Rochester--From a national perspective, Rochester is known as the home of the renowned Mayo Clinic, but after spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the city, I can tell you Rochester has plenty to offer outside of being a place to go when you’re sick.

Downtown is eminently walkable, including myriad skyways to protect individuals from the cold in winter, and the Christmas decorations were pretty. Rochester also boasts a thriving art scene, a woman who was born and raised there told me when I spoke with her very late on Christmas Eve, and there’s lots of history, too, with a variety of historically-preserved spots I personally viewed. There are also a plethora of bars, restaurants, and shops well within shouting distance of the centrally-located Mayo Clinic--which itself is awfully impressive. As I strolled around, there was enough snow on the ground to know it was Christmas, but it was also warm enough I didn’t lose feeling in my extremities.

My brief adventure began auspiciously in the hotel-booking stage. As always, I searched hotels on the myriad of online booking sites, and I settled on a Wyndham; I’ve stayed in Wyndham’s, they’re satisfactory, and they are much nicer than their rates suggest. However, as I tried to book, the website told me no rooms were available! There must be some mistake, I thought. I tried again. Same error message. I figured it must be an issue with that website; alas, all the others also had the same message: there’s no room for you at this inn on Christmas Eve.

Well, I wasn’t amenable to the exorbitant prices on the other hotels, and the only cheap rates were the sorts of hotels where “Law & Order” cops find junkies dead in bathrooms, so I was in a pickle. What to do? Then I remembered I’d snagged a sublime Marriott in San Diego for a great rate years ago through Hotwire, but I hadn’t used it since. Why? Well, their gimmick is they don’t actually tell you which hotel you’re booking until you pony up the money. Oh, sure, they tell you roughly where it is, amenities, and customer reviews, but the actual hotel name remains a mystery. Still, without anywhere else to turn, I took the plunge, and landed spectacularly. Though I was unfamiliar with the Kahler Inn and Suites, rates on the Greek chorus of hotel booking sites were $125-$130 per night, so I figured it has to be alright, and Hotwire gave it to me for $75. That’s serious savings--more money for Christmas shopping by day and the watering holes at night.

In addition, my hotel was easy to locate, situated right next to the Mayo Clinic--and if you can’t find the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, you’ve got more problems than can be helped. It was also in the middle of all the bars and restaurants. Of course, it being Christmas Eve, many closed early or never opened, so I had to conduct a hard-target search, like Tommy Lee Jones hunting a fugitive, of each bar and restaurant within a mile of my hotel to ascertain which were open--and for how long. Cheers to the wine bar inside one of the downtown hotels, open until 9 p.m., and especially to The Half Barrel, which stayed open until 1 a.m. They were rewarded with a swollen crowd of hungry and thirsty patrons who had nowhere else to turn. Boos to all the other establishments that were closed; they cost themselves business by funnelling everyone to the few open spots, like The Half Barrel.

The Apache Mall was indeed packed Christmas Eve, but not as frenetic as I expected. I thought it would be like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, but it didn’t feel much different than any other day, except for the constant Christmas music. I was mildly disappointed in the mall; it wasn’t as big as I assumed, and the only legs up it has on the Mankato mall are a Macy’s and an Express. Still, I managed to procure some small items for a few people on my Christmas list, but nothing for myself, which of course put me in a foul mood--nothing that a few cocktails couldn’t ameliorate, however.

(One other problem at the mall was the sheer number of folks ambling along with their eyes buried in their phone screens; these people are a plague on society! They are genuinely dangerous, as they walk into others and stop right in front of foot traffic. Naked people could’ve been hanging from the light fixtures on the mall ceiling tossing down $20 bills, and none of these dopes would’ve noticed.)

In the wine bar later that night some customer ordered a milkshake--I thought people only ordered milkshakes at 1950s drive-ins, or, you know, during the warmth of summer--but, anyway, the bartender had superfluous materials after making it, so she offered the rest to some of us sitting at the bar. I replied, half in jest, “No, but if you make it into a mudslide, I’ll drink it.” Well, a few minutes later, she asked me, “Is it Bailey’s for a mudslide?” I said, “That milkshake already is pretty viscous, so Kahlua would be better, to help thin it out a little bit.” Sure enough, the half-dozen of us at the bar each got a free mudslide shot out of my off-hand comment, and I became a hero to my fellow elbow-benders--for a few moments, at least.

Floating on the clouds of my triumph, I moseyed over to the last open spot in my personal grid, making Christmas well-wish phone calls along the way, naturally. I was able to stay even after the official closing time of 1 a.m., too, as the small group of people I had somehow ingratiated myself with happened to be personally friendly with one of the bartenders, so he allowed us to stay until nearly 2 a.m., finishing our rounds.

The next morning, Christmas Day, I was able to utilize one of Rochester’s three movie theaters to see “The Big Short.”

I imagine Rochester is all the more exciting when all the downtown spots are open, but I was at least able to gain a sense on Christmas Eve. Those looking for a day-trip or long weekend somewhere relatively close--Rochester is only two hours from St. James by car--should keep the city in mind, as it’s much more than only a hospital.

Ryan Anderson can be reached at and followed on Twitter @randerson_ryan