Strip malls and Starbucks are making some American cities practically indistinguishable from each other, but one Midwestern metropolis is resisting the lure of cookie-cutter sameness. St. Louis has been attracting diverse people since 1673. The heritage-rich city was once dominated by ethnic enclaves; now it’s composed of neighborhoods that are friendly but still fiercely protective of their own unique character. Here are six worth checking out.
St. Louis’s French background is most clearly on display in Soulard, especially when the neighborhood hosts riotous celebrations of Mardi Gras and Bastille Day, complete with a reenactment of the lopping off of Marie Antoinette’s head. There’s also an annual wine festival, but don’t let that fool you. St. Louis is a beer town, and Soulard, the home of Anheuser-Busch, is a beer neighborhood. Blues bars beckon from every street, and shaded patios give the neighborhood’s mix of doctors, lawyers, and brewery workers a place to mingle.
Shop: Soulard Farmers Market
Flower shops, spice stalls, and little boutiques are crammed together in this shopper’s paradise, the oldest farmers market “west of the Mississippi.”
Eat: The Great Grizzly Bear Restaurant &; Bar
The quirky Americana menu (s’mores for dessert, anyone?) gives a nod to Soulard’s history, offering Cajun quesadillas and a variety of shrimp dishes.
Stay: Clydesdale Cottage
This four-room bed-and-breakfast sits in the shadow of the Anheuser-Busch brewery; guests enjoy cozy rooms every night and a homemade breakfast every morning.
This eclectic entertainment district draws buttoned-up lawyers and Washington University students alike, all of whom spend money in the neighborhood’s vintage stores and ethnic restaurants. The area is anchored by the enterprises of entrepreneur Joe Edwards, which include: Pin-Up Bowl (www.pinupbowl.com), a fusion bowling alley/martini bar; a concert venue called the Pageant (www.thepageant.com); and, of course, Blueberry Hill, the beloved bar where Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (and St. Louis native) Chuck Berry plays once a month.
Shop: MacroSun International
This fair-trade shop on Delmar sells a colorful array of jewelry, tapestries, saris, and trinkets made in South Asia.
Eat: Blueberry Hill
Locals report that Berry likes the chicken wings here, but Blueberry Hill is also known for having some of the best burgers in town.
Stay: Seven Gables Inn
This 32-room Tudor-style boutique hotel treats its guests to a wine-and-cheese reception on weekday evenings.
Central West End
At the turn of the century, when riverboat captains wanted to get away from the smog and soot that blanketed downtown, they headed for what is now called the Central West End. The smog has long since departed the downtown area, but people continue to make the Central West End, where mansions that were built in the 1920s still stand, a popular destination today. The easy-to-stroll streets have maintained an air of comfortable sophistication with their antiques stores, art galleries, florists’ shops, and restaurants.
Shop: Rothschild’s Antiques &; Home Furnishings
When an antiques dealer partnered with an interior designer, it resulted in this high-end home store that mixes funky Italian bar stools with antique French settees.
Eat: Chez Léon
With foie gras and escargot on the menu, this French gem represents a culinary tribute to St. Louis’s founders. It has a charming outdoor-seating area, and when the weather’s good, French doors open to give the entire restaurant an open-air bistro feel.
Stay: Chase Park Plaza
This historic hotel fell into disrepair and was shuttered for most of the 1990s, but it has been restored and is again providing visitors with plush amenities, including a movie theater and a full-service barbershop.
More than 150 years after a large group of Italian immigrants settled in a small section of St. Louis, their descendants are still living in red brick houses on the Hill. The Hill is the sort of place where local bakeries coordinate which will be open on Saturday and which will be open on Sunday so that everyone will get a day of rest but no one will have to go without fresh bread. Here, people crowd into boccie clubs to socialize and into restaurants to eat the-real-deal lasagna.
Shop: John Viviano &; Sons
Vats of olives and huge wedges of cheese beckon local shoppers; those who aren’t looking for groceries can peruse a wide selection of Italian pottery.
Eat: Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill
Although there are several restaurants that claim to have deep-fried St. Louis’s first batch of toasted ravioli, one of the more widely believed stories is that a line cook at this Hill favorite committed one of the most fortunate mistakes in culinary history when he accidentally knocked a batch of ravioli into the fryer.
Stay: Drury Inn &; Suites Forest Park
This location of the St. Louis–based hotel chain, just a few blocks away from the Hill’s red brick houses, offers free drinks and snacks in the evening.
St. Louis doesn’t have the sort of city center that shuts down at six p.m.; thanks to its attractions, downtown St. Louis is a gathering place well into the evening. Out-of-towners come to see the Gateway Arch, and locals come to watch the Cardinals play baseball. An increasing number of people are calling downtown home now that the Washington Avenue loft district has turned what used to be run-down garment factories into a mix of spiffy residences, bars, and restaurants.
Shop: The Time Boutique & Salon
Independent designers keep this chic boutique well stocked with stylish clothes, jewelry, and bags.
Eat: Anthony’s Bar
10 South Broadway #150
This lunch and dinner spot shares a kitchen but not a menu (or a price range) with the tonier Tony’s. That means fabulous food with a variety of regional influences at a reasonable price.
Stay: Marriott St. Louis Union Station
During World War II, this castle-esque building was the busiest train station in the United States. Now guests marvel over the art and architecture of the station’s former Grand Hall in the hotel’s lobby and lounge.
Grand South Grand
A gazebo-studded Victorian park called Tower Grove borders one of the least staid neighborhoods in St. Louis, Grand South Grand, where thousands of immigrants settled in the 1970s and where there is now a delightful mix of languages and lifestyles. Lining South Grand Boulevard are Asian groceries as well as Middle Eastern import stores, so whether you need oyster sauce or fava beans, you can find it here.
Shop: Dunaway Books
Book lovers can skim more than 100,000 titles at this South Grand home for used, rare, and fine books.
Eat: Café Natasha’s Kabob International
Persian delicacies like chicken in a pomegranate sauce draw crowds to Natasha’s during the day, and in spring and summer, a hookah bar and patio keep people coming well into the night.
Stay: Fleur-de-Lys Mansion
Less than a mile from Tower Grove, this beautifully appointed bed-and-breakfast welcomes guests with cozy furniture, shelves full of books, and a baby grand piano.