Prince’s Paisley Park: In Minneapolis, everyone’s got a Prince story

Bob Dylan is a famous son of Minneapolis but the city is speckled with places to pay homage to its long-time resident Prince, thanks to his zest for local life

Prince’s eyes are everywhere at Paisley Park. As I pass the lobby – furnished with a curved reception desk dotted with bulbous black studs, a plush purple sofa and an astrological-themed purple carpet, all befitting of his aesthetic – the kohl-rimmed eyes of the late, great musician are there in mural form above the entrance to the rest of the complex.

Walking under Prince’s watchful eyes is a powerful thing – a rite of passage, an invisible baptism of sorts. As I step through, the energy shifts enough to send shivers up my spine.

Sure enough, the air is different in the next room, the atrium: I’m getting hints of creativity, notes of fun, but more than anything else, an air of vivacity.

The atrium is reportedly Prince’s favourite room in the facility he built in 1987. It contains choice elements of his life’s pleasures. The centre is a marble-tiled floor, where, before he died on April 21st, 2016 aged 57, guests would dance the night away. Small rooms and alcoves around it are laden with memorabilia of specific albums. The Little Kitchen is a diner-style space where he’d watch sports or fix up some pancakes. And on the walls, endless frames of his successes, with a sextuple platinum disc for Purple Rain taking pride of place – today it stands at more than 13x platinum, making it one of the bestselling albums of all time.


After his death, the complex – also the site of four studios, two performance spaces and his living quarters – quickly evolved into a museum. Plans were afoot anyway, and much of this guided tour (the only way to look around Paisley Park) was crafted how he envisioned it.

Prince’s ashes were displayed here in the atrium too, but were reportedly removed in 2019 because it made visitors too emotional and sad. To this fan, it felt like denying us a physical focus of our grief. But standing on the dance floor as the blue skies of this Minnesota spring day floods down through the skylight, enveloped in a positive energy, surrounded by the all good stuff in Prince’s life, it feels like the right choice. Paisley Park should be a celebration of this thing called life.

I’ve been a convert since his legendary concert at Malahide Castle in 2011. As a fairweather fan who only knew his singles, I sloped in on that grey afternoon apprehensive about his famously elongated sets – my attention span tires after an hour of even my favourite bands. But I was spellbound from the opening chords. Taken in by the wild new energy of these familiar songs.

Prince brazenly crammed most of the tunes I knew into one medley, and I didn’t mind one bit. “I got too many hits!” he screeched by way of apology. “I got too many hits!”

The pilgrimage from Dublin to Paisley Park is made easier with the launch of direct flights to Minneapolis St Paul. Both Aer Lingus and Delta are rebooting their pre-Covid flights, linking the two HQ-heavy cities. So while that means some jostling for business-class seats, there’s plenty of space for Prince pilgrims.

Minneapolis is an endearing base to pay tribute to the legend. As a midsized city, it doesn’t have the sprawl of New York or the traffic jams of LA; instead it trades on showcasing an authentic slice of American life, dressed up in glassy skyscrapers that speak of a city on the incline – but turn a corner and you’ll find it next to an old brick warehouse, or a turreted Bohemian-style building, or a repurposed mill if it’s along the Mississippi river.

For everyday visitors, it’s best known for the Mall of America in Bloomington. It’s the largest mall in the US: a teenager’s paradise, with a Nickelodeon theme park offering thrills and spills at its centre, scores of shops such as Nordstrom and Macy’s, and attractions such as the FlyOver America simulation.

Bob Dylan is a famous son of Minneapolis – he lived here in his teenage years, and later co-owned the Orpheum Theatre, one of the main venues for touring Broadway productions. But no one holds a place in Minneapolis’s heart like its long-time resident Prince. The city is speckled with places to pay homage, thanks to his zest for local life.

Paisley Park lies 30 minutes outside of the city, in a nondescript building that looks like it’s a paper storage facility. Only the Love symbol sign, erected in 2020, reveals that it’s the hallowed site of rock’n’roll history.

Within Minneapolis’s centre, my first stop is the concert venue of First Avenue. Fans will recognise both the exterior and interior from Purple Rain, Prince’s Oscar-winning 1984 musical drama. Follow its wall of stars who’ve graced the stage – Nirvana, Björk, Jeff Buckley, Coldplay, plus one for George Floyd, whose murder in Minneapolis sparked the Black Lives Matter movement – and Prince’s lone gold star shines brightly at the end.

Across the street, a neck-craning 100ft parking lot wall is adorned with a mural showing the Purple One in three different eras (not unlike the mural in the Hennepin District in Minneapolis that shows a young, middle-aged and older Dylan).

It quickly becomes apparent that in Minneapolis, everyone’s got a Prince story. At Electric Fetus, a giant record store with an abundant Prince vinyl collection (very little in the way of merch though – one suspects Prince’s estate polices these things with an iron grip), they’ll tell you that Prince popped in regularly, and shopped here only a week before his death.

I have a faultless meal at the bright and buzzy Spoon & Stable in the energetic locale of North Loop, where James Beard-winning owner and chef Gavin Kaysen recalls cooking for him. “Prince was a delight to cook for, the most famous ones usually are. Mick Jagger too. He came in, didn’t demand anything special, and left without fuss,” he says, while delivering a Penicillin cocktail: an impeccable balance of rum, ginger, apple cider, honey and chai spices.

Another night, I catch a blues act over dinner at Dakota Jazz Club – a busy venue where Prince often snuck in through the back door to watch bands without drawing attention to himself. He ventured there to see an act just two days before he died. A former employee told People magazine: “He came in before the show started. He moves around at his own will, it’s kind of hard to describe. He sort of floats like a butterfly when he comes into the club.”

Still, Paisley Park is the purple jewel in Minnesota’s crown. My tour continues around the labyrinthine estate, with disc-lined corridors leading to studios that lead to other corridors, dotted with plush purple and gold furnishings embellished with Prince’s aesthetic and symbol. It’s all so tastefully kitsch.

While his living quarters sadly remain out of bounds, we see the famous Studio A, a state-of-the-art recording facility that Michael Stipe called “the best studio outside of New York and LA” when REM recorded Out of Time there. We step into the expansive Purple Rain room (previously Studio C), where movie excerpts flicker on to one side of the huge room that also houses his motorbike from the film and, unassumingly in a corner, a piece that knocks me for six: a purple piano with scuff marks on the top from his dancing. The chatter of the group fades, and I can almost see his diminutive frame on it, spotlit, giving his private audience a night to remember – but more so, having a ball himself.

If the pilgrimage to Prince’s living, recording and working quarters has taught me anything, it’s that no one has a passion for anything like Prince had a passion for music. I’d already guessed that from his fabled three-hour concerts followed by surprise intimate shows – who else would choose to do that regularly? But his passion for music truly permeates Paisley Park, from the scuff marks on the piano to the keyboard-themed coving in the entrance to the Influence Wall (featuring the acts he influenced on one side of him, and a tribute to the acts who influenced him on the other).

The final part of the tour is the NPG Music Club, the club of Paisley Park where his band the New Power Generation and others would perform to a small, lucky audience. Minneapolitans will tell you, if you knew the right person, you might have got a heads-up when Prince was planning to join them. But even on days when he wasn’t playing, he was known to come down from his living quarters and watch the revelry from the shadows – just as in Dakota Jazz Club.

It became such a feature of Paisley Park that upon taking a (velvet, purple) booth seat in the NPG Music Club, I notice a curious addition to the mural of 2001′s The Rainbow Children album cover behind me. At the very edge of the Afrocentric painting of an all-female band is a shadowy figure of Prince, painted in the same style, lurking in plain sight. Of course he is. As if we needed reminding, at Paisley Park, Prince’s eyes are everywhere, just watching.

Aer Lingus and Delta Air Lines fly direct between Dublin and Minneapolis St Paul. See for more information on what to do in Minnesota. Shilpa Ganatra was a guest of Explore Minnesota.