The shock-and-awe doesn't end there. The big-box bookstore, Books-A-Million, has the biggest magazine section we've ever seen -- it stretches over three walls. Two stores actually feature the "not-available-in-any-store" products from late-night infomercials; you know, the Grip Wrench, OxiClean, the Perfect Pancake and, of course, that pasta pot with holes in the lid.
The NASCAR SpeedPark is very much like a Chuck E. Cheese arcade, only with a go-cart track and a video-game racing simulator, for which drivers sit in realistic-looking, nearly full-size cars. Next door, the ESPN X-Games Skatepark is as professional as it gets -- the popular jungle of half-pipes and handrails has everything except Tony Hawk himself giving lessons in the corner.
Nearby, we find the Ice Zone, the practice facility for the St. Louis Blues with free bleacher seating for fans. There's something strange about discovering this building here; imagine the Cardinals holding batting practice on a field within the St. Louis Galleria -- it's just odd. Odder still is the Putting Edge mini-golf course, a dark cavern filled with Day-Glo obstacles and holes illuminated by black lights.
If life imitates art, St. Louis Mills owes a debt to The Simpsons. Shops with such names as Perfumania, Flag World and Bible Factory Outlet sound like arch humor from an episode of the cartoon. The best of them, though, is the store that sells huge, sofa-size foam-filled beanbags. The store is called "Love Sac."
And where better than the mega-mall to ponder our legacy? Stores that have yet to open at St. Louis Mills are fronted by bolts of black canvas with inspiring quotations screen-printed across them in white letters. Amidst the glut of merch, we may read, "What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other. -- George Eliot."
The wisdom, like the parking, is free. (St. Louis Mills is located near the junction of I-270 and I-370; call 314-298-1500 for more.) -- Byron Kerman
S'more to Love
Intimate bonfires at Kayak's
The proprietors of the new Kayak's Coffee are doing their best to make the café feel like an outdoor campground. There's even a boat near the front door and -- get this -- you can cook your own s'mores at your table. S'mores aren't listed on the menu, but those in the know can order marshmallows, chocolate bars, graham crackers, a tabletop heating element and fondue forks (to hold the marshmallows); the dessert is $7 for two people or $10 for four (276 North Skinker Boulevard, 314-862-4447, www.kayakscoffee.com). -- Byron Kerman
It can be stated with complete certainty that there is nothing quite like watching a seven-foot snow leopard bowl a strike in a black-lit bowling alley on Route 66.
If this sounds wildly entertaining -- and it should, if you have a pulse -- get your furry ass to Sunset Lanes (7777 Watson Road, 9:30 p.m.) for a night of anthropomorphic cosmic bowling.
Nationally renowned Dogtown fursuit enthusiast Tyger Cowboy and his lovably dorky mates are hosting the psychedelic, David Lynch-esque evening (and stuffed-animal humping, despite rumors to the contrary, is not part of the plan). To get your roll on, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org ASAFP. -- Mike Seely
White's Going On
Yee-haw! Cowboy DJ D:Fuse is back in his St. Louis saddle for the best durned hoedown of the year. He'll unfurl his Texas flag over Velvet's New Year's Eve White Ball 8 and transform the snow-covered floors into a progressive-house dance-party Valhalla. Only your best winter-white (and/or black) duds will do for this 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. shindig. Tickets are available at Velvet (1301 Washington Avenue, 314-241-2997) or through MetroTix (www.metrotix.com, 314-534-1111) and are $35 in advance ($45 at the door). For that non-Texas-size price, ranchers -- ahem, clubbers -- will enjoy two complimentary top-shelf drinks, a Champagne toast at midnight and oxygen discharge (whatever that is). So breathe easy and y'all have a good time now, ya hear? -- Alison Sieloff