Damn, St. Louis has changed. That’s the thought that keeps occurring to me whenever I visit the city where I grew up. Whether it’s changes in the city, in me, or both, visiting St. Louis now is like traveling to a new destination. There’s a huge dining scene here, tons of attractions, an LGBT-friendliness reflected in (but not limited to) the nightlife scene, and a sense of pride in the growth, the newly cosmopolitan nature, the burgeoning neighborhoods, and the history transformed into the future.
Okay, it’s been a few years (I’m not in my first blush of youth). Still, though, I would say well over half of the places we’re going to visit didn’t exist when I was a kid. Hell, even the iconic symbol of the city, the Gateway Arch, has only been there since 1965 (I remember my grade school being called into the auditorium to watch the final piece being laid). One
thing that hasn’t changed, though, is that St. Louis is very much a city of distinctive neighborhoods. We’ll go “downtown”—i.e. to the actual city of St. Louis, which for reasons too complicated to go into here is actually not part of St. Louis County but an entity on its own. Then, we’ll venture into some of the most interesting suburbs (“the county”), which are pretty much just considered “St. Louis” and often have a feel that’s just about as urban as the city itself. Confused? Stick with me. It will make sense when we go out exploring, I promise. And if not, well that’s as St. Louis as it gets anyway.
First, let’s find a hotel. If you want to be within a stone’s throw of the Gateway Arch and other downtown attractions, I strongly suggest the Four Seasons St. Louis (999 N. 2nd St. Tel: 314-881-5800. www.fourseasons.com/stlouis), where the
rooms are a study in muted elegance, some with walls of windows overlooking spectacular views of the Gateway Arch, the Mississippi River, and a fab restaurant (more on that later). Best of all is its perfect downtown location, just blocks from the Arch and the riverfront, as well as the ballpark and many other attractions. The culturally minded might want to check in at the new Angad Arts Hotel (3550 Samuel Shepard Dr. Tel: 314-561-0033. www.angadartshotel.com), which just opened last fall at the heart of the Grand Center Arts District. You’ll choose your room based on your color preference (they offer red, blue, yellow, and green) in the hippest of new boutique hotels to open for quite some time. Visit their terrace for more incredible views of the skyline and arch.
All checked in? Let’s explore some of St. Louis’ neighborhoods. We’ll start downtown, at the city’s most prominent
attraction, the Gateway Arch (11 N. 4th St. Tel: 877-982-1410. www.gatewayarch.com). Inside is a fascinating museum,
newly revamped, telling the story of this city, located at the confluence of three rivers and at the brink of the “new” Western half of the country. You can ride in a claustrophobic little car to the top if you want to say you’ve done it, but it’s missable, and the view’s better at many other places. Do enjoy the museum, though, and the experience of walking through the lovely park to this instantly recognizable riverfront landmark as tourist boats ply the waters and the 1874 Eads Bridge stretches gloriously across the Mississippi.
Another great attraction, just a short drive away, is City Museum (750 N. 16th St. Tel: 314-231-2489. www.citymuseum.org), where you’ll careen down a multi-story Monster Slide, or check out the tree house in this
museum, once a shoe factory, that’s dedicated to reclaimed materials—if this doesn’t bring out your inner child (and inner preservationist), nothing will!
Slightly west of here, the Grand Center Arts District (www.grandcenter.org) houses some of the city’s most important cultural attractions, from Powell Symphony Hall (718 N. Grand Blvd. Tel: 314-534-1700. www.slso.org), home of the city’s well-regarded orchestra, to the Fox Theatre (527 N. Grand Blvd. Tel: 314-534-1678. www.fabulousfox.com), a stunningly restored 1929 theater that hosts musicals, ballets, and more, and also offers backstage tours showcasing the building’s history and grandeur. I’m well familiar with these two institutions (a friend of mine was on the renovation crew for the Fox), but others are new to me, such as .ZACK (3224 Locust St. Tel: 314-533-0367.
www.kranzbergartsfoundation.org/zack), a performing arts incubator in a former Cadillac
showroom that now holds a 200-seat theater, shared resources for various new companies,and a restaurant serving creative and locally sourced food.