There was a period of time where I was spontaneously adventuring from one city to another in relatively quick succession. For the most part, my expectations were kept to a minimum or almost non-existent. St. Louis Minnesota is one such place. I almost didn’t even go. It was my journey up to Chicago that I was anticipating, with St Louis being a maybe-maybe not deviation.
What I ended up seeing was one of the best little adventures on that entire road trip, and one that earned St. Louis as an underrated gem of the kind of-Midwest I guess. After the passing of Chuck Berry in 2017, an artist I would argue may be the only name to survive in 200 years from what we call “rock,” I thought it worth a revisit to this underappreciated haven.
Below is a rundown of the top 5 places and things that surprised me about St. Louis. All of the above places have a mini story to them that make them memorable, entrancing, and welcoming for individuals looking to knock a visit to St. Louis off their bucket list. If St. Louis is not on your radar, it has the potential to be, with expansive vistas, a refreshing environment, and a music subculture worth a second look.
The Delmar Loop
There is an assortment of information on the Delmar Loop online. While looking up information for this piece, I went to the official website, and it says it is down. And then I was done.
On a serious note, the Delmar Loop is an acclaimed road (not necessarily the Loop) that runs through a major Western portion of the city. The Loop may be considered the “main area” of St. Louis- the downtown if you will. It includes the best restaurants, the best atmosphere, and all the many little attractions that draw people to the city in the first place.
Walk the loop. It is mandatory.
The Delmar Loop has captivating music venue called the Pageant, where I happened to see punk-pop group Kaiser Chiefs. Great little show, though the band self-deprecated their way towards some extra points. Maybe 100 people were there. It was a Tuesday.
The Loop is also notable for having what I determined to be three distinct classifications. The middle of the loop is the threshold of fun. The big theaters and main areas of excitement are here. Further down will turn into the auxiliary shops and interests. But, going down in the other direction (what I believe is South) will bring you over a small bridge. Once the bridge is crossed, the entire tone shifts. The neighborhood switches. As far as St. Louis has come (or not, depending on your view) the gentrification is real and hardly subtle. I asked a passing couple their thoughts on living in St. Louis, and they said it’s expensive in this area (this was near the Delmar Loop), but as long as you live above Union, you will be fine.
The conversation was a not-so-subtle reminder of cultural dynamics, something that knowing and understanding is only the first step.
2. The Central Park
My journey to the Delmar Loop was fraught with parking battles, a common theme in travel if you have a pesky car with you. But, I managed to snag parking next to what St. Louis calls Forest Park. While looking up details for this piece, I was shocked to find Forest Park as big as it is. I have seen a few central city parks, including the Central Park, but St. Louis has a truly gorgeous park right outside the Delmar Loop. It is an impressive spectacle.
Visit Forest Park and indulge in being away and seeing something new.
Join the runners. Don’t try to park at the Loop. Park here and walk. It will be a remarkable little mini-journey. Don’t try to find solid parking at the Loop and do not get caught up in the nightmare that is parking. Yes, there are many people in the world. Just soak in the place. Forest Park offers some much-needed solace.
3. The Ready Room and a Date with of Montreal
The next day, after the Kaiser Chiefs show and my trip to the Loop, I went to The Ready Room. The Ready Room in St. Louis is hardly ready to open, let alone host a band. But, they made due. The venue is behind a small record store that still tried to sell used Mariah Carey vinyl for $15. The show was of Montreal, who did what they do oh so well. If you have never seen this band, please do, for it is a visual tour-de-force that I won’t even try to explain in words. I write for a living, and it is beyond me. I shall leave a picture for you to puzzle over.
The treat of the evening was Icky Blossoms, the opening band, who had this surreal mixture of grime and dancehall that worked splendidly.
Go see a band you kind of know
When traveling, it could be a great benefit to see a show you are only passively familiar with. You get to experience the band in a place you have never been. It adds context and richness to your travels. Perhaps hold judgment on The Ready Room.
4. The Record Store, Vintage Vinyl
Chuck Berry was obsessed with sex. Seriously. His best-charting single is about masturbation or, more particularly, playing with his ding-a-ling, which is the same thing- I think. Anyways, the aforementioned Delmar Loop holds a lot of little nuggets, but one attracted the most of my attention (attracted? Is it that sex thing again?) I love record stores. I love the smell (sometimes). I love digging around and finding the traits that make up each respective store. Vintage Vinyl is a top-tier record store. It is one of the best I have been to in the country. Here, I stocked up on Wilco, buying almost their entire LP collection. I also nabbed a later release by The Juliana Theory. The record store is a bit dirty, but not like the “give it your best shot” basement-dwelling record stores that still have price stickers from 1973 and everything is priced at the register. Vintage Vinyl is certainly vintage, but it’s not obsolete and you won’t get the feeling like you stepped in a wormhole. Chuck Berry would approve.
5. The Arch
The gateway Arch in St. Louis is the de-facto icon of the city. Yes, anyone who has any passing knowledge of St Louis will be familiar with the large McDonald’s-esque arch that welcomes visitors to the city.
Its inclusion here is both a no-brainer and a puzzler. The arch is, in itself, a great big status symbol for a city that could use it. It’s the architectural version of a dick-measuring contest. But, context helps. I was driving for hours, seemingly endlessly, and was driving across an expanse of the United States that include a part of Kentucky (which is a miserable cesspool, if you happened to not know- sorry for my lack of tact). The arch appears first, before any of the skyscrapers, and it was gorgeous. The sun floated right above the arch. The highway where I first saw the arch actually peaked, as if I was cresting over the top of a hill. So, there I was, driving for months (maybe) through Kentucky, where I was introduced to St. Louis by a magnificent and awe-inspiring arch of impressive, um, length. It remains possibly the best introduction to any city.