With a Valley as wonderful as ours, it’s no doubt that there are plenty of wonderful places to visit and see. Whether it’s for a casual brunch or a delectable dinner, time spent volunteering, afternoons sailing or mornings playing, the spots you’ll visit in our quaint space are ones to surely embrace. So, get on your way and visit a few of my favorite locations around the St. Croix Valley.
Lend a Helping Hand
My story with Coco’s Heart Dog Rescue (CHDR) starts a little unexpectedly. In 2019, my (now) fiancé and I took an anniversary trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in September. But our adoption story starts months before, when we saw an adorable husky litter that had just been put up for adoption on the CHDR website.
We’d been searching for a small breed, but I immediately felt drawn to one particular pup in this litter—Athena, a white husky with her tongue sticking out in her intake photo. Fast forward three months later, she’s still available for adoption—all seven siblings had already been adopted—so we made a promise that, if she was still available after our vacation, we’d put in an application. While waiting for our flight home, we decided to apply. Three days later, we’d officially adopted our first pup and renamed her Nova.
It felt like fate—we were waiting for the right dog, and she was waiting for her right owners. Now, over two years later, my journey with CHDR continues.
Director Ashley Kurtz had a childhood dog named Coco, who died when she was young—it left an impact on Kurtz, who founded CHDR in 2010. Since the inception, when its beginnings were small and dogs were being fostered with a small group, it has grown to a large-scale operation. It opened a facility in Somerset, Wisconsin, where it hosts its own veterinary clinic, office space and, hopefully one day, an animal sanctuary.
“It’s so beautiful to us because we’ve been operating in an older building [in Hudson, Wisconsin] where we had to carry dogs up the stairs, among other things,” says Molly Larson, donor and program and event coordinator. “Now, we’ll have a functional space that’s one level … It’s all really exciting for us.”
Although CHDR’s main rescue efforts go toward dogs (at the time of writing, it had over 500 dogs in rescue!), it also sees pocket pets like guinea pigs or bunnies. It’s also seen stray cats, a pot-bellied pig and, twice, mini horses. “With the new space, we want to open up and do more pocket pets,” Larson says. She notes that, though a long-term desire, the hope is to open an small-scale animal sanctuary where it could accept mini horses, goats or other animals in need.
The rescue also works with the community in providing several resources. Kids Day Camp is an annual event hosted in the summer where kids ages 3–10 learn about veterinary procedures, crafts, responsible pet ownership and more. “We’re lucky to live in an area where [responsible pet ownership] is really well known, but it is still something to teach the next generation,” Larson says. The Senior Buddies Program is another system to aid the community. Foster dogs are taken into assisted living facilities, where the residents can interact with the dogs. It also partners with the Minnesota Wild with its “Team Dogs”—the hockey team fosters one dog a year where it serves as a team dog; after 12 months, it goes to Soldier 6, where it trains to be an emotional support dog for a veteran. “It’s really cool and allows people to see the rescue dogs,” Larson says. “It’s so wonderful that people see what the dogs are capable of, even if they’re from rescue.”
Down the Rabbit Hole
Stillwater resident Dariush Moslemi says it was a date night with his wife, Sarah, in Minneapolis that prompted him to open The Velveteen Speakeasy. “We were at a then popular speakeasy, and while the place was fantastic, the service was a bit on the snooty end,” he says. “We looked at each other, and were like, ‘I think we could do this in Stillwater and make it a bit friendlier.’” Two years later, Moslemi’s speakeasy opened to the public.
The namesake comes from The Velveteen Rabbit, a children’s book from which Sarah read a passage at their wedding. “She loved the passage about no matter how worn you are or where you have been, you will be loved. And that followed our philosophy into service and accommodation,” Moslemi says. The speakeasy certainly takes this attitude seriously—the space is designed to “remove the world from you,” Moslemi says, and has special features throughout to transport you to another decade.
From the libation menu to the small bites, there’s no shortage of inspiration at The Velveteen. Marcus Clark, then head bar man, created the cocktail menu, trained the bartenders and passed the baton to Brady Plum, who now runs the bar. (Clark now helps to run Moslemi’s The Wild Hare.)
“There are so many cocktails that people love,” Moslemi says. Other favorites include the Brooklyn, a classic prohibition cocktail; the Don Corleone, a powerhouse of rich complexity; and the Bearcat Punch, a light and fruity martini without being overly sweet. “I recommend the Aviation, a Prohibition-era drink from 1916, which features Citadelle gin, crème de violette, Luxardo maraschino and lemon,” he says.
As for the small bites, Moslemi says the menu draws on years of creating at-home appetizers; many of the offerings are gluten-free and vegetarian, and all items are created in-house. “A favorite and staple on the menu are the stuffed mushrooms,” he says. “[It’s] simple, elegant, gluten-free and vegetarian.” Executive chef Jake Price leads the team at The Velveteen but also runs the food program in partnership with its neighboring restaurant, The Lumberjack.
Since its opening in 2017, The Velveteen has become a staple for date nights (how I first discovered it!), an after-hours cocktail or a simple dinner. Now, Moslemi is embarking on a new journey with his new Stillwater-based restaurant, The Wild Hare. “[It] has a polar opposite vibe, but with the backbone of service and accommodation that we instilled at The Velveteen,” he says. “… The Velveteen drew inspiration from Prohibition in the 1920s, from the style of the drinks to the décor, music and general vibe. The Wild Hare draws its vision from the 1990s without being in your face, with ’90s favorites playing in the background, album walls, graffiti and even a pay phone.” The Wild Hare, centered around food and also featuring a largely gluten-free menu, is a “casual, organic dive fusion,” Moslemi says, and is a mix of old school and new school.
So, whether it’s date night at The Velveteen or appetizers at The Wild Hare, Moslemi says it’s the environment that brings people back. “People have loved getting lost in another era, another time, right in their hometown,” he says. “And we love creating that for them. With all we have to deal with in our lives, it’s nice to be able to step away from your life, just to enjoy some food, drinks, time with friends and in a space that removes you from your world.”
The Beary Best Playspace
Growing up in neighboring Woodbury, it was evenings and weekends when we’d come to Stillwater for a bite to eat or a walk near the river—but one of my fondest memories is of one of Minnesota’s cutest public parks: Teddy Bear Park.
About 17 years ago, an anonymous local couple wanted to make a donation through a big-hearted gesture—and thus, Teddy Bear Park was born. “Overall, the park was constructed for about $5 million, with the majority of that cost covered by their donation,” says Jason Grode, park superintendent for the City of Stillwater. “The Teddy Bear Park name came from the donors, as well as the design of the park.”
Featuring varying play equipment and a climbing wall, Teddy Bear Park is fun for all—it also features an amphitheater with children’s programs, a gazebo and picnic tables, plus a two-story barn that can be reserved. “Teddy Bear Park has playgrounds and activities that are very unique compared to other parks,” Grode says. “The playground equipment is designed for younger children and includes slides, nets, tubes [and bridges].”
But it’s the larger-than-life teddy bears that give the park its namesake. From a small teddy bear holding a letter block to the large, bow-donning teddy bear holding a smaller bear, the variety of statues welcome kids into the park in an exciting manner—especially during the park’s grand opening in 2006.
The park boasts fun activities for toddlers through age 8. Grode says the activities can vary from story times to music sessions. “In the past, Teddy Bear Park has hosted several children’s programs throughout the summer at the amphitheater including music time, story tellers, jugglers, magicians, dance shows, puppet shows, zoo animals, children’s concerts [and more],” he says.
The park opens on or around April 15 of each year and is open through October 15, weather permitting. “It is estimated that thousands of visitors visit Teddy Bear Park each year when it is open,” Grode says.
Teddy Bear Park
Open 8 a.m.–8 p.m.
207 Nelson St. E., Stillwater;