U.S. Bank Stadium: Athletics meets art meets Vikings

muralA 17-inch December blizzard tore the puffy roof of the Minneapolis Metrodome in 2010, and three years later the Teflon-coated dome would collapse for the fifth and last time. It was hard to feel much sorrow for the loss in Packerland.

The bubble of a sports stadium, open since 1982, smelled like sweaty gym socks and sounded like an over-amplified echo chamber. Subpar lighting made it easy to lose track of the ball in play. Nosebleed seats should have come with binoculars.

Friends referred to the annoying arena – named after Hubert H. Humphrey, the late U.S. vice president – as the “Hump Dome.” Hard to believe it was the only venue to host a Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, MLB All-Star Game and World Series.

That was then. This is now: The Minnesota Vikings’ first home game of the NFL season, against Green Bay on Sept. 18, happens in the new U.S. Bank Stadium. The $1 billion architectural marvel already is deemed grand enough to host the 2018 Super Bowl and 2019 Final Four.

The structure’s design challenges common presumptions about sports arenas, particularly enclosed ones. This is where athletics and artistry harmonize. There is no retractable roof, but the sun shines in.

Outside on a three-acre plaza is the 160-foot-long Legacy Ship, resembling a Viking-era vessel, with a curved mast that doubles as a humongous video board, standing 55 feet above ground.

Inside the nearly 30-story-tall and seven-level structure are 50 commissioned works by Minnesota artists, oils and watercolors about regional history to unique Viking shields and helmets. Former Vikings Carl Eller and Matt Blair contribute pottery and photography, respectively.

Also in the collection is a series of enlarged, hand-drawn football trading cards, a hand-painted and cartoonish floor-to-ceiling mural, and a “Purple Rain” tribute to native son Prince, the pop star who died in April (the life-sized portrait weaves in song lyrics).

Each of six club seating areas has a unique design. In Mystic Lake’s Club Purple are five levels of cushy purple couches instead of stadium seats, plus an outdoor deck with a city skyline view. In the Delta Sky360 Club is field-level seating behind the home team’s bench. It is next to the Vikings locker room, and players pass through the club on their way to and from the field.

“Everything was designed for the game day experience,” says Sue Arcand of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which owns and operates the stadium.

The interactive Vikings Voyage, accessible to any ticketholder, tells team history and highlights. Put on a helmet to enter a world of virtual reality and catch a pass or hit a tackling sled. Sit on the team bench with life-sized statues of the Purple People Eaters – the defensive line of Eller, Jim Marshall, Alan Page and Gary Larsen, who all went to the Pro Bowl in 1969.

Then there’s the food, the beginning of a Midwest revolution for stadium noshing. I compare it to the surge of change that airport food has undergone.

Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel, a Minnesota native, got his hands on U.S. Bank Stadium menus, to curate offerings and add his name to a couple of food kiosks in a partnership with Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable restaurant. Both chefs are James Beard Award winners.

“Food has become such an integral part of the overall stadium experience and fans’ food sensibilities have changed, due to the advent of cooking shows and magazines, that it’s important for us to stay on trend and provide offerings that are fresh, local and innovative,” says David Freireich of Aramark, a nationwide provider of food services at major sports venues.

More than one dozen Minnesota restaurants and other businesses are involved with expanding stadium food diversity. Sausage providers include Kramarczuk’s, a nearby Polish butcher and baker whose deli began business in 1954.

You’ll find rotisserie lamb by the bucket, starting at $15 for one-half pound, and 600 pounds were sold by halftime during an international soccer game last month. At Fire and Rice, Thai chicken curry is an option, but so is brat and cheese curd fried rice for $10.

Twin Cities Foodie sells lemongrass chicken meatballs for $10. A State Fair concession sells cinnamon rolls and beer-battered bacon cheese curds (from Ellsworth Creamery in Wisconsin). Revival Chicken, a passionate favorite with the locals, offers two pieces with slaw for $16 and hot cheddar pork rinds for $7.

That’s just the beginning, and offerings are subject to change.

The bad news? Stadium tours are hot, so hot that tickets are unavailable until at least November, but no tours happen for 48 hours before an NFL game anyway, for security reasons.

Add Sue Arcand’s opinion that “you can’t buy a ticket to the Green Bay game to save your soul,” even though capacity has increased slightly, from around 64,000 to 66,000 (expandable to 72,000 for special events).

The good news? A light rail line stops at the stadium, which eliminates parking hassles. Park as far away as Mall of America and ride the blue line on an all-day pass that costs $4.50 or less. The trip takes one-half hour.

Neighborhood watering holes are getting spiffed up: The old Hubert’s is reopening as Erik the Red, specializing in beer and Norske barbecue. Pizza is a specialty at the new Bar Zia cocktail lounge. It’s business as usual at Grumpy’s and Maxwell’s.

The stadium’s acoustic panels and speakers already have been adjusted to refine sound quality. And the roof? It’s made of a thick, slippery and translucent material with airpockets that make it “as bouncy as a trampoline,” says Elizabeth Brady of the MSFA.

That means more resilience than the Metrodome and the ability to melt rooftop snow. Wilderness Resort’s waterpark in Wisconsin Dells is made of the same material.

Although the stadium roof is not retractable, five glass doors – each 55 feet wide and up to 95 feet tall – can be raised in eight minutes to create an open-air space that is the length of a football field.

Unlike the Metrodome, that means new possibilities for illuminating the field while staying dry during brutal Minnesota winters.

A 90-minute tour of U.S. Bank Stadium, 900 S. Fifth St., Minneapolis, costs $19 (less for children, seniors, military vets) and reservations are necessary. usbankstadium.com, 800-745-3000

Upcoming non-football events at the stadium include the Minneapolis Holiday Boutique, Nov. 11-13, tickets $12, minneapolisholidayboutique.com, 952-933-3850; and a Monster Jam truck show, Dec. 10, $15 tickets go on sale Sept. 27, monsterjam.com, 703-448-4000.

For more about what to do in the Twin Cities: minneapolis.org, 888-676-6757; visitsaintpaul.com, 800-627-6101.