FX Excursions

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St. Louis: Rollin’ On The River

Apr 1, 2010
2010 / April 2010

StLouisThe Mississippi River has governed life in St. Louis since the first French explorers came through this wide, clear river in the 1600s. St. Louis became part of the United States in 1803, under Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, and pioneers and traders filled the river with small boats and an adventurous spirit. Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery left from here a year later, pointing their canoes westward into the Missouri River where it meets the Mississippi just north of the city. The explorers would disappear from America’s consciousness until their return to St. Louis in September 1806, welcomed with banquets and parties.

In the decades that followed, the Mississippi seemed to bring all of America, and much of Europe, to St. Louis — grain, wood, sugar cane and steel; Germans, Irish and Italians; gamblers and blues singers; entrepreneurs and scoundrels; Southern blacks and French Canadians — everything and everyone becoming part of this city’s rich, colorful fabric.

The Mississippi still flows past St. Louis, of course, wide and brown and swift on its run to the Bayou, and St. Louis still reveres it, still feels its tremendous power, but the river no longer defines the city. Visitors now arrive by air or viainterstates, not by steamboats. The huge warehouses that used to service the river trade have long been demolished or converted into upscale residential lofts, art galleries and brewpubs. These days, St. Louisans may glance at the river when crossing one of its bridges, but it is the 1965 Eero Saarinendesigned Gateway Arch — a 630-foot, stainless steel monument located next to the river — that is the city’s preeminent feature, symbolizing St. Louis’ reputation as the Gateway to the West as well as its innovative and daring style.

Still, some things don’t change in St. Louis, like the music which has been the city’s heart and soul for 200 years. Just west of downtown, along Delmar Boulevard, in a neighborhood known as The Loop, dozens of music venues offer live jazz, soul and blues, inspiring home-grown talents like Josephine Baker, Miles Davis, Scott Joplin, Nelly, Ike and Tina Turner and Chuck Berry, who continues to belt out tunes at the famous Blueberry Hill music club.

St. Louis is an art town as well. The city’s Cass Gilbert designed Beaux Arts-style Saint Louis Art Museum has been at its present site in Forest Park since the 1904 World’s Fair (remember the film Meet Me in St. Louis?). There are 30 other museums and art galleries downtown and dozens more in neighborhoods nearby. Citygarden, a downtown park, opened last year with rainforest plantings, landscaped water features, a glass-enclosed café and 24 outdoor art installations, including dazzling sculptures by Jim Dine, Mark di Suvero and Keith Haring. It is one ofthe few free, museum-quality, urban parks in the country open 24/7.

The city’s most well-known business, the Anheuser-Busch brewery, was sold in 2008 to the Belgian brewer InBev. Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch’s beer company had been a St. Louis landmark since the 1860s, and after the recent sale residents were fearful the city would lose a major employer and benefactor. But Budweiser and other brands continue to be brewed here; and while layoffs have occurred, InBev says it has no plans to close down the plant.

In 1999, when St. Louis initiated its Downtown Development Action Plan, its city center was ridden with crime and businesses were fleeing to the distant suburbs. But a remarkable retail revival and residential rebirth has occurred, the result of over $5 billion invested in every type of urban development, including 4,000 new residential units, nine new hotels, 130 new shops and restaurants, new office construction and imaginative office renovations. Over $60 million has been spent on downtown aesthetics, including the Washington Avenue loft district, the Old Post Office Plaza and Citygarden.

The decade-long revitalization of St. Louis’ downtown has contributed to its ability to weather the current economic crisis better than most U.S. cities. Its mortgage delinquency rate of 10.3 percent (at the end of 2009) is less than the national average, and mortgage debt held by St. Louis homeowners averaged only $146,630 in 2009, less than the nationwide average of $193,121. Although crime in St. Louis County is still troublesome, incidents of criminal activity downtown have been steadily declining, according to reports issued by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

The 1884 Cupples Station warehouse, a building that was part of the city’s Mississippi River shipping legacy, was recently converted to a mixed-use facility with 48 apartments, office space and street-level retail outlets. Residents have been coming back to downtown from the suburbs, with more than 13,000 now living in former warehouses and office buildings that offer renovated loft apartments, a plethora of nearby upscale restaurants and a walking commute to downtown employers such as AT&T, Bank of America, CPI Corporation, Fleishman Hillard, Nestlé Purina and Wachovia Securities. Ballpark Village — a $650 million mixeduse project being developed by the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cordish Company — will occupy six city blocks adjacent to Busch Stadium when completed in several years.

Pinnacle Entertainment’s $500 million Lumière Place Casino and Hotel, opened in late 2007 just north of historic Laclede’s Landing, is another successful downtown development; and when the Four Seasons hotel opened next to it in 2008, the city benefited from both increased business travel expenditures and an influx of casino visitors.


Info To Go

Lambert International Airport (STL) is 17 miles west of downtown. Taxi fare is approximately $33–37 (20 minutes). For travelers with more time, try the modern MetroLink light rail service connecting the terminal to several downtown stations ($2.25, 35–45 minutes). Visit www.explorestlouis.com.


Diversions

Start with a visit to the Gateway Arch (St. Louis Riverfront, tel 877 982 1410), part of the National Park System’s Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Several capsule-like elevators rise to the top, where bird’s-eye views of St. Louis and the surrounding landscape are magnificent.

The Saint Louis Art Museum (One Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park, tel 314 721 0072) offers a wide variety of exceptional art in a beautiful, early-20th-century building, and the Missouri History Museum (5700 Lindell Blvd., Forest Park, tel 314 746 4599) provides video and interactive exhibits on St. Louis history.

The Loop district has plenty of music venues, including Blueberry Hill (6504 Delmar Blvd., tel 314 727 4444), where Chuck Berry performs. Historic Powell Symphony Hall (718 N. Grand, tel 314 533 2500), is the tastefully renovated home of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Be sure to notice the huge stained-glass window, illuminated during evening concerts. Jazz St. Louis (3536 Washington Ave., tel 314 531 1012) offers live jazz and is located across the street from the renovated Fox Theatre. At the Sub Zero Vodka Bar (306 N. Euclic Ave., tel 314 367 1200) in the trendy Central West End neighborhood, a large selection of vodka is always chilled to zero degrees, and there are numerous music bars in the city’s historic Soulard neighborhood.

The public tours at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery (12th and Lynch streets, tel 314 577 2626) have been popular for years, and a special behind-the-scenes “Beermaster” tour is also offered. Two off-beat attractions include the Kemp Auto Museum (16955 Chesterfield Airport Road, Chesterfield, tel 636 537 1718), with its private collection of Mercedes automobiles, located 20 minutes from downtown; and Saxquest (2114 Cherokee St., tel 314 664 1234), the country’s only saxophone museum. Check out Cherokee Street’s antique stores, clothing boutiques and small eateries.

If you’re visiting between April and September, put on something red and get tickets for Cardinals baseball at the retro-designed Busch Stadium (tel 314 345 9600), opened in 2006 in the middle of downtown, with the Gateway Arch as a stunning backdrop. St. Louisans adore their Cardinals — many former and present players live in the city — and all of St. Louis partied last year when local hero and Hall of Famer Stan Musial celebrated his 89th birthday.


Lodging

The Chase Park Plaza
This historic hotel, reopened in 1999 and located near Forest Park, has a five-screen cinema off the lobby, excellent in-house dining. 212–232 N. Kingshighway Blvd., tel 314 633 3000 $$$$

Hyatt Regency St. Louis At The Arch
Opened last year, the 910-room hotel is within walking distance of downtown businesses and attractions, very close to Gateway Arch. 315 Chestnut St., tel 314 655 1234 $$$

The Westin St. Louis
Modern, 255-room downtown property, with some rooms overlooking Busch Stadium. Get the miso veggie burger at street-level Clark Street Grill. 811 Spruce St., tel 314 621 2000, $$$


Dining

Eleven Eleven Mississippi
Opened in 2003 in a renovated shoe factory off historic Lafayette Square. Lots of wood, brick and copper, oak-fired brick oven, eclectic menu. 1111 Mississippi, tel 314 241 9999 $$

Scape American Bistro
Around the corner from Chase Park Plaza on trendy Maryland Plaza. Try the Scape salad and any type of fish; it’s all good. 48 Maryland Plaza, tel 314 361 7227, $$$

J. Bucks
Grab pre-game dinner or drinks a block from Busch Stadium. Meet co-owner Julie Buck or her brother Jack, Fox broadcaster. Don’t miss the baby-back ribs. 1000 Clark St., tel 314 436 0394, $$$

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