“Tomi, you said you came to parties here before. How?” someone in my tour group asked from the back of the recording studio. Its wood-paneled walls were strung with instruments and amplifier cables. Tomi, our tour guide, had just invited us to pick up a worn paddle to play table tennis at a ping-pong table—one that Prince, the late Minnesotan rock star, had played on many times before.
“Um, I was a stalker,” Tomi answered.
We laughed, but as I looked around the room it was clear we all knew he wasn’t exactly kidding.
I never counted myself among the camera-toting tourists who would flock to ritzy mansions made famous solely for their celebrity owners. “Star Tours” in Los Angeles and Elvis’s Graceland in Memphis always sounded voyeuristic and unappealing to me. But that idea changed in April 2016, when Prince Rogers Nelson died at his home and studio compound, Paisley Park.
Paisley Park Tour: Prince’s Mysterious Playground
“Admission is easy, just say you believe and come to this place in your heart,” goes the 1985 song that would later share a title with Prince’s estate and studio complex in Chanhassen, Minnesota, about 30 minutes outside of Minneapolis. “Paisley Park is in your heart.”
Paisley Park tours opened to the public just six months after Prince’s death—but many of his fans had already been inside before the star’s passing. A showman of epic proportions, Prince (His Royal Badness, The Artist, The Prince of Funk, The Purple One) sometimes opened his home to fans for shows on his private soundstage and after-parties that drew all types, from Minnesotans to Madonna. That’s what our tour guide meant by “stalking.” If you kept a close enough eye on Prince, he’d invite you over himself—normally via Twitter, and most notably for pajama parties, but only if you agreed not to use your phone inside.
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Visiting Paisley Park
With that chapter of Paisley Park over, Prince’s remaining family members opened the complex the masses for daily scheduled tours (reservations required). But Paisley Park is keeping its award-plastered halls and four recording studios otherwise under-wraps: You still have to forego using your phone and any cameras when you visit. At the front door, a bodyguard locks your phone in a cloth pouch that you carry with you, rendering your electronics unusable until you exit the building. A nuisance to some people, Prince fans often appreciate the move as an opportunity to focus on the details with just your own two eyes. To others though, it might seem like a visitor-boosting ploy.
Most rooms are kept as Prince arranged them, including a few that were curated into costume displays or award exhibits by Prince himself before he died; he wanted the complex to one day be his own Graceland.
Paisley Park looks more like a business park or top-secret government building from the outside, but inside it’s a surprisingly intimate portrait of The Artist. It’s a Minneapolis travel experience appropriate for anyone who appreciates Prince’s music—or any music, really.
More Than a Mansion Tour
Paisley Park is much more than its white geometric walls let on, but it’s also more than what most probably think of when they hear “celebrity home.” Aside from the famous outfits, instruments, and awards on display, Paisley Park (like Graceland) is also its artist’s final resting place. The tour begins below Prince’s urn in the Paisley Park atrium, under a skylight that used to glow purple when he was home. Sunday VIP tours offer breakfast which includes some of Prince’s favorite foods—s’mores French toast and scrambled eggs were on the menu when I visited—prepared by his chef.
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You’ll walk through the office of a music legend situated largely as he left it, with books and framed photos on desks and shelves. You’ll snake through recording studios that have hosted other legendary artists, like Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion, and more. You’ll stand in the sound stage that hosted fans for late-night jam sessions. You’ll play ping-pong on his personal table (they say he was a table-tennis and basketball pro). You might even leave the building teary-eyed (as I was surprised to find myself) from hearing Purple Rain play while reading notes left to the late great musician in the wake of his passing.
Paisley Park is equal parts whimsy and emotion, and a place I’m sure the Prince of Funk would love you to experience in your pajamas.
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