As explorers and finding ourselves precariously in the middle of nowhere-Missouri along a long straight road from Kansas City to St. Louis we instinctively make the two hour trip to the launching pad and return point of possibly two of the most famed travelers of all time — Lewis and Clark.
With a sense of flair they waited for a few hours there on the banks of the Mississippi in September of 1806. The riverbanks look very different now visible below the very seductive only-for-the-cool-club top floor bar lounge I am sitting at. After four years of trekking through uncharted wilderness, the last two years of which sustaining themselves on domesticated dog, they wanted to make sure the timing was just right.
“[…] about 12 o’clock we arrived in site of St. Louis… fired three rounds as we approached thetown […] the people gathered on the shore and huzza-ed three cheers[…] in the evening a dinner & ball” (Ordway, Sept 23 1806)
After a few more huzza’s they and the entire town ended up at William Christy’s tavern and got hammered.
This is a modern-day explorer’s dream (not the hangover part) and we went to St. Louis to relive it.
We stay at the Moonrise Hotel in the Delmar street or Delmar Loop which gets its name from the trolley that used to run there. In the 1950’s there were two or three movie theaters and every teenager in town hung out on a Friday or Saturday night. It became an area for the music cultureand spawned the likes of Chuck Barry, Miles Davis, and Tina Turner.
The Moonrise is a boutique hotel owned by this guy Joe Edwards who got out of college and started Blueberry Hill in 1972 a few blocks down that Chuck Barry still plays at. Yes, Chuck is still alive — I didn’t know that. There is a photo of Joe with Obama and every other celebrity you can think of on the walls of that place. He even has an honorary Doctorate from nearby Washington University. I am a bit jealous. Blueberry Hill is just a burger joint damn it… a doctorate?
We check in after 10 pm and make our way to the roof top bar that is very cool and eclectic. Our very beautiful waitress with a ring through the middle of her nose and tattoos over a majority of her body pointed to the fifty something nun in full habit enjoying a gin and tonic and answering a text on her iPhone.
“I went to Catholic school and I didn’t think nuns were allowed to text,” she said as she placed our drinks down on the table and walked away.
We enjoyed watching the young and older crowd on the rooftop and on the Loop below and only having a few hours sleep the night before made our way to our room.
The next morning we had breakfast at the retro Eclipse restaurant that is part of the Moonrise with a George Jetson motif and a wait staff of twenty-something bearded and bluejeans Seattle barista transplants. We have the breakfast burrito with chorizo which was very good along with a few bloody marys.
After breakfast we make our way to Washington University to check out the campus and the Kemper Art Museum designed by the award winning architect Fumihiko Maki. It’s interesting but tobe honest I don’t get it. There is a Jackson Pollock next to a 19th century portrait of Daniel Boone next to a video screen of a strip mall filmed out of a car window that I’m sure was a graduate project of some Washington University student who would have broken up the Beatles if she had the chance. Still I am dripping with sweat by the time we get there and I am purring like a kitten in front of a saucer of cream here in the very chic air conditioning.
Next we walk back and tour the Loop along Delmar Blvd. We visit Blueberry Hill, the Tivoli Theater, Pin Up Bowl and Martini Lounge, and the walk of fame.
My travel companion was eying this baby for her next gig because it matched her blue lycra jumpsuit. But she couldn’t figure out how to get it on the plane now that her band manager went back to Australia after her infamous performance in Seattle with the thousand flying trained doves that got caught in the arena’s high speed venting system which in turn dusted 10,000 fans with undistinguishable bird parts. So she opted out.
I am hot. And by hot I mean malaria infested South Asian jungle hot.
Back in Dallas and a native of California I took this yoga class and the 90 pound good looking instructor was trying to correct my preying mantas pose which consisted of standing with both legs splayed out and hands over my head.
“Pretend you have swamp crotch,” she said. “No, no! swamp crotch,” as she pulled my legs further apart in complete disregard for the tendons that held my legs to my torso.
I had no idea what she was talking about until now walking around in Saint Louis in May. Dear Lord almighty!!! I had swamp crotch!
We go indoors to the Three Kings Pub. On the wall overlooking the bar are the three kings, King Kong, Elvis, and Henry VIII. It was a great place and we talked to some of the locals to get a sense of where to go next. One of the places they suggested was the City Museum which is this huge adult (and kid) jungle gym in a block-sized warehouse. Both our new friend next to us and the bartender became animated at the thought of this place. We had our drinks with a homemade hot sauce that was unbelievable. They wouldn’t give me the recipe.
Saint Louis is spread out and unlike San Francisco, Chicago, or New York, you need transportation to move from neighborhood to neighborhood. It is too hot for the Botanical Garden which is also supposed to be very nice according to the locals. The Anheuser-Bush plant is also supposed to be a cool point of interest and, I am told, provide you free beer. Instead we opt to take our car to West End.
West End, along Forest Park Parkway, is an affluent neighborhood with shops and small restaurants and cafes. Tennessee Williams grew up in this neighborhood. And its no surprise I’m sure that T.S. Eliot had a house there. It reminds me a little of The Village in New York. We weren’t hungry yet so we also checked out Soulard neighborhood that is in the industrial part of town and becoming revived. There is the farmer’s market and a must goto restaurant called Franco that has a gorgeous view of a welding shop and rusted train tracks.
This is my first time to Saint Louis and I wanted to see the arch. You know… THE arch.
We make our way into downtown and go to Three Sixty. This is a very cool hotspot on top of the Hilton 35 floors up. It over looks much of the city and river including the Cardinal Stadium that people were already tailgating at 3 o’clock for a night game four hours later.
I have the Midnight Bloom with Four Roses Bourbon, fresh blackberries and mint. Kathi has the Red Berry Sangria with infused Absolute. For an early dinner or late lunch we have fresh oysters which were extremely good with a ginger granita, Korean BBQ Pork Tacos again fantastic, the smoked pork belly (of course), and the House Smoked Salmon Chips which were a crowd favorite but for me it seems like canned tuna fish on a Lays potato-chip.
It is still hot but our flight leaves at 9pm and we had to get to the airport. I would have loved to have stayed longer. I never really got to know Saint Louis and it is much much more than the small mid-west town I anticipated. There is a young vibe that mixes easily with the old and traditional.There is a sense of culture and community in a very cosmopolitan and diverse setting. There is art, food, and architecture. The tallest man in medical history lived here at 8 feet 11.1 inches; the ice cream cone was invented here; Chuck Barry is still alive and still playing on Delmar for God’s sake.
And all for good reason. I am looking forward to coming again.