TRAVELING BY CAR IN THE MIDWEST
As many of you know, Steve and I are lifelong Midwesterners. One of the special things about living in Bloomington is that within 4 hours you can be just about anywhere in the Midwest. Chicago, Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville, Nashville, Indianapolis, and Saint Louis. We’d both been to Saint Louis a few times growing up, but hadn’t truly made it past the lens of the Arch, because, well, it’s easy to be tourists. Anyway, we’ve both grown to love the time we’ve spent in Saint Louis and want to share some of our experiences and recommendations.
First off, one of the limited but undeniably wonderful advantages to car travel is that we can pack our bikes onto the back of the car and have an alternative mode of transportation. For us, this means more time outside, exercise, a slower pace, and truly seeing what a place has to offer. Cars can be stressful and you often don’t get to see the people around you, those who truly make up the culture and existence of the place you’re trying to enjoy. Riding our bikes also keeps us from blowing our budget in one day because we’re not shy to the idea of treating ourselves.
But, back to Saint Louis. This is a place with both historical and modern relevance. It was the first US city to host the Olympics which overlapped with the World’s Fair in 1904. It has woven its history through slavery, religion, segregation, manufacturing, and tourism. Most recently, we have seen Missouri in the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons. The murder of Michael Brown incited riots, inflamed class, and racial divides, and further deteriorated the public school system in parts of the city.
Bike trail views of a beautiful building next to the river downtown STL.
More than anything Saint Louis reintroduced a pulse to injustice. Because of this and the murder rate per capita, St Louis has risen to #13 on the world’s most dangerous cities. But please don’t let this scare you away. Known that like anywhere else, the important thing is to keep your wits about you. Remember, more often than not people are kind and want to help. Be sure to let this city show you a little love and always leave it better than you found it.
Like many of the hot spots in Saint Louis, Bogart’s is a place that you can expect to spend a little time in line with a great return on your investment. The food comes out quickly and seating is somewhat communal. Don’t be afraid to bump elbows with a stranger, because they’ve probably got a happy story to share. The food is delicious. I always go for the pulled pork and Steve is a brisket man. Get some pickles, coleslaw, and baked beans. Mmmmm BBQ.
Fitz’s Root Beer
So this is one of the few that I’m ashamed to admit, I haven’t tried. But I have this lovely, intelligent, STL native friend, Kaitlin and she says you must. My recommendation is the root beer and, solely based off of appearances, the floats. I can’t vouch for the food.
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
Started by a former tennis star in the 1930s, people now drive hours for this rich, frozen custard. If you show up without a line, you’re lucky. Sometimes hundreds of people will be standing outside waiting to leave with this creamy treat. Please, be sure to eat some custard for me.
Salt & Smoke
Salt & Smoke was an accident for us. We passed their Del Mar Loop location our first night in town because we were in a hurry to get to a show. The next night we had our hearts set on hot chicken at Southern, and guess what, they closed a 7 PM. (Who closes at 7 PM?!) So after picking our bartender’s brain at Civil Life, we settled on S&S because he insisted they had the best brisket and the best mac and cheese.
Let me tell you, I LOVE mac and cheese, so this was a serious claim. We tried the chicken wings, burnt ends, brisket, mac and cheese, and green bean salad. Holy cow was he right. It was like eating meaty, cheesy butter. It can put a bit of a dent in your pocket, but we just shared 3 Bestie Combo, which evened out to just over $13/person with tip. Go do it!
Donut Drive-In. Need I say more?
If you’re looking for a traditional yeast donut and coffee from an 8 oz styrofoam cup, this is your place. Just southwest of downtown, Donut Drive-In is a no-frills treat. We went inside, which given the name, may have been a faux pas. But it’s adorable. And be aware, cash only for orders under $10.
Missouri Baking Co
This place is an absolute must. It wasn’t branded as a must-have, or marketed on every website, or really talked about anywhere, but somehow we intentionally ended up there and it was beyond worth it. We rolled up on our bikes, 92 degrees, and sweating like piglets, and the fella kneading dough in the window immediately grinned and waved. I like it when I get all of the good feels. The counter showcases happy, local, sugary, tasty goodness. The owner ended up coming out and chatting like we were old friends and we left with a cannoli and a gooey butter danish. The cannoli tasted like a sweet, ricotta cream-filled cinnamon churro. Seriously. And the gooey butter danish? It’s all in the name.
Blue City Deli
I’m not sure I need to say much about BCD. A Saint Louis classic, make sure it’s on your agenda before mid-afternoon because they close at 4 PM. Everything is good. There’s local beer, NOLA style accompaniments, and cozy decor with live music on the right days. Always get extra. Take them home to friends. Keep them in the fridge. Seriously, the Primo only got better on day 2.
Brittany nested in a little inlet in The City Museum.
PLACES TO VISIT
The City Museum
This place is a gem and a total lawsuit paradise, which obviously makes it one of our favorite places. From human hamster wheels and 10-story slides to rooftop Ferris wheels and tummy-scooting tunnels, The City Museum has it all. And they serve beer. Which seems like a total contradiction, but it was great to drink a beer in a giant adult jungle gym. Just imagine the circus, meets a warehouse, meets a recycling facility, meets childhood imagination. Got that? Now take knee pads.
This speaks well to the intricacies and chaos available for play at The City Museum.
Missouri Botanical Gardens
One of the things that first prompted us to travel was working for a brewery. We’d talk to the brewers and administration and take off from home with cases of beer to share and distribute along the way. So this is how we ended up at the Botanical Gardens. We called Schlafly, set up a tour, and inadvertently met their part of their sales and marketing team just before we left. Long and short, one of them is a member and immediately offered us tickets to Missouri Botanical Gardens.
So we rolled up on July 4th, looked at the line 100 families deep, and walked right up to the member services counter for free tickets. Whew. I would argue that it is totally worth the $12 per adult if you have the money to spare. There are so many gorgeous flowers and plants throughout, and the smells are to die for. If you happen to chat with any of the cute, older women who work within, be sure to spark a little conversation. We overheard some of them saying that they adore the plants and their surroundings, but all people ever ask them is where the bathroom is.
Saint Louis Art Museum
One of the few things that I love more than art museums is FREE art museums. Located within Forest Park, this spot has three stories of collections ranging from European Art to Textiles, with rotating exhibits along the way. Whether you’re looking to explore for an afternoon or an hour, there is plenty to be seen and lots of free air conditioning to enjoy.
Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis
This was our first stop when we first arrived in Saint Louis and it’s absolutely worth it. Beyond the sheer size of this basilica, the stained glass, ornate fixtures, and numerous alcoves and turns are breathtaking. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy a bit of afternoon silence or a service if that’s what you’re looking for.
Steve journaling and planning for our future travels during our trip to STL May 2018
If you’re searching for a green getaway, Forest Park is the place for you. Located 8 miles west of the Gateway Arch, Forest Park is full of green space, fountains, and places to enjoy the sun. The city works hard to maintain and restore a lot of the special parts of Forest Park. While there you can visit the Saint Louis Art Museum, pop into the Saint Louis Zoo (for free), and you can find the Saint Louis Science Center on the southeast corner. Fun fact, it’s 450 acres larger than NYC’s Central Park.
Alright guys, now we’re talking. Beer! As I mentioned before, many of our domestic trips have centered around the beer world. We like to spend a little time chatting with the bartenders and staff, do tours here and there, and exchange beer. No one ever says no to free beer. So keep in mind when we’re talking favorites, we’re not only talking beer itself, we’re talking the overall experience. The beer, the staff, the environment, fellow drinkers, carry out options, etc. Mmmmm, beer.
If you’re looking for humble, look no further than Civil Life. It’s a little off the beaten path relative to downtown, but it is so very worth it. We’ve visited twice and left with two incredible experiences. They serve English-style ales, typically have a cask on draft, and serve everything in 20 oz pints for $5 or 10 oz half pints for $2.50. Cash only. Their beers are delicious, drinkable, malt forward, well-balanced, not too cold, and diverse. We’ve had the best interactions with staff and fellow customers there. They’re always full of suggestions and happy to chat. They also have a walk-in closet of a kitchen where one fella is usually making it happen. Try their pilsner, brown, rye pale, and beer nuts.
Delicious beers gifted to us by 4 Hands Brewing Co. July 2018
4 Hands Brewing Co
This one is just south of downtown and has quite the breadth of hop-forward and tart beers. The taproom appears small with a few tasty snacks until you realize there is a huge, free arcade upstairs. Also, take a moment to appreciate all of the local, handmade furniture. With regards to the brewery, they’re maxed out. They have bright tanks, ceiling-high fermenters, and pallettes situated in every nook and cranny. They’re slated to produce 30,000 bb this year. Because of this, tours are not a thing. Also be sure to have a taste of their botanical gin. They recently started distilling and the gin is delicious, hot, and floral. If we’re talking beer, try their Kreik, Prussia, Loose Particles, and Contact High.
Urban Chestnut (bonus: URB)
We’ve gone back and forth on UC because of their distributed beer, but after our last visit, we changed our tune. Located in The Grove around a few other hip eateries and bars, Urban Chestnut has their thumb of the pulse of craft beer in STL. The taproom is giant, with a self-guided tour, 20+ taps, and the option for snacks. It’s a wonderful space for groups and has an outdoor patio. Next door is a hidden gem and hub for marketing brilliance, the Urban Research Brewery. Seriously, genius. How do you choose which version of your beer to distribute? Let your customers vote for their favorite in a blind taste test and only charge them $2. And then attach a pizza place to it. Duh.
Altbier and pilsner at Urban Chestnut. May 2018
It was easy to set up a tour here with just a few emails. Their staff at the Taproom is friendly and professional, and the boss man that does tours is perfect for the job. I’ll be honest with you, prior to visiting I had ragged on their branding because it appears very one dimensional. On the shelf, their logo is a bit of a wash and only stood out because of its consistency across every package. But in the tour, I learned that it was incredibly intentional and had been dialed back from its original design originating from a family crest.
Their brand has a great history, but I would still argue that it’s a bit sub-par relative to their market. The Taproom is a full-fledged brewpub with tasty treats, lots of beer, and great flight options. Everyone there just really seemed happy to help. Try their Coconut Cream Ale and Kolsch.
PS- We stopped at Bottleworks to get a feel for their second location and ended up leaving after a shared beer. Their staff seemed annoyed and divested. And the quality control was kind of sad as we sat there and watched their imbalanced CO2 result in 2 pints being dumped for every pint consumed. Womp womp. I’m harsh, I know.
This place deserves acknowledgment because of the quality of product that they make. Simply put, their beers are tasty and high-end. However, with quality comes high cost pours and some elitism. We didn’t get the warmest vibes in this place and they seemed to treat their customers that were unfamiliar faces as being generally unknowledgeable and a bit of an inconvenience. But hey, that was just my experience. Maybe you’ll have a better one and their beers are definitely worth tasting.
Beautiful display and taps at Side Project
Black Thorn Pub
This was a special little spot recommended to us by the bartender at Civil Life. Just south of Tower Grove Park and the Missouri Botanical Gardens, there are a variety of options for just about any pizza lover. Whether you prefer Chicago-style deep dish, pan, or thin crust, there are a number of options to try. And if you’re looking for green stuff, you can get a salad with that white, midwestern sauce otherwise known as ranch dressing. Mmm.
Lonas LiL Eats
Please just go look at their website, appreciate their photos, and tell me you have some sort of self-control. From my understanding, Lonas is one of Saint Louis’ local gems. If you’re planning a visit, know that they are closed Monday and Sunday, and open 11AM-9PM Tuesday-Saturday. There are a number of reasonable eats, with a few splurges, but the way I understand it, it’s all totally worth it. Also, they have a hot tea menu. It may surprise you that I have a love for beverages other than beer, but I do. Go check them out.
Take the time to look at their hours before arriving at Union Loafers. Cleverly name, this bakery supplies baked goods to a few of the local eateries in Saint Louis. Don’t try to order a loaf of bread at night or a pizza for lunch because it just won’t work. While a little on the steep side (for the Midwest), their artisanal bread and pizzas are something to chase after.
Cute Mister Steve at The City Museum. July 2017