By: Rory Winston
"Meet me in St. Louis, Louis" sang the inimitable Judy Garland in the Hollywood classic of that name. The again, the city has long been a meeting ground for diverse groups of people. Though Eero Saarinen's remarkable Gateway Arch design may have been meant to symbolize westward expansion (i.e. the dynamic duo Lewis and Clark used this as their point of departure), the protruding stainless steel monument has become more of a timeless portal leading one both forward and back in time; it is, in a sense, a large empty doorway that is forever open to all even if it is not always welcoming. Whether it was the African Americans in the early part of the 20th Century who had fled here from the deep south in search a better life or the Irish, German and Italian immigrants of the 19th and 20th Century who sought the fabled 'land of opportunity' or those as late as the 1990's who sought refuge from civil war as they founded Little Bosnia, St. Louis is a place that many can call home. It was and remains a city in flux, a dynamic multi-cultural haven where history and identity is part of the daily subtext.
With an array of American Italian restaurants, the city is a study guide on how to make Italo-American foods even heavier than you thought possible. Here, the notion of 'fusion cooking' means taking the sumptuous excesses of two worlds and finding a wonderfully unhealthy non-compromise. Think: cheese-filled ravioli and deep fried American fast food, and voila: roasted ravioli. Your veins may close but your mouth isn't likely to do so in time. Then there's Cherokee Street and while the name may call to mind the Native Americans (actually those that never inhabited this area since this region was home mostly for the Osage nation and the Illiniwek tribes - made up of at least 12 subset tribes none of which were remotely Cherokee), this part of the city is Latino (often Mexican) restaurants, bakeries and groceries joined at the hip to a thriving gallery and shop district.
As for my Judy Garland fans whose Rainbow flags adorn the Art Deco hotspots, cocktail lounges and flamboyant night clubs, welcome to the Grove. This LGBT after-hours world of camp ostentation and mid-western restraint is studded (sic) by lovely venues like The Monocle, Just John, the Atomic Cowboy and - for those inclined to just hang - the more laid back angle of Erney's 32ￂﾰ.
Of course, if you want to feel the 'Clang, clang, clang' of Garland's famous Trolley Song, there's always the Loop - location of the the old streetcar turnaround, a neighborhood that today hosts a myriad of unique boutiques and restaurants. Though Josephine Baker had reason enough to leave the city forever after witnessing the notorious race riots, it's unlikely she'd feel alienated entering the retro realm of the Pin-Up Bowl or the Pageant concert nightclub. Once home to both her and Tennessee Williams, this district boasts the Moonrise Hotel - a dazzling and funky property, one that Tom Wingfield from the Glass Menagerie would likely have dreamt of frequenting after a night of carousing and debauchery.
Then there's Soulard, an area of the city that houses both the oldest Farmers Market of the city (1779) as well as the most well-known gay bar in the entire city, La Bastille. As this district boasts the best in local Blues, it's easy to understand from whence Chuck Berry got his inspiration. From there it's on to South Grand - where alongside some of the best Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and Latin restaurants, you'll find LGBT-owned businesses like the the respective coffee houses, MoKaBe's and Grand as well as haunts such as the Brickyard Tavern and Cheap TRX. This is LGBT shopping heaven. The Victorian walking park nearby has been designated a historic landmark. Of course, for true Victorian architecture it's worth going to the historic neighborhood found at Lafayette Square. Here stately French Second Empire homes play host to some of the city's most distinguished wine bars.
Walking through the historic Forest Park at Central West End, it's easy to imagine what it might have felt like walking here for those like Miles Davis who lived on the East side of the river. With the Neo-Byzantine monolith of a church, Cathedral Basilica, and the historic Forest Park, the area still carries a solemn air of authority. Of course the LGBT vibe that dates back to 60's does manage to sabotage the funereal sensibility with its sidewalk cafes, trendy boutiques, exceptional galleries and plush pubs. By night, you can always chill at Sub Zero or heat it up at the Latin-inspired Club Viva.
But whether you come to see the St. Louis Cardinals or just to get a refreshing glass of Bud, it's probably a good time to get to St. Louis - at least the city still boasts a multicultural ambience, something which may not be the case after Anheuser-Busch Brewery goes all Donald Trump on us for the upcoming election and changes the monicker for the King of Beers (sadly not to the Queen of Beers) to 'America,' while following up the nationalist monicker with the even more odious and xenophobic inscription "this land is your land."
At present the vibe is still one that boasts diversity. It is the juxtapositions of cultures. It takes in, absorbs, develops and thrives. This is the city I believe we were all meant to love and visit. Not the one Josephine Baker had been forced to flee.
So "Meet me in Saint Louis, Louis..." and if not Louis, then Lois, Bob, Ramona, Javier, Malik, Ahmed, Devorah and Brian. This is, after all, still everyone's city. And the talents who have hailed from there seem to have liked it just that way.