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Missouriís Gateway City Merges Old And New
 
(2016 - Spring Issue)

Writer: Lisa Waterman Gray



Although I have lived across from St. Louis, Missouri, since the late 1970s, I had never explored this “Gateway City,” established in 1764 by French trader Pierre Laclède and his 14-year-old nephew, Auguste Chouteau, until I joined a small tour group last spring.

Located at the eastern border of the Louisiana Purchase, the city was named for Louis IX—also known as St. Louis.

Today, Laclède’s Landing is a favourite waterfront neighbourhood near the city’s iconic, steel Gateway Arch (also called the St. Louis Arch). Full of dining and entertainment options, this area also offers riverboat cruises, carriage rides, dinner theatre and a wax museum.

Even under grey skies, pale sunlight glinted across the Arch’s stainless steel exterior as we approached the visitors’ centre. Considered a symbolic way to “open up the West,” the structure was completed in 1965 as a tribute to Thomas Jefferson and all pioneers. 

The Arch is the focal point of the 37-hectare Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Scheduled for completion in 2017, the park is undergoing a CDN$505.5-million renovation. Standing 192 metres tall, this architectural wonder barely sways in wind velocities of up to 241 kilometres per hour. But, as impressive as the Arch looks from the ground, a trip to the top inside a lightning-fast “pod” ends with truly breathtaking city views.

The graceful steel James B. Eads Bridge is another architectural wonder. Opened with a 100-gun salute on July 4, 1874, it straddles the Mississippi River while supporting more than 1,360 kilograms per 0.3 metre. With three huge steel arches, each measuring more than 152 metres long, it was the largest bridge ever built up to that time.

Iconic Attractions

Resplendent in crimson and black, the 46,000-seat Busch Stadium is the fourth home for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, winners of 11 world championships. Even if you don’t attend a game, “Cardinals Nation” is well worth a visit. We briefly toured seven small galleries at the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum, with its beautiful stadium views and memorabilia ranging from jerseys and bats to vintage photos and stadium seats. There are also a gift shop, a restaurant and a bar in the building.

Anheuser-Busch isn’t this city’s only famous beer brand. At the Lemp Mansion, we learned about the family that produced Falstaff beer until Prohibition began. Their company was also the first U.S. business to have refrigerated rail cars. A stunning, hand-painted mural fills the ceiling inside the original dining room and gorgeous carved wood decorates the entire mansion. We saw the first radiant heat system west of the Mississippi, an aviary, and small hallway sinks that accommodated the family’s high level of germaphobia. Renovated to period character, the home now houses lodging and a restaurant. During paranormal tours, visitors have seen ghostly orbs, leading some to believe the spirits of four family members who died here remain.

Free Entertainment

St. Louis is second only to Washington, D.C., in the number of free entertainment options available—and Forest Park is its epicentre. Also the nation’s biggest municipal green space, this lush park covers approximately 5,232,585 square metres (more than Central Park), and served as host site for the 1904 Olympics and the 1904 World’s Fair.

We hopped aboard the Forest Park Trolley (operating from May through September) to begin our brief tour. Our first stop was the Saint Louis Art Museum. Opened in 1879, the museum showcases thousands of paintings, antiquities and 18 outdoor sculptures. We ate lunch at Panorama, the bright and airy museum café where the menu changes seasonally. Spring items included a vegetarian entrée with spring zucchini, kale and mushroom and a Panorama Croque Madame featuring sage, ham, Gruyère, béchamel and egg.

We briefly exited the trolley to view gracefully curved seating at the Muny (the Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis). The nation’s largest and oldest outdoor musical theatre features 1,500 free seats. Each summer, the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis also presents a professional outdoor production in Forest Park.

It was a perfect day to explore Missouri Botanical Garden, a gorgeous urban sanctuary with deep green woodland and Bavarian gardens, and a miniature rainforest thriving inside a massive geodesic dome. I marvelled at hand-painted tiles and Mediterranean plants housed inside the glass-walled Temperate House and smelled sacred lotus in the popular Japanese Garden. Forest Park is also home to the Saint Louis Zoo and the Missouri History Museum. Water enthusiasts can rent kayaks or canoes at the Boathouse.

Additional free St. Louis attractions include Anheuser-Busch Brewery, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis (known for one of the largest mosaic installations in the Western Hemisphere), the Holocaust Museum & Learning Center and the St. Louis Walk of Fame, among others.

Tempting Tours

Blond and bubbly, Beth Heidrich is a self-proclaimed “culinary evangelist,” and founder of StL Culinary Tours. During our walking tour, we sampled fresh shellfish and cocktails at the open-air DeMun Oyster Bar and a chocolate twist on St. Louis’s famed gooey butter cake inside the iconic Fox & Hounds Tavern at the Cheshire Hotel. Parker’s Table served fresh artisanal cheese and wine samples. At a chef’s table beside a hotel kitchen we savoured Missouri cheeses, artisan greens and tender salmon. Tours include no more than 12 people and rotate through different neighbourhoods each month (reservations required).

On another hot and humid morning, I was extremely grateful for air conditioning during an abbreviated version of St. Louis Fun Trolley Tours. Our gregarious guide pointed out Busch Stadium and other important sites as he regaled us with brief snippets of history. Typically running 75 minutes in length and covering 37 kilometres, these tours are a great way for visitors to decide where they want to return later.

A Canadian Connection

Located less than half an hour from St. Louis, St. Charles, Missouri, was founded as a trade centre in the 1760s by French Canadian fur trader Louis Blanchette. Originally called Les Petites Cotes (The Little Hills), St. Charles grew into a beautiful little city near the Missouri River.

We boarded a horse-drawn carriage as sunset approached, and a rhythmic clip clop accompanied our trip through vintage brick streets, past historic buildings and faux-gas street lamps. Wearing circa 1804–1810 dress uniforms of the 1st U.S. Infantry field musicians and colour guard, eight boys from the Lewis and Clark Fife and Drum Corps performed near an intersection.

We stopped in for happy-hour refreshments at Bella Vino Wine Bar & Tapas, where small plates full of local and seasonal ingredients filled the menu along with wine selections from the United States, South America, Italy and France. Warm pita chips and vegetables accompanied white-bean hummus and spinach-artichoke dip, and chorizo-stuffed dates dressed in bacon and maple syrup were a huge hit.

The next morning we visited local shops such as Canine Cookies N Cream Dog Bakery and Native Traditions Gallery and toured the two-storey Missouri Artists on Main, full of paintings, photography and three-dimensional art from throughout the state. We stopped in for big scoops of premium ice cream at Kilwin’s, which also stocks handmade chocolates using Fair Trade chocolate, coffees and nuts.

Interesting Accommodation

A guide, wearing a tri-corner hat and period clothing, led us through Boone’s Colonial Inn & Market, located on South Main Street in St. Charles. Updated bathrooms and televisions offered modern conveniences amid antiques, original wood floors and colonial-inspired light fixtures.

We stayed at the Ameristar St. Charles casino resort, overlooking the Missouri River. The luxury suite had a deep soaker tub, a bedroom with comfortable linens and a television, as well as a sitting area with a second TV and a view of the river. There were also nine restaurants, dozens of shops, an indoor-outdoor pool and deck, a full-service spa and a 12,000-square-metre gaming floor with stained-glass skylights and a Victorian ambiance.

Next time I’m in St. Louis, I’d love to stay at the Moonrise Hotel, located in the trendy, walkable Delmar Loop neighbourhood, full of record shops, a walk of fame and a bowling alley with pinups. This quirky, award-winning “green” property features in-room recycling, a charging station for electric cars and a solar-panelled roof. Celebrity suites include the neon-bright Betty Grable, where pinups hang above a retro sofa. Gentle breezes blew through the funky, open-air rooftop bar where we enjoyed cocktails and appetizers.

My trip to the Gateway City barely scratched the surface. Purina Farms, with its several outdoor canine competition areas, the Endangered Wolf Center, Grant’s Farm (home of Ulysses S. Grant) and the newly opened, world-class National Blues Museum in downtown St. Louis, which celebrates the historically significant role of blues music in American culture, are just a few spots on my must-see list. Maybe I’ll even take in a Cardinals game.

Travel Planner

Discover all Missouri has to offer at VisitMO.com.

Plan your visit to St. Louis at explorestlouis.com or create your personal St. Charles itinerary at historicstcharles.com. For information about Forest Park, log onto stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/parks/parks/Forest-Park.cfm.

 
 
 
 
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