Perhaps everyone already knows St. Louis is fun, but really–I had no idea.
The last time I was in St. Louis was many, many years ago. Granted, I was there for a trade show and didn’t have the chance to do a lot. All I remembered from that trip were two things: taking a long, hot ride in the claustrophobic room inside the Arch, and that the nice steakhouse we ate at served their salad dressing in a tiny plastic tub that required the peeling back of its top. Needless to say, I was not impressed.
Again, my recent visit to St. Louis was due to my working another trade show. And because of my memories from the last trip, I had made no sightseeing plans and had no expectations for this city.
I stayed at the Hampton Inn at Gateway Arch on Washington Ave at 4th Street, which turned out to be a great area to stay because it’s close to the arch and some great restaurants.
And speaking of restaurants, we kept returning to a couple of really good ones. The Robust Wine Bar was our first discovery. Located on Washington Ave, we tried most of the cheese and meat plates over the week just to have a reason to order their wine flights. They offer lots of great wines at reasonable prices, and the food (albeit limited) is good (but sadly no happy hour).
Our other favorite place was Sugarfire Smokehouse, again on Washington Ave. OMG. What’s not to love when your dinner is comfort food served on a big metal tray? My favorites were the ‘hand-pattied burger’ with cheese, the ribs, the tater-tot-cheese side, and the adult peanut butter chocolate bourbon milkshake. Be sure to bring Lactaid, Beano, Rolaids, high blood pressure pills, cholesterol pills, and whatever else it takes to make it through their very unhealthy, but amazing, menu. And figure out what you want before you get to the order taker or you will be a very hated person by everyone standing behind you in line. And there WILL be a line.
Not into wine bars or BBQ? Keep heading west on Washington, past the convention center, and there are lots of bars and restaurants. We just never made it that far.
You can’t go to St. Louis without seeing the Arch. We actually went twice. I needed to see if my memories of the hot, tiny cars were correct. First, we went there in the evening, but since the Arch closed at 5pm, we just wandered around, taking pictures. The Arch sits in a park which is right next to the great Mississippi (which doesn’t always smell so great).
What’s so intriguing about the Arch is it looks different from different angles and in different lights. Go and take lots of photos but at night make sure no one sneaks up on you and kills you, because it gets pretty dark and it feels a bit too desolate for this Manhattanite. Or go with a bunch of people. That’s what we did, and we didn’t dawdle too long.
But since I wanted to check out the ride in the Arch, I came back the next afternoon with one of my friends so I could see if any improvements had been made to it. Sadly, it was just as hot, slow (only 6 minutes up and 4 minutes down, but feels much longer), and claustrophobic as I remembered. On the way up, the two of us shared the space with one other person. But on the way down, we shared with three other young guys who smelled of sweat and stale beer. And the temperature inside the cell had risen to 400 Fahrenheit, or something close to that. It was the longest four minutes of my life.
On the bright side, I got some really nice panoramic photos of the city. Close your eyes, or take a Xanax if you must, but get thyself to the top of the 630-foot arch. It’s worth it!
On our final afternoon, we managed to get a couple hours to sightsee and took off south on Broadway from our hotel. Turning right on Market, we could see the Ball Park, but due to time constraints we kept walking to our first destination: Citygarden.
This is a fun little park that features whimsical statues, grassy areas, water features, real rabbits in the wild (we saw one), and a small area near the jumping water fountain where you step on metal squares to make musical sounds. (Think the keyboard from the movie, BIG, except with only 9 smaller squares, arranged in a square.)
This park would make a great rest stop, but we didn’t stay long as we had places to go.
There are a lot of beautiful, old buildings in this area for some photo stops along the way, but we had a destination in mind. Keeping on Market, we turned right on 15th Street then headed back to Washington Ave. Once we got To Washington, we turned left and then right on 16th Street. We had arrived at the best place ever: the City Museum.
The artist, Bob Cassilly, and his crew of 20 artisans started building big, hands-on sculptures from salvaged materials in a 600,000-square-foot warehouse, and it became the City Museum. It opened in 1997, and they are still adding on to it! It’s a living, breathing beast of beautiful imaginary worlds and it’s filled with whimsical bits and pieces, including airplanes, and a school bus dangling off the roof.
If you have kids, bring ’em, however they are not required. But your Inner Child is required. Make sure to stretch, and to wear your comfy shoes because enjoying this gigantic art piece requires walking up steps, crawling around, ducking, bending, sliding, as well as elbowing your way through lots of kids.
Plan on a few hours to see it all. Sadly, we only had 30 minutes to enjoy this huge art piece, so we made a mad dash to the star attraction: the 10-story slide. Though we had to walk up 10 stories to the top of the slide, and we were dizzy when we got to the bottom, it was worth it! It put a smile on our face and put us in a great mood for dinner.
And dinner turned out to be another wine flight at the Robust Wine Bar. We were in a rut. What can I say?
The other things I would have liked to see: the Botanical Gardens, the Ball Park, The Blues Museum, and the Art museum. Oh well. Next time.
The next day, before heading off for the airport, I inhaled a Sugarfire burger (one of the tastiest burgers I’ve EVER eaten), and thanked my lucky stars that not only was I leaving before my arteries exploded, but I had found so much in St. Louis to make me smile on this trip.
Thanks, St. Louis, for replacing most of my bad memories with good ones. All, except for that hot, miserable ride in the Arch. I really think you need to do something about that.