St. Louis: 10-12 Dec 2019

Updated: Jan 17

On the way to Boulder, so I stopped by for 48 hours.


Lodgings: Stayed at an Airbnb located downtown ($107/night, inclusive of $53/night worth of fees & taxes - that’s the way Airbnb rolls). A former garment factory built in the early 1900s with cool concrete floors and massive wood beams. I tried to negotiate a lower rate for this place and second place nearby. In both cases, my entreaties were rejected, with the second place's owner replying that if I didn't like the price "then maybe downtown St. Louis wasn't the place for me". Now trust me, the humorist in me appreciated the sarcasm, but the businessman in me didn't. I checked a few days later and it appears he didn't rent the place for either of the two days I requested - which made me feel a little bit better.

- The location at Washington and Tucker is very close to the Arch, the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum and some decent restaurants, though the Forest Park neighborhood might be a good alternative.

- If driving to the city from the East, then try and take Route 70, so you will cross the Mississippi River via the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge ("the Stan Span"). There is not a more beautiful bridge. Completed in 2013, the cable-stayed bridge has a main span of 1,500 feet. Named for the greatest Cardinal ballplayer ever, who was second in all-time career total bases and a former sailor.


Beer O'cIock: In case you haven't notice, I like to drink a beer while I look out over a city. In St. Louis there are two options:

  • Three Sixty Rooftop Bar: Somebody put a Friday’s on top of a Hilton Hotel (and that’s not a good thing). Interestingly enough the design of the restaurant appears to have hindered views of the Arch, which is made even worse by bad (bright) lighting, Christmas lights and hockey glass on the balconies. It gets great reviews though and the place is packed (maybe it's me? No!!!). It's worth exactly one Bud Light and a photo.

Note: any establishment that serves beer in an aluminum bottle is suspect.

  • The Last Rooftop (at The Last Hotel): Great views of downtown, though the Arch is 92% obstructed. They play some vinyl on "The Last Turntable" which is pretty cool. Sometimes they serve food, sometimes they don't.


Sights:

  • The Gateway Arch: If you are passing through The Rome of the West, and you only have time to do one thing, than this is it. It's easy enough to come up to speed on the tallest arch in the world, so I'll just give you my take:

- It's a weighted catenary arch which is easily explained by the formula:

y = b cosh (x/a) = b(eˣ/ᵃ + e⁻ˣ/ᵃ)/2

Note: For the rest of you, it's basically the shape of an inverted hanging chain.

- Designed by Eero Saarinen, who also designed the main terminal at Washington Dulles International Airport and the TWA Flight Center at JFK.

- The main underground entry area, which was not designed by Saarinen, but will make you think you are at Dulles Airport. It includes a very familiar security screening process.

- Saarinen did not provide any of the engineering. In fact if the Arch was built in 1948, the year it was designed, instead of 1963-65, it would not have been possible for a tram to fit inside the legs of the Arch, only subsequent advances in engineering made this possible. As an engineer myself, I'm bothered that Saarinen gets all the glory, while some short-sleeved, slide rule wielding engineers received none of the credit for actually building it.

- Saarinen did not design the "half-Ferris wheel and half-elevator" trams that take you to the top so you can take some outstanding photos.

- An AAR Must See

Notes for your visit:

- Get the Tram & Movie Combo ($16). Watch the movie and briefly tour the extensive museum prior to boarding the tram. It will make your journey to the top of the Arch more rewarding. Then finish touring the museum. Disabled Veterans can get a discount. If that is you, then ask, you've already earned it.

- The 30 minute movie "Monument to the Dream" is excellent and should not be missed. Made in 1967, this is an old school documentary, straightforward with superb cinematography, that is still fresh today. The narrator has that deep resounding voice that would want to make you listen to him read the phone book. When the high iron workers walk (and smoke) around the exposed scaffolding 630 ft. up, your stomach will turn. If you need sound bites, quick cuts and techno music to keep your interest, then this movie is not for you.

- Malcom W. Martin Memorial Park in East St. Louis is located directly across the Mississippi River from the Arch. It is home to a 43 foot viewing platform that offers spectacular views of the Arch and a live webcam (scroll down, text your friends).

- This blog may provide complimentary Arch guidance.

  • The Soldiers Memorial Military Museum: Built on the eve of the Second World War in the Classical/Art Deco style to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the First World War (or as it was known the day it was dedicated "The World War"). After a $30 million renovation in 2018 , the building is immaculate. The front of the building bears the epitaph "To Our Soldiers Dead", sometime bluntness can help clarify. Numerous exhibits which include:

- The black granite cenotaph in the center loggia holds the names of the 1,075 St. Louisans who died in World War I. It may have been an inspiration for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

- A Blood Chit: A notice printed in Chinese that informed locals that this U.S. Army Air Forces pilot was fighting for China and they were obliged to help, sometimes sewn onto the back of a flight jacket. A variation is still in use during the Global War on Terrorism.

- Last Man Club: Upon returning home after The World War, many surviving unit members formed Last Man Clubs and purchased a bottle of fine Cognac (they did fight in France). Each year they would meet and when only two remained they would open the bottle and drink a toast to their departed comrades.

- Phone Booth: On the third floor, a phone booth has been restored to how it looked @ 1960. There is a plaque, for those of a certain age, to explain how it worked.

  • Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (Washington University in St. Louis):

- Ai Wei Wei Exhibit: Mr. Wei(s) likes to use the middle finger. I used to be in the Navy so I'm not shocked by much anymore*, so somehow this (and this) all feel a little juvenile.

*I knew an officer who bought a pack of playing cards in Amsterdam that contained the most filthy pornographic images you could imagine (yes, on every card ;) and then hid them in the Reactor Compartment right before we started up (and then transferred out).

- Runs the gamut from a Pollack, a Klee(x2), a de Kooning, a Picasso (x3) to this ridiculousness.

- Meets the modern art museum requirement of having at least one Calder.

- My wife asked me how such a small university could get a museum with such good stuff. "Easy", I said, "Some one who is filthy rich donates his art collection and money to create a museum that is named after themselves". Next question . . .

  • World's Largest Amoco Sign: A giant sign of some sort has been at 981 S. Skinker since 1932. The sign was updated in late 2019, but it looks pretty much as it has since the 1970s. Current sign is 40 feet high and 60 feet wide. As my good friend Red said "That's just a really big sign . . . you could probably see it from space".


Food: I truly believe that good food is to be had in every sizable city in this country, though in River City it took a little while.

  • Delfino Pizza Brix & Barley: Solid job on a slice of cheese pizza. Because it was a reheat, the crust was slightly over done which limited the foldability. Otherwise excellent. To be honest, I would just stick with a slice of cheese pizza, as I can’t believe a simple pizza parlor like this can do a good job on such an extensive menu. Also not sure what the Brix & Barley is supposed to mean.

  • Ate some toasted ravioli, which is a St. Louis specialty. Though it is not toasted, but deep fat fried (and breaded, which does not really help). I had some at Flannery's Pub and was not impressed. Legend has it that Joe Garagiola's brother, in the early 1940's, was the first to ever taste one.

  • My wife and I stumbled upon Gioia's Deli quite by accident, went inside, gave it the once over and determined to return for a sandwich after visiting the Arch (it had a vibe that said "eat a sandwich here"). When we did return, it was closed (get there before 3:00 pm). Later I discovered that it's Hot Salami sandwich had received a James Beard Foundation award. Let our loss be your gain.

  • Blood & Sand: It's a speakeasy and therefore difficult to locate. Once we located it, we had a bad vibe: the hostess ditched the hostess stand to make a drink behind the bar, which was packed, but the rest of the place was empty and the lighting was just too bright (it’s a speakeasy not a Chick-fil-A). So we quickly departed, only to be chased down outside by a tipsy man in a suit (the Manager?) who asked "Hello, can I help you?". My wife replied "We were hoping to dine with you tonight". "We're full tonight" he replied. "Who with, the invisible men" I thought. Looked on OpenTable later on that night and they were still taking reservations. I don't get it, you are looking forward to buying an overpriced Gimlet, but nobody wants to meet you half way. Very frustrating.

  • Iron Barley High Hog Ridge: Featured in an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, where my wife watched Guy make spätzle with the owner Tom. Homemade spätzle (a German pasta) is an important culinary tradition in my family and a minor (but significant) reason my wife married me. That being said, we had to visit this place. Bumped into Tom outside as he was tending his BBQs. We chatted with him about how he runs his spätzle through a colander to shape them into little bunny turds and how the menu is a country fusion (basically whatever Tom likes to cook). Though the outside is quite unassuming, the inside is welcoming, warm and friendly with a very attentive staff. We had the Schnitzel and Spaetzle* with Country Green Beans ($18) and the House Cured & Cherry Smoked Pork Chop with Special Braised Sauerkraut ($17). I've eaten more schnitzel than most and this was damn good schnitzel. Schnitzel can either be wet or dry (the exterior) and this was a wet one (which helps keep it moist). The pork chop is an inch thick and still has the skin on, which makes this chop extra luxurious (I've never seen the skin on a chop before). All washed down by the only Busch draught I've ever run across.

- All this talk about spätzle, made you hungry? Then click on this link the find my family's spätzle recipe. Guten Appetit!

*Note the difference in the spelling, Tom is not an umlaut kind of guy.


Misc:

The Gateway Arch, St. Louis, MO

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