Traveling can be like a first date. Some cities you know will be instantly charming and exciting — San Francisco, Charleston, London, for instance. Others take a little more time to realize that the city — or person — is quietly multi-faceted, deep, quirky, surprising and fun. Meet St. Louis.
St. Louis is best known for the three “B’s” — beer, blues and barbecue. And, when one is on a quest for the three B’s, you’ll discover a whole lot more — a whole alphabet of fun and culture. St. Louis is an old-fashioned city in the best sense of the word. Neighborhoods and buildings reflect its diverse heritage with French, German and Spanish influences in the homes, buildings and restaurants.
This is a city that is grounded in its heritage but looking forward to an exploding renaissance as new industries come into town, and perhaps more important, new residents moving back attracted by a vibrant lifestyle enhanced by a relatively low cost of living. Throughout our travels people told us of friends and relatives returning and moving into the beautiful 1890 and early 1900 buildings that are being converted into condos and apartments that would be out of their budget elsewhere.
A fine example of the city maximizing the beautiful buildings was our hotel, the Hotel Saint Louis, an 1893 Union Trust Co. structure that was largely vacant since 2013 and recently opened its doors. The building was bought and lovingly restored, complete with stained glass windows, intricate ironwork staircases and crown molding that makes one marvel at the original craftsmanship and the restoration. The rooms are spacious, impeccably decorated (complete with photograph and real records) with a staff dedicated to hospitality and service. And, we loved the nightly cocktail beverage dispenser in the lobby.
Old Fashioned Charm
St. Louis’ charm comes out simply by walking the city and its distinct neighborhoods, many of which still belie their ethnic roots. There are Italian, German, French and Irish neighborhoods as well as Serbian, Vietnamese and Greek influences throughout the city. Turn a corner and you can find a delightful Italian restaurant that has made its sausages by hand since the early 1920s, while a block or two away will be a new entry onto the culinary scene with a Peruvian eatery.
Don’t forget to stop at Ted Drewes, a family owned frozen custard company founded in 1929, or Clementine’s Creamery, which brings the notion of ice cream to a new level of heaven. The ice cream is made with 100 percent natural ingredients and, if that’s not enough, 16 to 18 percent is butterfat. Clementine’s says its ice cream is “naughty and nice.” The “nice” side features family-friendly flavors such as Gooey Butter Cake and Gingerbread Love. The “naughty side” features menu items such as Manhattan, Fig & Bourbon and a B- 52 with Kahlua, Irish cream and Grand Marnier, and, since this is the home of Anheuser-Busch, a Chocolate Milk Stout. (Note: they ship.)
We also went back in time to Pin-Up Bowling on Delmar Street, an intimate alley with a whole flea market worth of 1940’s bowling and pin-up knick-knacks that are as amusing as (some) are sexist The alley, which dubs itself the “original bowling and martini bar,” only has eight lanes but lots of beer. Remember we mentioned cost of living? Bowling costs (depending on the time) costs $3.50 to $5 a game. Another find was Dapper Gents Grooming Lounge, a delightful barbershop/grooming salon with niche men’s grooming products, including The Beardly Man, an organic St. Louis line.
In fact, the Delmar Loop is a perfect analogy for the city and its charm. It has beautiful restored architecture, many from the Art Deco area, a variety of boutiques such as a women’s shoe bar, men’s tuxedo shop (so many varieties, it seems), a record shop and vintage clothing stores as well as Italian pastry shops, barbecue, Indian, Asian, tacos, gyros and, our favorite named restaurant, the Wacked Out Weiner. But the biggest attraction is Blueberry Hill, a music venue and restaurant named after the city’s favorite native son, Chuck Berry. Live music first came to Blueberry Hill in 1972, in 1997, they carved out the Duck Room, where 340-person could listen to the best of the blues. The legend himself, Chuck Berry, played over 200 consecutive monthly concerts here and Berry’s spirt is still there. His star on the St. Louis Hall of Fame is right outside on the sidewalk and near others including Phyllis Diller, Nelly, Yogi Berra, Tina Turner, Tennessee Williams and Jon Hamm.
Museums Tell the Story
St. Louis has a rich history and has a myriad of museums that are entertaining, enriching and educational. The Saint Louis Science Center boasts the James S. McDonnell Planetarium and more than 700 hands-on exhibits, while the Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum is aptly named. The zoo allow visitors up close to more than 16,000 animals representing 600 species. You can learn about birds at the Audubon Center at Riverlands; plants and flowers at the Missouri Botanical Garden; butterflies at the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House; motorcycles at the Moto Museum; rare and classic cars, boats, aircraft and locomotives at the National Museum of Transportation, and rockets at the Challenging Learning Center.
Perhaps the most unusual museum is the City Museum, an enormous creative playground of recycle materials where children are free to have their way and let their creative minds — and energy — go wild. The Museum at the Gateway Arch and the Missouri History Museum allow the area’s history to unfold, including such black marks as the Dred Scott case, the Missouri Compromise, and segregation.
The 3 B’s, Plus 1
St. Louis is most famous for the three B’s — Blues, Beer and Barbecue, and that’s a legacy we can endorse! While the city has a diverse music scene, it is firmly rooted in the blues. A treasured memory is eating outside and listening to a young man wail away on his guitar while random passerbys stop and provide a back beat with their hands. That’s real. The Blues Museum is a must-stop in order to see its origins, its masters, such as B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Big Mama Thornton, and those who were influenced by the Blues, including the Rolling Stones, the Animals and the Allman Brothers. Three times a week there are free blues concerts.
The second B is beer and while Anheuser-Busch is home to Budweiser and Bud Light (the country’s best selling beer), but it is also home to more than 50 craft breweries, which brew more than 143,000 barrels a year. The AB tour is fun and free. Founded in 1852 by German immigrants, Anheuser-Busch is one of the largest and oldest breweries in the nation. Peppy tour guides discuss the process from the ingredients to the bottling and how the brewery revved up and threw a massive party to celebrate the end of Prohibition. Of course the tour’s highlight (not counting the the coupons for two free glasses of beer), is a visit with the Clydesdales. The Clydesdales were actually a marketing tool to celebrate the end of Prohibition and the horses were sent to New York to thank former New York Governor Alfred E. Smith for his efforts to end the restrictive law. Interestingly, to ensure an uniform look, the company breeds the horses in nearby Boonville.
They love their beer so much in this city they even drink it with breakfast. At Union30, the Hotel Saint Louis’ signature restaurant, each dish is paired with a craft beer on tap. For instance, a chicken sausage egg white sandwich can be ordered with a Pilsner while a version of Eggs Benedict can be ordered with a 15 IPA. Finally, barbecue. We went to two barbecue restaurants, downtown’s Sugarfire and Salt + Smoke on Delmar. Both featured incredibly tender meats with barbecue sauces that generally didn’t have a smoky taste. In both, the brisket and ribs topped the list of excellence.
And, we’ll add a fourth B. The St. Louis Blues hockey team provides a fast-pace sports experience that gets the heart beating with every hit against the boards or a slap shot to the net. St. Louis is a town that needs to be explored slowly. There is so much to take in with each block, each neighborhood. But no matter what you do, you’ll find an experienced unmatched in the richness of the culture, the sound of the blues and people sitting around drinking beer and enjoying a meal. So, the next time you’re looking for a terrific place for a family trip or a girls getaway, there’s only one thing to say: Meet me in St. Louis!