By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Fenske
Ok, we're assholes. We'll admit that when we wrote about how the Dodgers would beat the Cardinals in the NLCS and St. Louis sucks, we were filled with confidence over the hometown team's late season surge -- and perhaps high on all the Vitamin D provided by the year-round sunshine here.
But what were we thinking? The piece is full of cheap shots -- who makes jokes about fat kids? What kind of jackass doesn't love a good free zoo?
And so, a day after the Dodgers' defeat, in an effort to beg forgiveness from a city where we both once lived and in fact still love, here are our top 10 reasons why St. Louis is actually a sweet place to live.
10. Cost of Living
This is the elephant in the room: L.A. is ridiculously expensive, and if you want a decent quality of life you need to be making that Adrian Gonzalez money, or living off somebody else's. In St. Louis you can work a normal job and still be a baller. Or, a creative type; the city by the Mississippi remains a viable spot for young artists to hone their craft without begging, borrowing or stealing. You can't say that about any decent city on the West Coast.
9. Housing Stock
It's not just that housing is cheap -- the spots you get for your money are first-rate. Hardwood floors, crown molding, tin ceilings, and lots and lots of sturdy brick -- there's a classic, timeless look to St. Louis residential architecture that's impossible not to love.
And on that note, these glorious apartments don't exist in isolation. Upon preparing a move to L.A., a St. Louis friend asked our advice finding a neighborhood similar to the Central West End. Huh. Where in L.A. is there a neighborhood close to both downtown and the city's best university, with a multitude of great apartments surrounded by beautiful old mansions, at least a half-dozen superb restaurants, and some really great bars -- with streets lined by gorgeous old trees and wrought-iron fences? Oh, and that also has a truly great independent bookstore and a super-cool piece of public art designed by no less than Maya Lin? Nowhere. You can't find a neighborhood like that in most cities in the world, much less one that's affordable to the creative class.
And that's not even touching on the plethora of great neighborhoods available to those who like a little grit. You could get an awesomely affordable apartment on Cherokee Street or off South Grand, in Benton Park or Tower Grove or Midtown St. Louis, and you'd be surrounded by cool kids doing whatever it is the cool kids do in 2014. (Is making jam still in? OK, what about jewelry?) These are all great, cosmopolitan neighborhoods that you just won't find anywhere else.
7. It's Got an Edge
Parts of St. Louis feel like New York City must have felt in the '70s, before the interesting Manhattanites were pushed out by gentrification. Yes, there's crime, but there are also interesting people arguing about interesting things. There is no nanny state here. Not only can you talk on your cell phone while driving, but you can still smoke in some of the bars, you'll feel free to get stumbling-down drunk, and you can stay out extra late due to...
6. 3 a.m. Bars
Every neighborhood in St. Louis seems to have at least one bar with a license that allows it to serve booze til 3 a.m. And while an extra hour past L.A. last call might not seem like a big deal, when you're in the middle of a yarn about nothing important that lasts forever without going anywhere, but that your friends are just drunk enough to enjoy, trust us, you really appreciate it.
Not marijuana (L.A. clearly wins on that front), but, like, real grass. In St. Louis it grows naturally, without lots of watering, indicative of a lush climate that produces some gorgeous vistas. Which also leads to great places to go camping; instead of plopping down on hard, sandy earth, you can pitch your tent under actual tree cover so you don't have to absorb the scorching sun. Which leads us to...
New England gets all the glory, but there are few postcards more picturesque than St. Louis in autumn. Part of the reason those photos of Cardinals World Series victory parades (and yes, there have been a lot of them) are so amazing are because of the orange, yellow, brown and red backdrops.
3. Forest Park
Speaking of foliage, St. Louis' entire parks system is pretty great. The city was largely laid out in an era when great time and energy was given to urban planning and design, and it shows in the parks system. We're partial to Tower Grove Park, but it's understandable why there are so many boosters of the city's behemoth Forest Park. For starters, have you seen the freaking Jewel Box?
It's also worth mentioning that, for all of California's bluster about its progressivism, it's St. Louis, stuck in the middle of a purple state that leans further and further red, that puts its money where its mouth is. The one percent income tax levied on all city residents means there's enough money to subsidize free museums and support a cultural scene much more sophisticated than the city's size would suggest. Sit outside the free art museum for a free movie in beautifully maintained (and also free) Forest Park, and that kind of investment starts to make sense.
As much as assholes like us prefer to focus on kitschy nostalgia like toasted ravioli and Imo's pizza, the real thing driving St. Louis' dining scene today is its diversity, which has led to a bounty of delicious cuisines you wouldn't necessarily associate with the heartland. On South Grand alone, you can sample very good iterations of Vietnamese, Ethiopian and Thai. The Middle Eastern food in the Loop is a revelation. And for the uninitiated, the grilled kababs, stews and flatbreads of the city's Bosnian restaurants might actually blow your mind -- they're that good.
Then there's Gerard Craft. What Craft is serving at his signature restaurant, Niche, is so amazing that, after a meal here, our visiting SoCal friends could hardly control their envy. Same with Craft's Taste, a cocktail bar serving up some of the best drinks we've ever had. Period.
1. The Arch
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Ok, we'll admit it: The Arch is breathtakingly cool. Yes, the symbolism of honoring those who moved on is a bit dubious (we stand by that one!). But it's impossible to stand anywhere near Eero Saarinen's glorious 600-foot silvery-steel loop and not feel swept away. Does it even beat the Hollywood sign? Yes, it does. There. We said it.
All hail the Arch, and St. Louisans please don't dump your Ted Drewes on our heads when we next return. After all those concretes are, we must also admit, delicious.