What do a tornado, a Ferris wheel, and your grandma’s basement all have in common? At Can Can Wonderland’s
quirky and whimsical mini golf course, these are all themes to different golf holes. The best part? The holes are all designed and created by local artists.
Arriving at Can Can Wonderland feels a little like stepping into Willy Wonka’s Factory—only with more of a speakeasy vibe. Once you pull up to an old canning warehouse in St. Paul’s Hamline Midway neighborhood, you first enter through a big, red door. After following arrows down a secret stairwell, you arrive at a landing with two doors labeled as fire escapes. Don’t be fooled by the signage. Once you open the door, Can Can Wonderland appears and you step into a long, light-infused warehouse stretching about a quarter mile from end to end.
While the 18-hole mini-golf course is at the heart of the experience, there are also many other amusements to entertain the young and the young-at-heart. In the bar area, craft cocktail connoisseurs, Bittercube
, provide the imaginative drink menu where you’ll find everything from spiked slushies to tasteful tikis. If you’re hungry, chow down on the selection of sweet and savory noshes such as hot dogs, mini donuts or cotton candy. Not in the mood for mini golf? Explore the boardwalk of attractions, filled with vintage pinball and arcade games. There is also a black box theater that hosts a variety show every Thursday night.
“We have a house band and music acts,” explains Jennifer Pennington, CEO, Can Can Wonderland. “You never know who the acts are going to be ahead of time. Last week we had a sitar player, a drone demonstration, a guy playing the tuba with a black light shining on him and an amazing juggling duo.”
Can Can Wonderland was first imagined in 2008 after Pennington’s husband, Chris, designed a golf hole for the Walker Art Center’s artist-designed mini golf. Their friend, Kristy Atkinson, who is also Can Can’s artistic director and co-partner, was one of the original minds behind the Walker’s artist golf. Working on the project together, they all realized they had a good thing going.
“It was so fun that we wondered why we didn't do this all the time,” says Pennington. “Then it was like, how can we make a business that is self-funded and free from being reliant on grants? We really started to take the concept seriously in 2010 when we moved to St. Paul and it developed from there.”
Fast forward several years. The Penningtons and Atkinson partnered with their commercial real estate broker, Rob Clapp, to become co-founders of Can Can Wonderland. They then looked to the community to help bring the space to life as the first arts-based public benefit corporation in Minnesota.
They had a call for artists, which received over 200 submissions, including entries from students whose teachers incorporated the project as part of their course curriculum. Two of the students’ submissions even made it into the final golf course.
After a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign
and hours of planning, design, and coordination, the amusement space is now officially open to the public. Go grab a slushie and get your golf on.