Some final thoughts on my weekend in St. Louis...
On the whole I liked St. Louis. But there was one scene which summed up the city for me. As we were driving west over to The Cellar, I spied a new or newly remodeled apartment building. Lovely red brick dotted with black iron balconies. Next to it was a vacant lot overgrown with weeds and ringed by a fence topped with barbed wire. That juxtaposition really encapsulated the city for me. Signs of life and prosperity sitting uneasily next to abandonment and decay. (It was easy to see where all the melancholy in Jay Farrar's songs comes from.) At its peak in the 1950s St. Louis was home to 850,000 people while the most recent census estimate places that figure at just over 312,000. So vacant lots and boarded up buildings are to be expected.
As a public transit advocate I looked for buses but didn't see many. Before I knew where we were going to be staying I gave the Metro Transit site a perusal in case I had time to wander on my own. Bus service was a lot like Madison's in that headway dropped to 30-40 minutes, generally, outside of rush hour. I did see one of the MetroLink trains over in East St. Louis heading across the river. (Parts of East St. Louis seen from the interstate look almost like war zones with abandoned and burned out buildings.) But we didn't spend much time near the train's route.
The lack of public transit and the near absence of bicyclists and pedestrians that I mentioned in a previous post meant that St. Louis lacked that vital pulse that makes cities what they are. Most folks got in their cars, drove, parked, and went inside, it seemed. A week before going to St. Louis I was in Chicago to see "Hamilton" and the contrast between the downtowns is remarkable.
Comparing St. Louis and Chicago comes with a lot of caveats – size, population, and so on. Still, St. Louis' downtown was indeed eerily quiet. It just didn't seem to have a great density of shops and whatnot to keep drawing people. I mean, if you're a St. Louisan, how many times can you go see the Arch? I don't recall seeing any theatres and the City Museum is west of the CBD. I'll note that we only covered a limited area. However, it appears that most of the touristy attractions in St. Louis are outside of downtown and really rather dispersed around the city.
I've already written two posts about the St. Louis beer scene so I won't say too much here besides that I was mightily impressed. A good variety of new and old. Sour beers, English milds, German lagers, eyepahs heavy on fruity American hops – it was all there. And that $2.50 half pints at Civil Life were a real treat.
The food was great. Plenty of pork. Smoked salmon was rather common which surprised me. Next time I'm down there I must try out the unique culinary treats
on offer though I reserve the right to be patently offended by Provel.
I consider St. Louis to be part of the South though everyone I ran into spoke with a Midwestern accent. People were also uniformly friendly.
So that's my take on St. Louis. There was a palpable sense of decline though there certainly were bright spots. Not only was there was great contrast to The Loop but even to Madison. Despite all of its problems, its small townness, and envy of larger cities, Madison is a city on the make and growing. Two very different vibes.
I have only scratched the surface of St. Louis, though. The city may only be 312,000 people but the metro area, depending on your definition, is somewhere between 2.2-2.8 million. Not insignificant. There's still much of the area to see and experience.
Labels: St. Louis, Travel