The Happiness of Pursuit and Roasted Peanuts
The journey begins. Angela and I woke up early in the morning consumed by anticipation of the adventure that lied ahead of us. Procrastinating of course, we briskly packed our bags and headed off to the San Antonio International Airport for our flight to St. Louis, Missouri. As we departed, curiosity overcame us as we discussed the unknowns of the culture that we were about to uncover. Honestly, we were naive as to what to expect and what we were about to experience.
After putting Angela to sleep with a myriad of arbitrary blues trivia and a hefty meal of honey roasted peanuts, I decided to do a bit of pre-travel reading. I continued where I left off in a book called “The Happiness of Pursuit”, written by Chris Guillebeau. The book outlines riveting stories from all around the world of people embarking on quests and pursing their dreams. It not only shows how pursuing these ventures can add incredible value to our lives, but also, how it can define us. I knew in that moment who I was; I knew that I wasn’t destined to remain confined to a mundane lifestyle of sedentary conformity, which had once been my reality. Rather, I seek an existence that is sporadic, adventurous, and that values the abundance of life; this is my quest.
The Grove and RISE Coffee House
Even after a pretty incredible nap on the plane, we were both in dire need of coffee once we landed in St. Louis. After picking up our rental car, we made our way to RISE Coffee House, which is tucked away in the town’s art and boutique district, The Grove. I may or may not have been incorrectly navigating us on our walk to RISE, so let’s just say we got to see a lot of this part of town. In this seemingly inconspicuous neighborhood, the brick buildings are adorned with street art, the shops are filled with your favorite classic vinyls, and the smell of coffee permeated the air.
My love of coffee is strong, or if you ask Angela, too much, so it’s no surprise that I’m always on a mission to find quality coffee shops. Walking into RISE Coffee House, I knew this was no exception. Angela ordered the mocha latte and I ordered the vanilla late, with not one, but two blueberry muffins; yes, they were that good. The lattes were phenomenal, the staff was very courteous, and the entire shop provided a calming, yet inspiring atmosphere for us to plan the rest of our adventure.
The Hill and Anthonino’s Taverna
Driving into St. Louis’ Little Italy, better known as The Hill, Fiats, elderly Italian couples, and the smell of perfectly seasoned meatballs consumed the streets; I knew that I would fit right in. Also, on almost every street corner, the fire hydrants were painted with the Italian flag. Did I need any more reassurance that this place was going to be fantastic?
Walking into Anthonino’s Taverna, one of St. Louis’ most superlative Italian restaurants, the ambiance was exemplary. The composition of the calmly dimmed lights, the late 1940s swing music resting in the background, and the aroma of the cuisine made us feel right at home. We initially we came to Anthonino’s to taste their famous toasted ravioli, which of course, was as incredible as it sounds. It’s essentially a ravioli that is first breaded, then baked, and finally served with a side of their house made marinara – perfection. With our meal, we also ate their fried calamari and gyro pizza; both are highly recommended. Needless to say, we were both very impressed with Anthonino’s Taverna.
The Gateway Arch
The Gateway to the West. Suffering from a relatively severe food coma after eating at Anthonino’s Taverna, we made our way downtown to The Gateway Arch. As we walked closer towards The Arch, we were truly captivated by its magnitude. Erected at 630 feet, it serves as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States. Cool, right? No? Maybe I’m just a nerd. Regardless, the structure is absolutely breathtaking. Typically, you can purchase tickets to take a tram ride to the top of The Arch, enabling a bird’s eye view of the city. Unfortunately, the day we were in St. Louis, it was closed due to maintenance. Bummer. Either way, my nerdy self was ecstatic to witness the monument and read all the historical plaques.
Andrew Bird and The Lumineers
Alright, so I have the most thoughtful, loving, and incredible fiancé ever; it’s okay to be jealous. She had surprised me for Christmas with tickets to an Andrew Bird and Lumineers concert, yes, you guessed it, in St. Louis. Guys, I screamed like a little girl and I couldn’t be more proud. So that being said, this was the main reason why we made our venture to The Gateway City. On our way to the Chaifetz Arena, our Uber driver, Bridgett, told us all of her favorite things to do in the city, including the city’s blues bars, which you’ll read about in a bit.
Arriving at Chaifetz, we thanked Bridgett and ran like the little kids we were to the arena. We arrived relatively early, so we picked up some really neat t-shirts to add to our stash of memorabilia, which we both know we didn’t need any more of. But hey, you’re only in St. Louis once, right? On our way to our seats we ordered a couple of “Sleep on the Floor” cocktails, which were the chai infused signature drink of the night – not bad.
Drinks in hand, we made it to our seats. The opening act was Margaret Glaspy, an up and coming artist out the indie scene – incredible. She held such a raw and gritty talent that left us in chills. Next up, one of my long time favorites, the one man band, Andrew Bird. As a musician, taking part in one of his shows was a pretty big deal for me, as he has been one of my most pertinent influences. Finally, the big moment was here; The Lumineers came on stage. The performance was superb, engaging, and by far one of the most memorable shows I have or will ever see. You thought I was just a nerd for history, didn’t you? Well, my love of music far surpasses my infatuation of historical events, so this made for an unparalleled Christmas gift. Kudos, Alfaro.
Day two. After one of the most memorable nights of our lives, we woke up the next morning refreshed and ready for the day ahead. To get started, we took stroll down to the beard themed coffee utopia, better known as Sump Coffee. As we walked into the shop, the walls were adorned with bearded skull wallpaper, which was really cool, being a bearded man, myself. Making our to the counter, we discovered that Sump takes a more natural approach to their caffeinated craftsmanship. When ordering a latte, they didn’t offer any additional syrups or additives. However, the barista assured me that the flavor of the coffee alone surpassed the need for syrups, and oh man, he was right. The coffee embodied a rich, smooth and robust flavor that truly made it delightful experience. Enjoying our natural brew over meaningful conversations was just what we needed to get the day going.
Sufficiently caffeinated and ready to go, we took a drive to St Louis’ downtown area for some pre-adventure breakfast at the local eatery, Rooster. Walking in, it was packed. Somehow, we were lucky enough to get a table for two during the breakfast rush. Score, right? We sat down and ordered some drinks, because as everyone knows, it’s completely acceptable to enjoy a cocktail at 10:30 in the morning, right? Angela ordered a sunset mimosa and I had the honey nut old-fashioned. Now, this wasn’t your average old-fashioned; it was probably the most potent variety of the cocktail that I’ve ever had. Moderately drunk, we were ready to order pre-breakfast dessert. “What is pre-breakfast dessert?”, you may ask. Well, Angela and I are slightly odd in the fact that we always eat dessert first. I know, we’re pretty cool. We started off with house made crepe, filled with Nutella, bananas and strawberries – incredible. For the main entrée, we enjoyed the Rooster Slinger, which is a mash of andouille sausage, potatoes, fried eggs, and sausage gravy over freshly made biscuits, which was delicious. It was so much food that we had to share and I’m really glad that we did.
The City Museum
Successfully in another food coma, we decided to walk roughly a mile to our next destination, The City Museum. Later in this article, I will describe what it feels like to dwell in this city, but for now, we’ll stay on track. Walking to the museum, it’s relatively impossible to miss. The building is surrounded by what can only be described an artistic jungle gym towering hundreds of feet into the sky.. The museum was opened in 1997 by the world-renowned artist, Bob Cassilly. The building is a retrofitted shoe factory that is an ever-changing architectural and artistic playground for both children and adults.
Walking inside, we ordered our tickets and anxiously began our adventure. Why anxiously? Well, while the museum architecturally brilliant, almost everything in there is potentially a major safety hazard. That being said, I was still ecstatic. My inner child came out as I went down not one, but two extremely bumpy metal slides, ran in a life-sized hamster wheel, and crawled through a series of caves and mazes. We also found some very intricate works of art, which you can see pictures of on our Instagram page. While yes, we were pretty nervous walking through there and would never think of bringing a child there, we absolutely had a blast.
Neighborhoods and Attractions
After The City Museum, we decided to relax for a bit and take a drive through some St. Louis’ famous neighborhoods and see some local attractions. On our route, we drove through Soulard, an affluent neighborhood with beautiful architecture. Now, almost every building in St. Louis is made out of brick, but these were truly architectural beauties. We also drove through Cherokee Street, a well-known shopping district in the town and past the Cathedral Basilica, which was practically a caste. We concluded our drive by tour as we drove past the Anheuser-Busch factory, whose neon lights eerily radiated through the night sky and also Fairground Park.
The Fountain on Locust
Time for pre-dinner dessert! I know, I know, we’re weird. We made a quick pit-stop at The Fountain on Locust, a local restaurant known for the ice cream creations. We only stopped by briefly, but the time we spent there left us vastly impressed. We ordered a bourbon banana foster, which our bar tender made with a blow torch right in front of us. How cool, right? It was delicious, and without question just the snack we needed to get us to dinner.
Broadway Oyster Bar
Ready to hit the town, we arrived at Broadway Oyster Bar, one of St. Louis’ most esteemed restaurants and live music venues. We sat down, listened to music in the outside pavilion area, and ordered our appetizers. We started off with a sampler of 3 varieties of oysters, and alligator cheese cake. Alligator cheesecake? No, I thought the same thing, it’s not a dessert. However, it is a slice of heaven. I’m not exactly sure how to describe it other than a hot, delectable alligator cream cheese spread that you eat with freshly made pita bread; I could have had ten servings. After our appetizers, we shared a lobster tail po’ boy, which we eventually regretted not getting two of because it was really that good.
The Beale on Broadway
Only a 2 minute walk away was a famous blues bar known as The Beale on Broadway, which I was dying to go to. Inside was no disappointment. Band portraits, guitars, and random music memorabilia consumed the bar’s interior. Not to mention, the music, which is the reason we went was top-tier. I couldn’t have expected any more from this classic blues venue.
The Mud House
Departure day. With our adventure coming to a close and 3 hour flight ahead of us, we needed one last coffee fix and of course, some breakfast. I had my signature vanilla late, and Angela tried the rosemary honey latte, which were fantastic. We initiated our morning ritual of “cheers” and waited for our breakfast to be served. I ordered the french toast with bananas, and she had the biscuits and gravy. It was no surprise that the food was a home run. How can you go wrong with french toast with bananas? Answer – you can’t.
I had decided to wait until the end of this article to describe the spirit of St. Louis. I wanted you to comprehend the beauty and treasures that are hidden in what we both discovered to be an ever so somber town. Traveling through St. Louis, we had no idea what to expect.
Experiencing the boarded up brick houses, the uninhabited factories, and feeling the aura of lifelessness shocked us more than I could ever put into words. It’s seems that all that was once in abundance was now abandoned; neither us expected this. We both felt a heaviness in our spirits while were there. What we once envisioned was a vibrant, lively city its prime, was now seemingly devoid of life and color – at least we thought. Being the optimists that we are, though, we didn’t give up. We found that in the midst of this darkness, St. Louis was the home to so many remarkable gems and truly rich in culture – and food, you can’t forget about the food.
While spirit of St. Louis holds a haunting presence, we couldn’t have been happier to travel there. The places that we had went to, the people we met, the food we tasted, the coffee we sipped, and the life that we lived were more valuable than we could have ever asked for. I owe it all to my loving fiancé for initiating what was another memorable adventure. Yes, yes, I know – I couldn’t be luckier.
“Just Say Yes”
“Just say yes, and you’ll figure it out afterwards.” This has been my motto for pretty much all of my life. I live on this string of hope. When I was crafting the perfect gift in my mind, I happened to be scrolling Facebook when I came across The Lumineers page and found out they were on tour with Andrew Bird! Ryan had been dying to see him. However, I sadly learned that they both wouldn’t be coming to Texas.
Therefore, I knew I had to find a way for us to go elsewhere. St. Louis proved to be the most cost-effective on both flights and hotels, and we were going somewhere we both had never been! I booked the concert tickets, and everything else fell into place. The look on his face was priceless. I love that he appreciates my mentality on life, and makes me feel like we can take on the world together!
The Grove and RISE Coffee House
We had to wake up super early for our flight. Note to self: do not book anymore early flights and pack the night before. Rise Coffee proved to be worth the wait to quench our thirsty hearts, and the homemade blueberry muffins were food to my soul. Be sure to check out their Pay it Forward wall! The stroll back to the car was pure eye candy. The brick buildings were the perfect canvas to the adorned graffiti street art. With no one in sight, it felt as if we had the whole city to ourselves.
The Hill and Anthonino’s Taverna
On a quest to discover some of St.Louis’ infamous toasted ravioli, we traveled to the heart of the Italian neighborhood called The Hill. We stumbled upon Anthonino’s Taverna, and stepped into a little piece of both Italy and Greece! A combination of two of my favorite foods in one restaurant! What more could a hungry girl ask for?
There was no wait, so we were seated immediately into a quaint little booth. The ambiance was perfect for our date night. We devoured the toasted ravioli that I had been talking Ryan’s ear off about! They were as delectable as I had imagined they would be! For our main entrée, we decided to collide both the Italian and Greek world by ordering a gyro pizza. We live life on the edge!
The Gateway Arch
Ryan and I have this habit of displaying our computer screen savers as our travel dream board for wherever we want to travel to next. My screen saver did not do The Gateway Arch justice. As we embarked to the infamous Arch, I was in awe the closer we got! The arch is nestled in Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and was built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States. I felt like Alice in wonderland, as I marveled at its magnitude. I was sad that we weren’t able to venture to the top, but then again I’m deathly afraid of heights. Therefore it was probably a blessing in disguise. That just means we have to come back!
Andrew Bird and The Lumineers
The concert was one of the highlights of our weekend! Thankfully, the Courtyard by Marriott that we stayed at was the perfect central location to everything we did in St. Louis, including the Chaifetz arena. The Chaifetz arena is a smaller, intimate, venue. We grabbed the signature drink, which happened to be one of my favorite Lumineer songs called Sleep on the floor. It was a mixture of bourbon and chai tea. We were feeling festive! We had prepared for this moment forever. We had been listening to The Lumineers CD for two weeks straight, just so that we could memorize and recite every lyric by heart!
Andrew Bird and Margaret Glasby opened for The Lumineers and were a joy to hear live! When The Lumineers hit the stage, magic ensued. I got a little teary eyed as Wes explained the song meanings behind most of the new album Cleopatra. His biggest influence was his father, who ended up passing away from cancer, and his father never got to see him perform live. I was heartbroken. I couldn’t imagine a world without my dad. You could just feel his heart and soul poured into the music. That night just confirmed that Ryan’s Christmas gift was totally worth the risk!
The next morning we headed over to Sump Coffee. As soon as you walk in, the heart of the coffee shop was tattooed all over the walls. The inspiration of their unique decor oozed over into the coffee. They created an experience that cannot be easily replicated. I was surprised to find out upon arriving that they do not use any fancy syrups or whipped cream, and they focus on specialized coffee beans. The customer service was out of this world, as they take the time to explain their unique menu. One interesting feature is that you don’t pay your tab until you leave. Take some time to peruse their merchandise section, so that you can take a piece of Sump Coffee back home with you.
Per Ryan’s suggestion, we cruised to the heart of downtown St. Louis to have brunch at Rooster. We walked in and the entire restaurant was busy and bustling with people enjoying mid-day Sunday afternoon conversations. This European style cafe is a very popular destination, however, were able to get seated right away! We started off with some cocktails. I fell in love with the refreshing taste of the sunset mimosa, and Ryan gravitated to the honey nut old-fashioned. We are quirky in that we like to enjoy dessert first, so we ordered the Nutella Strawberry and Banana crepe. My taste buds threw a party! As soon as I get back home, I will be incorporating this dish into my everyday life! Our entrée was the Rooster Slinger, which I highly recommend! They serve andouille sausage, breakfast potatoes, fried eggs and sausage over biscuits. I couldn’t get enough, and still dream about that entrée to this day! Be sure to visit Rooster while you are in St. Louis, you will not be disappointed!
The City Museum
After everything we ate, we decided that we were going to walk to our next destination, The City Museum. This was a very whimsical stop and is sure to bring out the inner child in you. There are several floors, and you never know what’s just around the corner. They are constantly building on to the museum so some sections were closed due to construction. We ended up spending most of our day here, as we easily lost track of time! We explored caverns, watched a circus show, admired art displays, and just embraced our carefree spirit that we both felt when we were kids. These moments seem more and more rare as you get older. However, this day made me realize that I needed more days like this. Needless to say, my inner child thanked me.
The Fountain on Locust
After driving around the historic neighborhoods of St. Louis, our paths crossed The Fountain on Locust. This one of a kind, unique, Art Deco restaurant has an ambiance that makes you feel like you stepped into a time machine. I was swept away at the decor and charm that this restaurant was adorned with. We shared the Bourbon Banana Foster at the bar, and we actually got to see the process of how it was made by our (ice cream) bartender. I don’t think I have ever ordered an alcohol infused ice cream at a bar, so this was a first for me! This dessert left you wanting more!
Broadway Oyster Bar
We regrouped at the hotel, and got fancy for a night out on the town. We were on a mission to listen to some blues, so we made our way to Broadway Street where we stumbled upon the Broadway Oyster Bar. Be sure to sit in the outdoor patio area where you can enjoy live blues music while you eat. We started off with their infamous alligator cheesecake; this appetizer alone will bring me back to St.Louis. As for oysters, we sampled the Bienville, Rockefeller and the Cardinale varieties. For the main entrée, we ate the lobster tail po’ boy and my stomach was so happy that I could feel it doing cartwheels! Upon leaving, we spoke with Mandy, of one of the employees, who shared with us that their menu derived influence from New Orleans, and that they actually trade recipes during Mardi Gras. This was a fun little fact. She also highly recommended Zia’s Restaurant for when we come back to visit St. Louis.
The Beale on Broadway
We didn’t want the night to end, much less the vacation. We ended up driving to Beale on Broadway, which ended up being walking distance to the restaurant, and we didn’t even realize it. (Fun fact: we do this A LOT!) We paid a small cover fee to listen to the soul music of St. Louis! We had the privilege of listening to Big Mike and the Blue City Allstars along with Soul Reunion that night. The atmosphere was entrancing. The walls were covered in black and white pictures of music icons. I felt like I was in another era.
The Mud House
We had a plane to catch the next day, but we managed to make one last coffee shop stop at The Mud House. There was a very welcoming atmosphere with an industrial chic design. When you go up to the counter to order there is a mat that reads, “It’s gonna be good.” So I knew that I was in for a delightful surprise. I ordered the honey rosemary latte with my biscuits and gravy and Ryan ordered a vanilla latte with his banana foster French toast. Our last meal in St. Louis before boarding a plane back home to everything that would be familiar.
I always feel sad leaving a city. Kind of like I’m going to miss who I was while I was there because I know I will never come back as that same person. St.Louis had a lot to offer and left us with some wonderful memories. We kind of went during an off-season so it felt like we had the entire city to ourselves. You couldn’t help but a feel a sense of abandonment with all the vacant homes and warehouses that had shattered windows and debris. I couldn’t help but wonder what stories those abandoned dwellings might have held. Then again, maybe that’s the beauty of being abandoned.