March 31, 2006
The New York Times
By LARRY FRIEDMAN
ST. Louis has undergone a remarkable transformation since 1972, when the spectacular demolition of its high-rise Pruitt-Igoe housing project became an indelible symbol of urban decline. Young professionals drawn to new biotech and medical research industries, as well as a new wave of immigrants from places like Bosnia, are bringing new life to neighborhoods that last thrived a century ago. New loft districts, old civic jewels and revitalized night life are making the old refrain of "Meet Me in St. Louis" a welcome phrase again.
1) Gateway to the West
A certain type of New Yorker never goes to the top of the Empire State Building, but most St. Louisans are not so jaded about the Gateway Arch (314-655-1700), the stainless-steel structure designed by Eero Saarinen as a monument to westward expansion. A four-minute tram ride takes you to the top for 30-mile panoramic views across the Mississippi (and some unsettling questions about what exactly is holding you 630 feet up). The view on the city side looks down on the Old Courthouse, where slaves were once auctioned and Dred and Harriet Scott began their legal fight for emancipation. While waiting for your tram to the top of the arch, visit the museum below, which tells the story of the pre-expansion West, the Lewis and Clark expedition (which began a few miles upriver) and the settlement of the Louisiana Purchase territories.
2) Lofts and Fusion Food
Head north through downtown streets and the city's rich past, from steamboat-era levees and warehouses that Mark Twain would have recognized to the venerable Tums factory. Washington Avenue, lined with buildings that once housed much of the nation's shoe industry, is now the center of a thriving loft district. One of the neighborhood's favorite dining spots is the Red Moon restaurant (1500 St. Charles Street, 314-436-9700), on the ground floor of a terra-cotta loft building and complete with high ceilings, a large open kitchen and a long bustling bar. The pan-Asian-French fusion menu draws a crowd of neighborhood artists, young professionals and gastronomes for specialties like tamarind-glazed whole snapper, pork osso buco and Thai beef sashimi with arugula and mint salad (entrees $13 to $28).
3) Postmodern Funhouse
The artist Bob Cassilly spearheaded the metamorphosis of an old International Shoe Company factory into the City Museum (701 North 15th Street, 314-231-2489; admission $12), an idiosyncratic and constantly changing collection of found art like MonstroCity, where kids clamber over old airplane fuselages. At night (until 1 a.m. on weekends), the museum is illuminated by candlelight and draws crowds to features like the Museum of Mirth, Mystery and Mayhem, which reimagines the carnival midways of old. Check out the Corn Dogs Through the Ages exhibition and the Elvis Channeler, which does exactly what the name suggests.
4) Nectar Nightcap
The trendiest spot in St. Louis might just be the Nectar Lounge (2001 Locust Street, 314-588-0055), below. Don't even think of walking into this ultrahip boîte wearing denim or any other unironic attire. Stay late enough and you may spot a local celebrity like Nelly, the rapper and St. Louisan, at the long center bar while you sip the signature fruit- and nectar-based cocktails.
5) Saturday in the Park
Forest Park, opened in 1876 and site of the 1904 World's Fair, is one of the nation's premier urban parks. Its 1,300-acre layout, originally designed by the city's parks commissioner, Maximilian Kern, is substantially larger than Central Park. Statues abound in Forest Park: King Louis IX of France — the eponymous St. Louis — has a place of honor on Art Hill, and unbeknownst to many locals, a 23-foot Confederate memorial erected in 1914 by the Ladies Confederate Monument Association is tucked away elsewhere. The St. Louis Zoo (1 Government Drive, 314-781-0900, free), made famous by its former director Marlin Perkins, features a walk-through wrought-iron birdcage, built for the 1904 World's Fair and filled with dozens of native avian species. The St. Louis Art Museum (1 Fine Arts Drive, 314-721-0072; free), designed by Cass Gilbert, is known for its pre-Columbian and German expressionist holdings. Or just glide through the park's lakes and lagoons on a paddleboat or rowboat rented at the Boathouse (6101 Government Drive, 314-367-3423; $15 an hour); you can also have lunch there ($10 to $15 a person).
6) North Side Confections
North St. Louis has seen better days, but its reputation as a no-go zone is undeserved. One standout is Crown Candy Kitchen (1401 St. Louis Avenue, 314-621-9650), which draws customers from far beyond its dilapidated neighborhood of 19th-century row houses. Owned by the same family since 1913 (and with equally unchanging décor), Crown Candy offers homemade ice cream cones and sundaes. The 24-ounce shakes and malts ($3.55 to $4; if you can drink five in 30 minutes, they're free) are served in the tall metal canisters in which they were mixed; you pour them into the old-fashioned curved glass yourself. At Christmas, Easter and Valentine's Day, lines are out the door for homemade chocolates and other candies.
7) This Tour's for You
The giant Budweiser sign at 12th and Lynch Streets marks the headquarters of Anheuser-Busch Companies (314-577-2626). The oldest buildings on the 100-acre grounds go back 150 years, and the brewery is still among America's largest. Tours leave frequently, last about an hour and offer a close-up look at large-scale brewing and, of course, the Clydesdale horses. Visitors over 21 can also sample the brewery's finished products in the Hospitality Room. (Last tour leaves at 5 p.m. in the summer, 4 p.m. other times; all tours are free.)
8) Sarajevo on the Mississippi
The South Side streets adjacent to the Anheuser-Busch brewery have always been polyglot. German, Irish and Italian immigrants have given way to Thais, Mexicans and Bosnians. In fact, this is one of the country's largest Bosnian neighborhoods, and Grbic Restaurant (4701 Keokuk Street, 314-772-3100; entrees $12 to $30) is a local institution. The Grbic family redesigned an old brick dairy to resemble a southern European hearth kitchen with a large fireplace and antiques on the walls. Try the goulash, cauliflower schnitzel, stuffed cabbage and shashlik. Leave room for palacinke, a Bosnian crepe confection with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.
9) Duck Walk on the Wild Side
The rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry electrified the world with songs like "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Back in the U.S.A.," but St. Louisans were more impressed that his lyrics usually mentioned his hometown. Mr. Berry is still going strong at 79 and performs one Wednesday a month at Blueberry Hill (6504 Delmar Boulevard, 314-727-4444); you might be lucky and catch an impromptu cameo on Saturday night when other local and national acts perform. The sidewalks of the surrounding Delmar Loop bar and nightclub district are dotted with "Walk of Fame" plaques honoring St. Louisans like T. S. Eliot, William Burroughs, Tennessee Williams, Redd Foxx, Masters & Johnson and Josephine Baker.
10) Flour and Flowers
Get some of St. Louis's best doughnuts at World's Fair Doughnuts (1904 South Vandeventer Avenue, 314-776-9975), where Terry Clanton turns out a variety of classic glazed and cake doughnuts (try the buttermilk ones, 47 cents each) while you watch; his wife, Peggy, helps out and works the counter. Then head around the corner to the Missouri Botanical Garden (4344 Shaw Boulevard, 314-577-9400; $8, free for children under 13). The gardens were originally the country estate of an English immigrant, Henry Shaw, who turned it into a public garden in 1859. It has since become a world leader in plant science, biodiversity and conservation. The 79 acres include Shaw's original home, a Japanese garden and an indoor conservatory for rare tropical trees and plants.
11) An Ikette's Banquettes
Robbie Montgomery, above right, was an Ikette with Ike and Tina Turner and sang backup for the Supremes and the Rolling Stones. She came home 10 years ago to open Sweetie Pie's in suburban Dellwood. A second location at 4270 Manchester Avenue (314-371-0304, $8 to $15 a person), features a friendly staff, Southern-style décor, gospel music on the stereo and soul-food classics like pork steak with gravy, ribs, chicken, sweet potatoes and peach cobbler.
Lambert-St. Louis International Airport is 20 minutes by cab from downtown St. Louis. You can also take the MetroLink light rail system, which stops near Forest Park and the Delmar Loop; other areas are best reached by car.
The classic Chase Park Plaza hotel (212 North Kingshighway Boulevard, 314-633-3000; www.chaseparkplaza.com), near Gilded Age mansions in the Central West End, offers great park and skyline views that come at a price: $250 and up for most rooms.
The Hyatt Regency St. Louis at Union Station (1 St. Louis Union Station, 314-231-1234; www.stlouis.hyatt.com; $109 and up), is within a renovated train station that is now a shopping and restaurant venue; the old vaulted waiting room is the hotel's lobby and a great place for a drink.
If you want to stay downtown, try the Omni Majestic Hotel (1019 Pine Street, 314-436-2355; www.omnimajestic.com), in a restored landmark building with period touches like mahogany woodwork; rooms start at $129.
From The New York Times on the Web (c) The New York Times Company. Reprinted with Permission.