Our stay: 1 night — September 5, 2021
  • Room: Junior suite

What we did, where we ate:

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