Don's Mufflers - Cherokee Street
Muffler Art at Don’s Mufflers – Cherokee Street – South City

Yup! St. Louis, Missouri. It was my first time in the true Midwest! I’ve been to Chicago, Ann Arbor, even drove through Indiana briefly! But that’s pretty much it. I was excited to get the chance to visit and stay with my friend, Marlene, who had moved out there a couple of years ago to help open a coffee shop. Although I didn’t get to check out the “yarn scene”, the trip is worth a mention because how many people write about their trip to St. Louis? This not so popular travel destination has some quintessential American Culture that makes it really worth visiting. In short, I loved it. Here’s a rundown of all the wonderful places I visited!

Sump Coffee, South CitySump Coffee, South City
This is my friend and her boyfriend’s artisan coffee shop! A short hop from Cherokee Street, they roast and brew their own coffee in-house. The shop had a modern feel, with some industrial undertones, and a hint of steam punk. Open and airy, it featured handcrafted tabletops and is great for bringing a good book, chatting with friends, or surfing the internet.

Latte at Sump Coffee, South CityI’m not much of a coffee drinker (I like tea!!) and thought that this coffee might be too fancy for me. But even I liked the coffee! I had the same “roast” every day, some sort of blonde roast, that had a really complex flavor I couldn’t figure out. The beans were light brown. I had the same roast in both “black” brewed by Marlene and as a latte pulled by Scott! It was delicious! In the back of the shop there is another shop! A bike shop run by their friend Matt also under the same name “Sump” where he offers motorcycle restoration services. Thanks Scott and Marlene!

Moolah Movie Theater, Lounge, and Bowling Alley, Midtown St. LouisMoolah Movie Theater, Lounge, and Bowling Alley, Midtown St. Louis
Not only does this movie theater have a bowling alley too but it also has a full bar! And instead of regular seats, you sit on couches! So you can have a drink while lounging on a comfy couch while watching your movie! We saw Oz, The Great and Powerful in 3D (It was meh but fun)! The theater had an old fashioned atmosphere. Located in an old Masonic building with matching architecture. Think NY City Center here in NYC, just slightly less grand plus decor from “yesteryear” in a way.

Courtesy Diner, Tower GroveCourtesy Diner, Tower Grove
3153 S Kingshighway, St. Louis, MO 63139, (314) 776-9059
This roadside diner had a really great local feel. A place for “regulars” that serves solid honest comfort food. They are famous for their “slingers” which is a dish made of a hamburger patty, hash browns, eggs, chili, cheese, and onions. And other wonderful things like Frito Pie, which I always wanted to try but never have, and tons of pie pies!

Pancake Art by Dan at  Courtesy DinerI loved the food at this greasy spoon so much we went twice. MMMmmm. Everyone from the counter ladies to the short order cook were really friendly. The short-order cook, Dan, made us a pancake shaped like a mushroom! It’s Toad! A Super Mario Bros. mushroom to be exact. Pancake art! I had just the simple bacon and eggs breakfast. I dunno what they do to the bacon, eggs, and hash browns but it’s soooo good. Bacon, eggs, hash brown, and toast about $5.

La Vallesana, Cherokee StreetLa Vallesana Tacos & Ice Cream, Cherokee Street, South City
My favorite place to eat during this visit. Best. Mexican Food. Ever. Located on Cherokee Street, I had a huge mango drink that was actual mango. And the chicken and beef tongue enchilada. MMMmmm. It came with all the fixins and was about $15 total. Guacamole and chips too. They also sell homemade ice cream and ice cream popsicles in wonderful flavors like Horchata and Coconut. This casual eatery is great for lunch or a fun casual night out.

STL Style House, Cherokee StreetSTL Style House, Cherokee Street, South City
Also located on Cherokee Street, we stopped in to check it out and I bought some t-shirts for my mom and brother. You can choose from pre-printed t-shirts or pick a design from the wall, choose a t-shirt, and they’ll print it for you on the spot. The space is really neat with hand drawn murals, art, and another room for events. It had a record store feel. We met Will there who was super nice and was telling us all about St. Louis.

Cherokee Street, South CityCherokee Street, South City
My favorite “neighborhood” that I visited. After we had La Vallesana we strolled down Cherokee Street. It seemed like an artist area with a hodge podge of stores. We came across some great characters and some unusual storefronts like a store selling only Mexican Wrestling Masks. La Lucha Libre! It could be a movie scene in say Gummo. This area was colorful but was also somewhat depressed with rows of boarded up houses.

Taste Bar and Restaurant, Central West EndTaste Bar and Restaurant, Central West End
AH-MAZING drinks and decadent tapas or small plates in a modern yet old-timey saloon feel. Hipster-y but without the attitude. The food was delicious and a special drinks menu from a guest bartender. My friend had the most amazing drink that tasted like cinnamon. Clams in white wine and Wild Mushroom Salad were my fave. A place like this could be found in Brooklyn or perhaps West Village, Tribeca. Definitely worth a visit for a nice night out without being too stuffy.

City Museum, Downtown St. LouisCity Museum, Downtown St. Louis
How to describe this museum? As incongruous as St. Louis! The inside was a giant playground of sorts mixed with a museum of oddities feel. Visitors, mostly kids, can crawl through the maze of “art cages” kind of like a jungle gym but built into art installations. They can also browse through the collection of door knobs or vintage carnie art and tchochkes. A hall of mirrors, a giant hamster wheel. Outside there was “MonstroCity”, a playground built in and around the building itself with a giant yellow bus hanging off the side of the roof! Explore the other attractions too like a small ring “circus” theater, indoor jungle gym, old timey coffee shop set inside an old arcade decorated with giant underpants and an oversized chair. Must see, great for kids. There is a small Aquarium located inside too. Read all about what’s contained in this mad wonderland here. $12.

St. Louis ArchSt. Louis Arch and Museum of Western Expansion, Downtown St. Louis
After hitting the City Museum we headed over to the Arch to ride the Tram up to the top! Located in a park right along the Mississipi River right on the border of Missouri and Illinois, the monument representing St. Louis as the “Gateway to the West” was a beautiful structure. But the experience itself sounds better than it actually is. The tram capsule, a tiny retro futuristic all white pod with 5 small seats, is fun for about 5 seconds. The ride up to the top was un-scenic rickety and lasted 4 minutes. The top was a claustrophobic, cramped, crowded, and head-ache inducing sliver of space with a sloped floor no less and tiny viewports to look through. Then back down in a capsule on a 3 minute ride. The waiting area was a small mini museum of the history of the Arch and how it was built. This comes with your ticket. The lines here are long and there’s a lot of waiting. Tram Ride $10, Museum Free.

The Museum of Western Expansion was conveniently located right in the lobby area of where you take the tram! So we stopped in this small little museum area to check out some Native American and Pioneer scenes. Best part, the animatronic exhibits!! See an old Civil War General robo through a taped recording. Or some old shoemaker tell you about his job. Awesome. Not bad since it’s free too.

St. Louis Art Museum, Forest ParkSt. Louis Art Museum and Forest Park, Forest Park, Midtown St. Louis
This stop was my favorite during my visit. Love this museum. Also known as “SLAM”, it sits atop a hill overlooking Forest Park. Small yet chock-full of great stuff is the best way to describe it. Unpretentious and not at all exhausting like how some giant museums can be. We saw it all, took our time, and still made it out in about 2 hours or so. And guess what? Admission is entirely free!

And Forest Park was really lovely. Fountains, hills, small bridges and ponds. Hidden beside the museum I spotted a peculiar tree sticking out that from far away looked as if it was made of ice! Closer inspection revealed it was made entirely of aluminum. Loved it especially because we had almost the entire big wide-open beautiful park to ourselves. A luxury for someone who’s used to crowds where there’s anything worth going to.

St. Louis Zoo, Forest Park, Midtown St. Louis
We did not go to the St. Louis Zoo but it was right down the hill from the museum and also located inside Forest Park. It’s supposedly the best zoo in the country! And guess what? It’s free too.

St. Louis, Missouri - March 2013

About St. Louis
St. Louis, the “Gateway to the West”, is known today for things like craft beer, home of Anheuser Busch and Monsanto (yes, the GMO people), and lots of German stuff. It was a lot of wide open space, rows of boarded up houses and storefronts from old eras, and sparsely populated. Abandoned. Empty. Forgotten. Weird. In some areas it felt as if the whole town had abruptly been deserted, like last week or something yet longer than that maybe decades ago. I felt like I was on the set of a Walking Dead episode but in real life. We drove by many a venue where Grimes and his crew could have holed up. Or stumbled upon Michonne and her jawless (and armless) zombie minions inside one of the abandoned boarded up houses. On the outside it seemed desolate. Dusty shop windows barely revealing outdated furniture and wares, no pedestrians. Eerie. Post-apocalyptic. However, not all areas were like that and stepping inside any one of its open establishments revealed a very much alive, warm, and welcoming atmosphere.

I also found “Middle America” not at all what I expected. Perhaps it’s because St. Louis is a microcosm unto itself surrounded by a sea of actual middle america, or I saw a very narrow slice of STL, but it was not at all like the stereotype you see in movies or television. No ignorant hillbillies or rednecks driving their tractors to the Piggly Wiggly or overweight “poor white trash” drinking Super Big Gulps. (e.g. People of Walmart) In fact quite the opposite. Everyone I met seemed warm, friendly, smart, savvy. Chatty. A somewhat welcome change from NYC. The sparsely populated feeling was well appreciated when we went to visit “SLAM” and Forest Park where we felt like we had the whole park to ourselves to peacefully enjoy. Ahh, wide open space and no people. I did see a guy in all camo hunting gear driving a snowplow he had jerry-rigged to his ATV, plowing the snow on the sidewalk. The short order cook at a roadside diner as if you’d see in a movie. I also had flashbacks of Jay and Silent Bob standing outside the Kwik Stop on occasion. St. Louis was was full of unusual contradictions like that. Incongruous. On the outside they may have fit the stereotype. But on the inside they were far from it.

In short, I loved it! And would highly recommend visiting. I did not get the chance to check out what St. Louis had to offer in terms of the “yarn scene” but perhaps next time. It’s hard to compare it to another city but it’s a very affordable destination with some nice little attractions. A short easy trip and great for getting outta the city. My roundtrip flight was 3 hours and $216 on Southwest! Which by the way is an awesome airline. And many of the attractions and offerings are also very affordable. A great budget trip that comes with some quintessential American Culture.

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