Every month I, Patricia Kilbride, vow to take on and explore a new neighborhood of this quirky, vibrant, beautiful city and bring my reporting back to the you, the young and upcoming of St. Louis. The ultimate goal? To expose the hidden gems this incredible city has to offer, and motivate all of us, whether born-and-raised St. Louisans, or transplants like myself, to break out of our comfort zones and explore all the wondrous nooks and crannies this place has to offer.
I first came upon Benton Park in the days of my (f)unemployment. When I was bored and restless I took long meandering bike rides around South City, and one day I came upon this cozy little neighborhood nestled beside an adorably petite park: Benton Park. The historic brick homes of the neighborhood stack alongside each other, one consecutive block after another. The halcyon charm of it all still makes me swoon. Despite its residential reputation (the neighborhood originally served the demand for housing employees of the breweries) Benton Park is sprinkled with some of St. Louis’ most delightful dining, drinking, and dilly-dallying destinations. If you’re looking for a cozy community to wander, Benton Park may just be the place for you.
One word comes to mind when I recall my trip to Blues City Deli: AUTHENTIC. Are you over chain sub stores? Look no further than Blues City, where the staff is happy and helpful, and the sandwiches are classic and crave-worthy. Don’t let the line deter you - it moves quickly, and the grub is worth it. If you're feeling adventurous try one of their famous Italian po' boys, like the Muffuletta. (Vegetarians, don’t fear, they have a whole menu section for non-carnivores too).
2. VENICE CAFE
Picture the eclecticism of City Museum, mixed with the comfort of your favorite dive bar. Venice Cafe is weird, yet cozy, blaringly vibrant, yet mellow and welcoming. My friends and I went for happy hour on a Friday and the deals were phenom - basic beers and mixed drinks all under $2.50 (CHA-CHING). There is live music every night, plus, the woman behind the bar suggested a revisit in the warmer months when the large patio opens-up out back, complete with The Jerk Shack, “famous for jerk chicken since 1989.” You know I will be back here come May.
3. The Lemp
The Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center, or more coolly know as just “The Lemp,” is an experimental arts and music organization adjacent to Cherokee Park. Just a block from where the ole' Lemp Brewery sits, the space doubles as a performance venue and art gallery, and operates as a non-for-profit (music to my ears). You won’t find booze at their performances, but you will meet passionate fans and experience raw musical talent in a stripped-down environment. Check out their website for upcoming gigs!
A standout from most of our favorite trendy coffeehouses, Shameless Grounds distinguishes itself with a strong socially progressive stance. The coffeehouse prides itself on being a “sex-positive” environment. No, that does not mean they welcome ~adult behavior~ within the shop, and yes, I recognize that this might not be everyone’s cup of tea (pun intended). But the ultimate message is this: Shameless Grounds is a warm, safe, and radically inclusive environment that serves to foster and promote conversation, community, and acceptance (something we could all use a bit more of). I recommend checking out their sizable free library containing everything from saucy erotica to enlightening academic literature, and picking up some free condoms on your way out.
Brunchers, rejoice for this South City dining haven! Students and real-worlders alike should make the pilgrimage to the corner of Cherokee and Illinois to caffeinate and carbo-load at this laid-back coffeehouse extraordinaire. Breakfast is served all day (need I say more?) and its eclectic vibe is guaranteed to get your creative juices flowing.
6. Benton Park
There’s no Benton Park neighborhood without Benton Park. Though it’s quite chilly outside, and our window of outdoorsy time has significantly shrunk, Benton Park should be on everyone’s list for a springtime visit. Fun fact: Natural limestone caves are hidden beneath the park and neighborhood (originally where brewers stored beer!). Rumor has it that, before it was sealed off, an entrance to one cavern used be in the park! Who wants to go spelunking!?