"There's no place like home." The famous words from The Wizard of Oz apply to my love for St. Louis, which has been my home for the better part of my 37 years.
These days, people don't always have kind things to say about my home, but I don't care. St. Louis is not for everybody, but it sure does make many people I know happy. When I spoke with KSDK's Today in St. Louis co-host Rene Knott last summer, he raved about how the city made him and his family feel welcome and how the people embrace each other. Previously an outsider, Knott is here to stay. If you give it a chance, St. Louis can have that effect on you.
I never feel more in love with my city than when I drive back over the Poplar Street Bridge. Being an Uber driver takes me over to Southern Illinois for random trips, so when I drive back down I-55 back towards I-64 to head back to the city, I get the wonderful view of the St. Louis skyline. It's hard to miss. The Arch shining like a brand new penny in front of the buildings that haven't moved in decades.
Busch Stadium hanging out on the south side and the casino covering the northern end. No matter what kind of chaotic drunk-infused rider took me over the river, I always get a kick coming back over to my home. Seeing the skyline, driving in with Busch on my right and the Budweiser Brewery off to my left. I don't drive in, cover my face, and hide beneath my wheel. I puff my chest out and feel proud.
There's so much to treasure in the Lou. Driving through The Grove, one of the coolest strips any city in the Midwest can offer. Urban Chestnut Brewery flanking the western end while Handle Bar, The Ready Room, Atomic Cowboy, The Improv Shop, and the Rehab Bar take care of the east. Sauce on the Side and The Gramophone stuck in the middle with you.
While most head over to Tin Roof and Wheelhouse until the middle of the night, the Thaxton over on Olive is a hidden gem. A Speakeasy that transports you back to the 1930s where a cocktail meant something. Driving up Washington Avenue provides many unique pleasures, and Soulard has a charm that recently came alive on Mardi Gras. Dogtown will spike up this weekend as St. Patrick's Day takes place. Pat Connelly's Tavern will serve up tasty breakfast and green beer for those who are ready to flourish and drift.
Tamm Avenue holds gems such as Felix's Pizza, The Heavy Anchor, and some of the tastiest burgers in Mac's Local Eats. The same rules that apply to the Grove fit with Dogtown: park your car, stretch your legs, grab a beer, and enjoy life. A high five with a stranger may occur before you reach the bar.
Don't forget about the Hi-Pointe Theater over off McCausland and Clayton Road next to Forest Park. Diana and company pack a commercial flick like Captain Marvel into the main theater and store an intimate affair into the Backlot theater located above. Hands down the best popcorn and cocktails await the guests who want a personal movie experience. Being a film critic, I find true joy in an email when a screening is at the Backlot. I watched Vice, Won't You Be My Neighbor, Mary Queen of Scots, and Hostiles there. I felt like I was on set.
After the movie, walk down less a block and enjoy the best burger in the city at the Hi-Pointe Diner. The Sugarfire BBQ masters perfected the smash burger, delivering it in such unique entries like the Taco Burger, the Mitrailette, and the simple double cheeseburger with fries and a milkshake that may contain bourbon. It's got outdoor seating, inside tables, and sits right off the highway. If you need another drink, the dark and understated Par Lounge sits right next to the theater. Don't forget about the Cheshire Inn, where they filmed Jason Reitman's film, Up in the Air.
Let's talk coffee shops. La Cosecha in Maplewood. Sump Coffee off Jefferson Avenue. Blueprint Coffee in South City and the Delmar Loop. Get get caffeinated, folks.
You'll need it when the St. Louis Blues get into action at Enterprise Center or the boys of summer, the St. Louis Cardinals, crack the bats down at Busch Stadium. Nothing enlivens the downtown area like a game, especially a ballgame and a puck battle on one day. If you need an example of how bright St. Louis can get, be downtown on April 4. The Cardinals open the season in mid-afternoon, and the Blues play up the street later that night. Sporting events turn St. Louis into a city of blinding lights.
I get it. Things aren't perfect. The crime rate in the city is ugly, and shootings happen all around. The city and county have a divide that is starting to create a gap as big as a large river, spreading disconnect all over. Getting an MLS team has been a difficult endeavor, one that was rejected by the city once for funding, but is back on because certain billionaires believe in this city. Some people can't get over the rough edges of St. Louis in order to see the jewels it has to offer.
Like any city in the world, people need to keep coming together, extending a hand, and trying to improve areas. Local leaders can't rest for a second. There's plenty to clean up around here, but nothing will make me leave.
Trust me, I did leave once. I hated it. When my wife got a promotion at her job, we moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. The move sent me into a sudden and ugly depression, one of which I had never experienced. I missed my parents, my city, and everything in between. When I came back a year and a half later, I vowed to never leave again. I could get offered a job paying me double what I make, and I wouldn't leave. No way.
I love St. Louis, warts and all. Driving down Kingshighway, taking a right on Tholozan, and passing the house I grew up in. A house that looks the same as it did in 1990. I drive up to Brannon, go down, take a right on Bancroft, and see my grandparents home, which also looks the same. I drive down Macklind Avenue, past the wonderful brunch spot, Russell's on Macklind. One right on Rhodes takes me down to January, where I take a left to my house.
Where I live is right next to where I grew up. The same could be said for many in this city. Take a shot at it, run from it, or call it unsafe. St. Louis endures. It's my city. My home. What do you have to say about that?