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All About Saint Louis

Restaurants for the NINC St. Louis Conference

Eileen Dreyer (Saint Louis native and Huge Fan of her home city) and her Posse of fellow Saint Louisians are preparing a detailed listing of All Things Saint Louis.

From where to get the best frozen custard to directions for seeing the Clydesdales, Eileen and her Posse will provide just what you need to make your time in Saint Louis work best for you.

So please stop back often for updates. But for now, here are two insights, one from Eileen, and another from Karyn Witmer-Gow, another proud Saint Louisian.

St. Louis? Good Heavens, Who Wants to Go There?

Byline:  Eileen Dreyer

Okay, it isn’t Santa Fe.  Or New York. It’s much more affordable than that. And, believe it or not, there is more to do than visit the Gateway Arch—although the Arch is all that and more.  But you want to know what else to do…

Ever since RWA came here in 1993, I’ve been the spokeperson for my city. I’m a native, born and raised. And except for the chance to live on the west coast of Ireland, I’ll never leave. But do I like it here? Will you? Oh, yeah.

First of all, the basics. You can get here from anywhere. Not only do we have an easy airport, we have Amtrak service, and we’re at the intersection of three major highways, 55, 44 and 70. And once you’re here, it’s a very reasonably priced city. We have all the modern amenities of any major city, with the friendliness of a small town.  We’re the surprise of the fly-over area.

The weather in early October is some of the best of the year. It’s a perfect time to wander the downtown streets, or the zoo, or the Botanical Gardens. The weather is usually still warm, the leaves just turning, and flowers still blooming. 

So where can you go? What can you do? In the ensuing weeks, we St. Louisans will write columns on particular areas: food, music, history, kid’s attractions, etc. That kind of thing. I’m just here to whet your appetite.

First of all, food (at least in my heart). We have a great variety of restaurants in St. Louis, from our 4-Star Tony’s to Broadway Oyster Bar, which specializes in Cajun cuisine and jazz, and anything in between, including foods representative of every immigrant group who’s come, from the Irish to the Ethiopians.  (Yes, it’s getting its own column.) But when you come to St. Louis, there are three things you particularly need to know (besides the fact that we have the best Italian food west of the Mississippi). Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard. Toasted ravioli. Gooey butter cake. St. Louis inventions you can’t leave without trying.

Site-seeing? We have everything from historical sites to a world-renowned zoo to museums. Architecture as old as 18th c. French colonial, just south of us, and as new as Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller.  A park where the 1904 World’s Fair took place.  The first Anheuser Busch brewery (with Clydesdales) and the first Busch wildlife preserve, Grant’s Farm (with more Clydesdales). Oh, and did I tell you we have a collection of very good wineries strung out, overlooking the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers? And then there’s downtown St. Charles, just a few miles away, from which Lewis and Clark set out, and which doesn’t look appreciably different today.

You want music? We have everything from classical to rock to jazz to (my personal favorite) traditional Irish. We even have Chuck Berry, who regularly plays at a neighborhood joint called Blueberry Hill. You want theater? We have something like fifteen active theaters. Art? Antiques? We have a great area called Cherokee Street, where antiques are still affordable. 

History?  We’ll need more than one column to cover it. But I’ll give you some hints.   Daniel Boone. Dred Scott. Charles Fremont. General Sherman. Charles Lindbergh.  Lewis and Clark.  Jesuit Black Robes. 1904 World’s Fair.

More than enough for any trip, even without the great hotel and nearby baseball.

But, like I said, we’ll be writing other columns to give you specifics. Because you know you want to come.  And not just for the round-tables.

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NINC – Saint Louis History: Only Steps Away

Byline: Karyn Witmer-Gow

The moment you check in to The Drury, Ninc’s conference hotel, you’ve stepped into St. Louis’s history.  From 1912 to 1957, this building housed the International Fur Exchange, a company that harkens back to the days when trappers sold furs from the Rocky Mountains to brokers whose warehouses lined the St. Louis riverfront.   Within a few blocks of our hotel, a few stops on the Metrolink, or a few minutes by car, you can find other wonders of St. Louis’s history. 

History within walking distance:  Diagonally across Fourth Street from our hotel is the Old Courthouse and Museum.  This is where slaves Dred and Harriet Scott sued for their freedom in 1846, claiming that because their master had taken them to live in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was illegal, they ought to be granted their freedom.  The case was eventually argued in the Supreme Court, which in 1857 ruled against the Scotts.  This High Court decision was one of the precipitating causes of the Civil War. 

From the Courthouse steps, the Gateway Arch and St. Louis riverfront are laid out before you.   The arch grounds mark the site of the original town, founded by Auguste Chouteau in 1746.  The flags of France and Spain flew over St. Louis before the U.S. bought the city in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. 

The arch, designed by Eero Saarinen and completed in 1965, celebrates St. Louis as the Gateway to the West.  An underground museum beneath it offers multi-media presentations on Westward Expansion, rides to the top, and an excellent American history bookstore.  From the steps that lead down to the river, you’ll have no trouble imagining everything from dugouts to riverboats landing at the levee.   A ride on the Becky Thatcher or Huck Finn can give you a taste of that riverboat experience.

Also on the arch grounds is the “Old Cathedral.”  Built in 1834, when the buildings were tightly packed together in Old Town, only the cathedral’s façade was ever finished.  In an earlier church on this site, Sacagawea’s son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, was baptized in 1809.

Several historic houses are near the hotel:  Eugene Field’s house (author of “Little Boy Blue”); the Victorian home of fur trader Robert Campbell; and the residence of ragtime great Scott Joplin.

By Metrolink: (Closest station is located just past Busch Stadium)
You can appreciate the Mississippi’s power by riding across the lower level of the Eads Bridge to the first stop in Illinois.  In this graceful span, completed in 1874, engineer James Eads introduced construction techniques that revolutionized bridge building.

Stop back at the Arch/Laclede’s Landing, where many of the mid-Nineteenth Century warehouses along the cobbled streets have been turned into shops and restaurants.  Or ride west to Union Station.  Built in the 1890’s in an architectural style known as Richardsonian Romanesque, this railroad station was the world’s busiest during World War II.  Updated to celebrate its former grandeur, it houses a hotel, restaurants, and shops.  Don’t miss the station’s barrel-vaulted waiting room (a great place to have a drink) or the whispering corner beneath the hotel’s spectacular stained-glass window.

Another site you can access by Metrolink is Forest Park, site of the 1904 World’s Fair. It  now holds, among other things, the Missouri Historical Society (with excellent collections on the history of St. Louis, the Mississippi and Missouri settlements, the Louisiana Purchase, the American West and Charles Lindbergh, among others), and St. Louis’s Art Museum, not to mention the Zoo, with the original 1904 Birdcage Walk.

If you’re looking for more westward expansion history, try the St. Louis University Museum of Art on Grand Avenue, which houses the collection of Western Jesuit Missions.

By Car:
Half an hour away is Old Town St. Charles, Missouri’s first capitol in 1821, one of Lewis and Clark’s stops, and a classic river town.  It’s a lovely place to wander on a sunny afternoon.  Beyond St. Charles is the Daniel Boone Home and Historic Village, made up of Nineteenth-Century buildings rescued from demolition.  Missouri’s many wineries are sprinkled out that way, as well, and can offer a pleasant afternoon’s diversion.

An hour to the south of St. Louis is Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, a charming river town with excellent examples of extant French Colonial architecture from as early as the 1770s.

Not far over the river in Illinois is the Cahokia Mounds archaeological site, which documents the Mississippian culture that flourished along the river during the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, and includes the world’s largest woodhenge.

If you’re interested in a specific kind of history or doing in-depth research, please email me directly at , and I will do my best to point you in the right direction.

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Saint Louis Restaurant Guide From An Expert!

I confess I’m a foodie and there’s no better place to be one than my hometown.  Highbrow or low, St. Louis has it all.  So let’s talk about good eats around the metro area, starting with close-by places.  Tony’s and its casual counterpart Anthony’s offer five star dining that won raves from my fav foodie Willard Scott.  Kemolls has great Italian with a view to die for.  For loft district chic, check out Washington Avenue’s ethnic and American cuisines:  Kitchen K for Cajun fusion, the Dubliner for Irish fare.  If you’re sports minded, try Mike Shannon’s or Fi15teen.

Laclede’s Landing, with cobblestone streets and 200 year-old warehouses converted into pubs and restaurants, combines fun casual dining with jazz, rock and blues.  Give Jake’s Steaks a try for Cajun, quaff microbrewery beers at Morgan Street or devour a loaded burger while watching the Mississippi at Sundeckers.  My fav is Hannagan’s. 

You’ll need to cab it to the old-fashioned soda fountain lunch counter at the Crown Candy Kitchen in north city, or visit Union Station and join the Parrotheads at Key West Café for homemade chips, seafood and Key Lime pie.  Check out the jazz and blues at the Broadway Oyster Bar or BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups—these two are not to be missed for local color!  

Home to the second largest Marti Gras in the country, Soulard is filled with blues bars and good food, Creole, Cajun or plain American.  The 9th Street Abby offers fine dining in a converted church.  If you want authentic Irish music, McGurk’s is your place.  For soft jazz, Hammerstone’s.  While you’re in Soulard, be sure to visit the Farmers Market established in 1779.  You can buy exotic herbs and spices or gnash on fresh baked goods.  They even sell beaver tail if you have a hot plate in your room.

A bit further south near the world’s largest brewery (forget InBev—AB’s still king in St. Louis) is perhaps the most unusual joint in the region.  Venice Café’s specialty is Jamaican food, but feast your eyes on the millions of pieces of glass and beads that cover floors, walls, even ceilings.  The place is a psychedelic trip without drugs!

Tucked amid the gorgeous old houses around Lafayette Square are dozens of great restaurants:  Ricardo’s for Italian (unique calamari), Sqwires, in an old wire factory, for fab flash-fried spinach, or Eleven Eleven Mississippi, a hotspot with a wide-ranging menu.  For Mexican, Arcelinas.  The chocoholics in the crowd gotta save room for Bailey’s Chocolate Bar to OD.

The Food Network calls The Hill “one of the top Little Italy neighborhoods in the country” where the fireplugs are painted green, white and red like the Italian flag.  Yogi Berra, Joe Garagiola and many sports legends grew up here surrounded by  great restaurants—Bartolinos, Cunetto’s Lorenzo’s, Zia’s…you get the idea.  Upscale at Giovanni’s or checkered tablecloths at Gian-Tony’s, the food is superb.

The Delmar Loop and the Central West End, are sidewalk café havens and people watchers delights.  Chuck Berry still performs at Blueberry Hill in the Loop.  Stroll down the Loop Walk of Fame.  Along the way try Cicero’s, Brandt’s, Riddles Penultimate, or the Thai, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian or Chinese places.  Fitz’s Root Beer Bottling Company is fun. 

The CWE is where the serious money folks of the 19th century hung out.  It’s worth the trip for the architecture, but you’ll want to gorge on lox, chopped liver and mile high sandwiches at Koppermans, the best deli on earth (yes, I’ve eaten in New York and Chicago delis; this is still my pick).   For a genuine Welsh pub experience try Llewellyn’s, or just hang out at Duffs and watch the crowds go by while you eat.  The Pasta House has a restaurant in the CWE.  I don’t usually mention chains, but this one is local, offering really good Italian food and a marinated salad to die for.

At the art museum, be sure to lunch at Puck’s (as in Wolfgang).  For casual fare in Forest Park, the Boathouse offers lakeside dining.  Although the food at our top-ranked zoo isn’t gourmet, fuel up to watch tiger cubs and penguins.

St. Charles is an old French settlement filled with great places to eat interspersed with shops of all varieties.  Vivian’s Vineyards in French Town has a very good eclectic menu.  The Lewis & Clark features American cuisine and a knockout view of the Missouri River.  If you’re looking for a neat lunch place, Miss Aimee B’s Tea Room is just the thing.  Try their quiche.

Alton, Illinois, on the Great River Road, is a quick drive to see autumn colors.  The historic old river town sits high on the bluffs and is filled with antique shops and restaurants.  For nostalgia, don’t miss Fast Eddie’s Bon Air for burgers and beer at bargain prices—you’ll think you’ve been teleported back to the l950’s.  Tony’s offers  delish artichoke appetizers and steaks.  Gentelins is a must for toasted ravioli (St. Louis own invention) and sensational seafood.  My Just Desserts offers superb lunches and home-made pies.

St. Louis is filled with incredible places to eat in anyone’s price range.  Now I’ll tell you what tastes best of all.  If the baseball gods favor the Cardinals in ’09, the nearest thing to heaven is eating a juicy jumbo hotdog while you sip an ice cold beer at Busch Stadium!

Bon appetite!
Shirl Henke

P.S. from Kasey Michaels:  I checked, and even if the Cards don’t make the Division playoffs in 2009, the Milwaukee Brewers did in 2008 …and the Brewers wrap-up the regular 2009 season in Saint Louis during our conference.  There’s a night game Friday night and day games Saturday and Sunday, and the Drury Plaza is only one block away from Busch Stadium.  Alert all baseball fans, because “We got game!” Oh, and juicy jumbo hotdogs…

And one more thing…as we get closer to the conference date, we’ll have hotlinks up on the website for as many of the above fabulous restaurants as we can, for your convenience.

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Coming soon:  Why Kids Love Saint Louis