This is not a Buzzfeed article. We’re not going to try to sell you on the merits of nationally-touted kitsch like Imo’s or toasted ravioli or Fitz’s root beer. At the risk of offending uninitiated county-dwellers and thin crust proponents, the above mentioned does not properly capture the true essence of St. Louis. Like any Midwestern mainstay between booms, St. Louis is categorically more vibrant and interesting than it’s made out to be by coastal elitists and their sweeping generalizations about the Midwest. For the adventurous and enterprising, there’s a wealth of vivid culture, great food, and interesting sites to take in if you’re willing to venture off the beaten path — and ignore the advice of suburbanite tourists who’ve only ever visited the city for the same reason people go to the Savanna: on a safari.
Parks & Rec
Don’t go to the Arch; St. Louis has collectively decided that its only use is a supposedly supernatural ability to keep bad weather away. A trip up an elevator into a wobbly architectural defiance of nature is barely an afternoon; we only built the thing to jack the title “Gateway to the West” from Kansas City anway (enjoy your “City of Fountains” concession prize, losers). Some of the real gems of St. Louis are its public works: its museums, its parks, its gardens; many of them remnants of a more gilded age, but still emblematic of the premium we put on community. There is always something going on: art installations on Art Hill, 5ks through Forest Park, Lecture Series at the Botanical Gardens, exhibitions at the Science Center — and those are just the big ones. Littered throughout the city are other pockets of paradise like Citygarden and Serra Sculpture Park where you can take in art, see live open air performances, and partake in food truck lunch culture (this writer likes Seoul Taco’s Korean-Mexican fusion). Much of these activities, especially the more niche, are not well-broadcasted. So do the Midwestern thing: talk to people. Ask your neighbor when you walk your dog; they’ll put you down the right path.
The Midwest is not a monolith. As a matter of fact, calling St. Louis a Midwestern city might even be a contentious description depending on who you talk to. This city is an interesting melting pot: architectural styles that range from French Colonial to Victorian; a culinary style that incorporates influences from early French settlers, later Italian immigrants, and black settlers-down from the Great Migration; a musical heritage that gave birth to genre-defining artists like Chuck Berry, Tina Turner, and Josephine Baker. These banners are carried by armigerous descendants: revitalization efforts preserving original architectural styles, a thriving culinary scene expanded by immigrants from dozens of countries; a music scene with more than 300 shows a week, from blues, to hip-hip, to nationally-acclaimed symphonies. We advise supplementing this incomplete summary with excursions of your own: to Stifel Theatre, to Powell Hall, to the Pageant; to the dozens of James Beard and Michelin Star-awarded restaurants across the city; or to landmarks like the Old Courthouse and Basilica of Saint Louis. Last, of course, there’s the cultural elephant in the room: Cardinals baseball. Need we elaborate, or have eleven World Series championships done a good enough job? Not to kick another city while it’s down, but KC only has two (as the old adage goes, it sucks to suck).
A city is only as good as its people. The ones in this city are friendly, wry, and considerate; bound in camaraderie by the condition of being residents of a city wrongly consigned to landlocked obscurity. Here, the bandwagon is real; when there’s something to be celebrated, the city up and grows legs. You’ve probably heard St. Louis has the biggest Mardi Gras parade in the world behind New Orleans — it’s no joke. And it also isn’t a surprise; after all, St. Louis has the third fastest-growing foreign-born population among other major US metros. Native St. Louisians call it Mardis Gras and our Brazilian friends call it Carnival; but everyone celebrates it on the same day. This sort of celebration isn’t an isolated phenomenon. Block parties, cul-de-sac concerts, and porch-sitting get-togethers are ubiquitous. Each neighborhood has its own local celebrations (many of them parades) which are elevated to near-fanatical status. So our charge to you? Investigate the festivals, pop-ups, cook-outs — and the million other reasons the street might get shut down for a day.
If you got the sense that this writer is opinionated, a little bitter, and very much passionate about the subject matter, you sensed correctly. But just like this writer, St. Louisans are eager to invite you in and experience whatever it is that has compelled us to love this city as fiercely as we do. Some parting wisdoms equally true for newcomers and long-timers: lead with a smile, keep an open mind, and — no matter what — do not speak Stan Kroenke’s name aloud (unless flanked with expletives).