In July, Fortune Magazine published a list it titled “The 100 Greatest Things about America.” Some of the things on their list were no-brainers (Steve Jobs, Ben & Jerry’s, the Mississippi River), while others had me scratching my head (the Kardashians?). I started to come up with my own list, but then I thought, wait, what we really need is a “100 Greatest Things about St. Louis” list.
Well, while it may sound like a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, actually coming up with 100 things all by myself proved to be a daunting task. I was stymied at 23 for hours until the last two popped into my head. So, here’s my list of 25 Great Things about St. Louis, and except for #1, it’s really offered up in no particular order.
1) The Arch. It may seem obvious, but the beauty and simplicity of this remarkable monument, along with its back story about exploration and the human spirit, make it the best thing about this City.
2) The Trees. This may seem a strange thing to include in a “greatest” list but you have only to look at a topographical map to see that this region is essentially a forest. If you don’t believe me, or the map, just drive down Hwy 40, and take a look at how thick the trees are on both sides of the highway. No matter how often we cut them down, they just keep coming back.
3) The Museums. We are rich in culture, and it’s not just because of the Saint Louis Art Museum in Forest Park (although it makes the list separately; see below). How about the Missouri History Museum, the Museum under the Arch, the Contemporary Art Museum, the Wax Museum, the Campbell House Museum, the Dental Health Theatre, the Holocaust Museum & Learning Center, the Miniature Museum, the Museum of Transportation, and the Dog Museum? And that’s not even a complete list. There’s more here: http://www.stlouisattractions.com/museums.htm
4) The Hill. Italian cuisine has now spread to West County and St. Charles and beyond, but it started here, and the best can still be found here.
5) The Saint Louis Bread Company. They started here and spread out across the country, in the best tradition of the American entrepreneurial spirit, but we still call them our own (no Panera in this town!), and they still have the best hazelnut coffee.
6) The Architecture. I took my first architectural tour of the City of Saint Louis during my senior year of high school, and I’ve been looking up ever since. Did you know we have two sphinxes in this town? Yep – on top of the civil courts building downtown. Do you know what a half-flounder house is? Look it up! We also have two – TWO – Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Usonian houses in the area. One is in Kirkwood (in Ebsworth Park on Ballas Road) and the other is at 8654 Masonridge Road in West County.
7) The Saint Louis Art Museum. I don’t have enough space to write about what a wonderful gem this museum is for our area; you could write a book (somebody probably has). I recently enjoyed the Monet exhibit currently on display at SLAM, and it was lovely and provided a thorough history into this period in art history, but then I walked across the great hall and into the Max Beckmann hall, and I was amazed all over again. I could spend a day looking at that exhibit alone, and did you know we have the largest Beckmann collection in the world? Uh huh. Not to mention mummies and a Van Gogh or two. Visit their Website: www.slam.org.
8) The Bookstore: Left Bank Books. There was a time when this region was full of independent bookstores (Paul’s Books, Library Ltd., and others). There are still a few hold-outs, but none more successful than Left Bank on Euclid. Still eclectic, still iconic, still there.
9) The Faust Park Carousel. It’s a lovely old merry-go-round that you can visit and ride on year ‘round because it’s indoors. The ride is cheap and then you can head across the park to the Butterfly House and top it all off with a picnic in the park.
10) The Weather. Yeah, we complain about how quickly it changes, but there is nothing better than a brilliant red April tulip after a winter of snow and ice, or the dazzling colors of a Saint Louis autumn in the wake of 30 straight 99-degree days. We like our weather, thank you very much, and we like to complain about it. So bug off.
11) The Wineries. Missouri wine country is coming into its own. On a sunny, warm Saturday, winery parking lots in Augusta and Defiance, along Hwy 94, are packed with St. Louisans kickin’ back.
12) The Saint Louis Zoo. My dad took us to the Zoo as kids only when it rained (“because it’s not crowded then”) and I took my own kids there weekly when they were little, rain or shine. I think I can say without fear of being called a braggart that we have the best damned zoo in the country, and it is absolutely FREE.
13) The Cardinals. We may be Cardinal Nation, but the Cardinals are America’s Team. With their 11th World Series title now firmly in hand, there is only one team that has won more championships (and does anybody really like the Yankees?).
14) The High School Pride. Transplants may not quite understand why we do this, but for Saint Louisans, asking where you went to high school is not a query about one’s socioeconomic background. It’s a starting point in a conversation about community. It’s the way we connect. “Oh, I know somebody who went there…”
15) The Father of Rock 'n Roll: Chuck Berry. Post-Dispatch Columnist Bill McClellan has been calling for a Berry statue for years, and this year, our very own rock 'n roll hall of famer finally got his statue, in the Loop, where it belongs. If you haven’t had a chance to see Chuck play at Blueberry Hill, what are you waiting for?
16) The Columnist: Bill McClellan. He’s a transplant from Chicago, and we’ll forgive him for that and for his undying love for the Cubs (gotta admire a guy who never gives up). He has made this town his home and we are the better for it.
17) The Places of Higher Learning. There was a TV marketing campaign back in the 70s called “Saint Louis Has it All from A to Z.” It was a catchy tune, and I can still sing parts of it, including the line that went “Four universities…” This was before Webster, Fontbonne, and Lindenwood colleges became universities, so I always wondered how they counted to four (UMSL, Wash U, and SLU were all I could come up with). That is still an unsolved riddle (unless they were including SIU-Edwardsville across the river, which is a possibility), but 35 years later, we still have a great selection of colleges and universities for our kids to attend, and two of those are nationally renowned – Washington University for its medical school and research facilities, and Webster for its world-class theatre program.
18) The Radio Station: KDHX 88.1 FM. If you haven’t heard Steve Pick’s “Sound Salvation” on Friday mornings or Bluegrass Breakdown on Sundays, or any of the other music and informational programs available, you need to add “turn your radio on” to your daily driving routine. “Independent music plays here,” in the best St. Louis tradition, and it’s all done by volunteers.
19) The Cuisine. Imo’s Pizza, gooey butter cake, St. Paul sandwiches, toasted ravioli, and pork steaks. Nobody else gets us.
20) The Comeback Community: North Saint Louis County. Home to UMSL, Ferguson Farmers’ Market, Doozle’s Frozen Custard, historic old-town Florissant, Boeing, Fort Bellefontaine Park, the Confluence, the Corner Coffee House, three golf courses, and an economic revitalization that can’t be crushed.
21) The Women: Maya Angelou, Tina Turner, Kate Chopin, Mona Van Duyn, Katherine Dunham, and a dozen other artists and writers who through their art and the way they lived their lives have enriched ours, and inspired our daughters.
22) The Beer. We used to be known for baseball and shoes and beer and for a while the latter two industries flourished and then floundered, but beer has made a comeback. A-B is still here but finding stiff competition from local microbreweries, starting with Schlafly and continuing with Trailhead in St. Charles, Ferguson Brewing, Kirkwood Brewing, and others.
23) The Entrepreneurs: Joe Edwards (U City), Joe Lonero (Ferguson), and the late Bob Cassilly (the City Museum and city art). A great town is only as good as its dreamers.
24) The Pizzeria: Pizza A-Go-Go. Pi and Deweys and other good pizza makers may come and go, but the Go-Go still serves the best pizza in the region. No salads, no sandwiches. Just pizza. Cash only. And don’t touch the organ.
25) The Mississippi River. As I’ve wandered around this beautiful country, in all directions, I’ve crossed many bridges and many rivers that led me to think, sometimes out loud, they call that a river? In the end, there is only one, and it is ours.
So that’s my list. Even at 25, it is too long, so I invite all of you readers to offer your additions to the list. Maybe together we can make it to a hundred. What’s on your list?