Stadium Journey: Minnesota's Williams Arena (a.k.a. The Barn)

Paul SwaneySenior Analyst IDecember 16, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  The Minnesota Golden Gophers mascot Goldy entertains the fans during a break in the 76 Classic game between Texas A&M and Minnesota at Anaheim Convention Center on November 29, 2009 in Anaheim, California. Texas A&M defeated Minnesota 66-65.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

This review originally posted on

I love universities that are part of a major city.  It just adds an element of excitement. 

More traditional “college towns” are fun as well because of the community’s devotion to a particular school, but one of the things that makes the University of Minnesota special is its placement in Minneapolis.

When I visited Williams Arena (commonly known as “The Barn”), I had a great experience at the game, as well as getting to know the area. 

Built in 1928, and named for former football coach, Dr. Henry Williams, this has that historic feel without any of the discomfort that can come from a really old arena that hasn’t had the proper facelifts over the years.


FANFARE Score: 25 (out of 35)

F ood & Beverage: 3 (out of 5)

The food available at Williams Arena is better than most, but not anything that is going to blow you away.  Traditional favorites like soft pretzels, nachos, and hot dogs can be found.  Concession stands also includes offerings from familiar brands Subway and Papa John’s.

As always, a key for me is whether they offer souvenir cups for your drink, and they do, so there’s your chance for an inexpensive keepsake while you are getting your refreshments.


A tmosphere: 4

I visited Williams Arena on a cold day, and arrived before they opened the gates. However, I was happy to find that I was able to wait indoors before they opened the main entry.

The arena looks small both outside and inside, and the intimate feel was accentuated by the fact that I had very good seats- sixth row behind the opponent’s bench.

I became quick friends with Rod, a season ticket holder and Minnesota alum who was interested in my trip after I assured him that I was good luck for his beloved Gophers (I had just a week or so before witnessed them break a long losing streak in Madison, defeating Wisconsin).

Seeing as how Minnesota had not beaten Illinois in 12 years, he was willing to take on a little good luck from a stranger.

The most interesting feature of Williams Arena is the raised floor, and I mean, it’s really raised. It adds to the feeling of closeness and makes it a great place to see a game.


N eighborhood: 5

I arrived at my hotel at the Seven Corners of Minneapolis: about a mile and half of walking to get to Williams Arena.  I decided to make my way around the corners by stopping at several bars for food and drink.

I began at the Town Hall Brewery and ordered their beer sampler and an order of fried green beans. I figure anytime you can feel healthy and get fried foods, then that’s the way to go.

The beer was good (especially the Masala Mama IPA), the beans okay, and the service far less than spectacular in this slightly uppity brewpub.

Pretty good crowd for 2 p.m. so that must mean there’s something worthwhile there, so maybe I just missed it. In any case, it’s always worth trying local beers.

Moving counterclockwise around the corners I entered Bullwinkle’s, a dive bar that boasts having the best chili dog in town.

I didn’t try one, but I found this place to be friendly and inexpensive...seems like a fun cheap place to get your drink on. I would go back.

Next, I went to The Corner: a pretty typical sports bar. I did like the history of the area described on the menu, and the bartender was friendly (she put me “in charge” while she went out for a smoke). Again, I would recommend checking this place out.

Sgt. Preston's

Sgt. Preston's

Finally, I finished the Seven Corners tour at Sgt. Preston’s, where I had an excellent tomato and sausage bisque, followed by perfect fish and chips featuring Minnesota Walleye.

All in all, it was a great couple of hours, and although it’s a bit of a hike to Williams Arena from there, it may be a good area to consider staying if you’re going to The Barn or to the Metrodome.

I started my mile and a half walk to the arena stopping in “Dinkytown” near the main campus. I made unremarkable stops at the Library Bar and Blarney’s, typical sporty college bars.

My last stop was the Kitty Cat Klub . A comfortable bar which is supposed to have an interesting music scene (I was there too early to verify it personally).

I asked bartenders Tom and Ricky to invent a drink called the Golden Gopher in honor of the trip, and they delivered.

They placed a shot glass inside a tumbler, and filled the shot glass with jagermeister. Next came a moat of Goldschlager. It was good enough that I had another.

Bartending at the Kitty Kat Club

Bartending at the Kitty Kat Klub

F ans: 4

The energy from the student section and pep band did not stack up to my previous trips to Wisconsin and Michigan State, but would still be above average compared to other Big Ten venues.

Hopefully, the arrival of Tubby Smith, and the fact that they have a good young, deep team will help to increase the energy.

To be fair, it was also a fairly ugly game to watch as Illinois only managed to score 36 points in a game that never really felt close. In the end, Rod was happy, so I guess I was too.

Student Section Behind the Basket

Student Section Behind the Basket

A ccess: 3

Handicapped parking is available and there is wheelchair access on the east and south entrances.  Restrooms are plentiful enough to avoid major lines at halftime.


R eturn on Investment: 4

Tickets sell for $35, and for the historic feel and good sight lines, it is worth the price.  My sixth row seat was purchased second hand for a reasonable $45, a price I would gladly pay again.


E tc.: 2

Retired numbers include Kevin McHale, Mychal Thompson, Jim Brewer, and Lou Hudson. There are banners commemorating each players’ time at Minnesota.

Banners saluting Gopher Greats

Banners saluting Gopher Greats

An extra point for the raised floor, a fairly unique feature that I really like.

Have you been to Williams Arena? Are there any recommendations you think we’re missing?

Paul Swaney is the Co-Founder of Stadium Journey