One of the first things I said to myself when I got off the plane in St. Louis Wednesday was, "Oh, here we go." Why? Because there were banners lining the terminal with "Go Cards!" emblazoned on them, and fans were wearing their red with pride.
I thought I was going to be in for a bumpy ride.
Once I visited the Inmotion Entertainment store in the airport to get a tech issue solved by a very sweet, attentive, and patient employee named Cameron, I realized maybe I had it wrong. Then I started talking to other people, none of which were nasty. These Redbirds fans were just passionate, and that pride wasn't cocky or rude, it was loving and kind.
Don't knock me for saying this, but it's hard to recognize that type of fan when you're from Boston where sarcasm and arrogance can sometimes reign supreme.
That pride was on full display downtown when I started exploring Thursday. Even the businesses were in on it. I could see the massive banner saying "Go Cards!" on the top of the Purina building from blocks away, thanks to the rooftop restaurant in my hotel.
Coming from Boston where the sidewalks are consistently packed with enough people to fill a football stadium, it was a little jarring to see a city so empty. I could have run pass routes down the sidewalk and not bumped into people, but of the few that I did, they were proudly showing off their Cardinal colors.
I met two sisters, Ellen and Rebecca Accola (from left), visiting from Miami whose family had roots in Cleveland. They were clad in Cardinals scarves and told me had it been a local gameday while they were in town, they would have been decked out from head to toe. Redbird nation runs deep. The two were disappointed because they had come in for Game 7 of the NLCS and were leaving before Game 3 of the World Series.
Twenty feet later, I spotted a Cardinals pin on Loura Gilbert's suit lapel. The St. Louisan was in town for a meeting, but she didn't leave the house without making sure she was supporting the hometown team.
Red Sox fans are some of the most loyal out there, but these Cardinals fans are giving us a run for our money. Betty Kinder (below), a hairstylist at Pete Nettles Executive Salon on Olive Street, was happy to talk about what she called a "polite rivalry" between two classy teams.
"These teams are so close in personality and fan, that really the Cardinal way is the same way as the Boston way," Kinder said. "We have a lot of fans that we've have for years and years. We have a large fan base outside of St. Louis, in Illinois, Arkansas, and Ohio. And you know, they do the same thing around their state. When one of the players has been traded to another team comes back, we all stand and give a standing ovation, and they do the same thing up there. There's just a polite rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis."
The whole day wasn't full of sunshine and rainbows, though. When I took a ride out to the Delmar Loop in University City with Ligaya Figueras, Sauce Magazine's executive editor, we bumped into our first rowdy fan who was pretty pissed I had on a Boston hat in St. Louis. He came up and apologized later on, though, so I'll forgive him.
Between my meeting with Kinder and the uncomfortable run-in with the Cards fan at a restaurant called Three Kings Pub, I made a few more stops. I visited the City Museum (which I lovingly explained to a friend was like Gaudi swallowed a case full of Pixy Stix and threw up on a museum), The Dubliner Irish pub that was reminiscent of a Southie spot, and a local grocer called Culinaria.
The Dubliner felt a lot like home because the servers, bartenders, and patrons all teased me for wearing a Red Sox hat in the bar, and it got worse when two fellow Red Sox fans joined me, but that was the stuff I expected. It was all in good fun, and as Kinder called it, a polite rivalry.
After the Dubliner, I made my way back to the hotel to meet Figueras. She lives walking distance to the Delmar Loop and wanted to show off her neighborhood. I was glad that she did because it seemed a lot like a Harvard Square/Somerville area that Bostonians would enjoy.
The district of indie shops and restaurants is accessible by public transportation (the Metrolink) or car, and is relatively close to the Forest Park area, which includes the St. Louis Zoo and the St. Louis Art Museum. Pairing the two areas would be a great way to kill of an afternoon before a game.
Walking into Three Kings Pub I realized this was a place I would have watched the game if I was home. The entrance leads into the bar with exposed brick, rounded leather booths, and a couple of high tops, and at the back of the building is the sit-down restaurant.
The menu features items like homemade hummus and in-house roasted nuts, but owner Ryan Pinkston said that he would recommend the fried chicken, chicken wings, and burgers for visitors to try. Are there any better foods to eat during a game? One particular burger caught my eye: the bacon jam burger with Gruyere cheese. I wish I had a bottomless pit of a stomach so I could have tried it (for your sake, right?).
After Three Kings, we ventured over to St. Louis institution Blueberry Hill. The restaurant-bar-dart room-concert venue opened as just a restaurant in 1972, and owner Joe Edwards has transformed it into a fixture on the street. He has also transformed Delmar Boulevard into one of the top 10 streets in the country in 2007, according to the American Planning Association.
I chatted with Edwards for about an hour and could have listened to him talk for many more. He has met some of the world's most famous celebrities, including Clint Eastwood, and is incredibly close with Chuck Berry. The rock god is playing his 200th show at Blueberry Hill in January. Anyone want to go? Photos of Edwards and his famous friends line the walls at Blueberry Hill, interspersed with his showcased collections of pop culture memorabilia (check out his "90210" collect, left) that had me transfixed for most of the interview.
Anyway, Edwards spearheaded the campaign to revitalize the Loop after he realized in the mid '70s that if the area didn't thrive, Blueberry Hill wouldn't thrive either. Now, 41 years later, Edwards owns several properties on the strip, including the Moonrise Hotel, complete with solar panel ceiling to display the starry nights.
My final stop on Thursday was at Mission Taco Joint, where I begged owner Adam Tilman to open a shop in Boston. I'm always looking for authentic Mexican food, and that's what you'll find at this local St. Louis eatery. He and his brother Jason grew up traveling with their Coast Guard-based family to spots like San Francisco and Sand Diego, and they decided to show off their love of Mexican foods by opening several restaurants when they settled down in St. Louis.
If you're looking for a great margarita, tell bartender Kyle to make you their signature version, and after he's done concocting, ask him to show you a magic trick. He's actually pretty good.
The food coming out of the kitchen made me drool. I got a peek at a torta and several types of their tacos (all priced around $3), and Tilman filled me in that they had just started a late-night happy hour with $2 tacos. If you're staying at the Moonrise, or just need a late-night snack, this is the place to grab one.
I was beat by the time I got back to the hotel, but I really wish that I had more time to venture through the other neighborhoods in St. Louis. Next time I'll make sure to stop at an area Figueras told me reminds her of New Orleans called Soulard, and I'll see whether or not the Italian food in the The Hill can come close to what we've got in the North End.