Seize the Days

A dozen things you just can't pass up this summer

St. Louis boasts a staggering number of summertime events and a rich living history in red brick, stained-glass windows and, yes, wilting humidity -- enough to bring us to our knees. Deal with it, we say. There's too much to do in this season of the blazing sun, from ambling through the lush glories of Forest Park to spending delightful evenings at sidewalk cafés to attending those giant festivals that land every year with sledgehammer momentum -- Fair St. Louis, anyone?

But there are happenings every weekend that just might slip under your watchful radar. Don't get left out. The city streets beckon you. Flee your air-conditioned room, keep those fluids topped off, and embrace summer in St. Louis.

This, of course, is not a definitive guide to all that St. Louis' hottest months have to offer, but it does offer some proven winners and pleasant diversions that ought not be missed.

A distant moon ago, a law was made in St. Louis: There can be no summer without Cardinals baseball at Busch Stadium. For St. Louisans, the game is part of our genetic makeup, that proud steel-and-concrete coliseum a critical component of our identity. The 39-year-old stadium will be demolished after this season, so get out there in the name of Stan the Man and pay your last respects. Hopefully that wrecking ball will be forced to sit idle until deep into October. Yeah: World Series, baby! And this year, we win the rings.

Circus Flora, St. Louis' own one-ring spectacle, enters its nineteenth season with Tzigan, a show that revisits the history of the modern circus as created by "man and horse as partners." Ahem. "Tzigan" is the Hungarian word for "gypsy," which hints at the performers' history as traveling troupes crossing Europe. And the word "circus" is derived from "circle" -- meaning the ring, where fancy horsemanship became the norm in an art form that predates theater. Circus Flora performs in a tent next to the Powell Symphony Hall (718 North Grand Boulevard) from June 10 to June 26; tickets are $15 to $30. Shows start at 7 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees. Visit www.circusflora.org or call 314-553-1285 for more information.

Forest Park is packed with every cultural institution imaginable, but our favorite form of artsy fun is provided by the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis. This year the SFSL performs The Tempest every night except Tuesday from May 27 through June 19, and the show (like most everything in the park) is free. Bring food, libations and friends to the area just east of the Saint Louis Art Museum around 7 p.m. for the pre-show entertainment, and at 8 p.m. watch the Bard's work the way it was meant to be seen -- not onscreen, but among the multitudes. If you run out of drinks, there are some available for purchase. Visit www.sfstl.com for more information.

There are quite a few outdoor concerts every summer. Some are expensive (the US Bank Saint Louis Jazz Festival in Clayton on June 24 and 25 is $20; www.stlouisjazzfest.com); some are free (Blues on the Mississippi at Jefferson Barracks on Friday nights; www.stlouisco.com/parks), but our favorites remain the Whitaker Music Festival and the Big Muddy Blues Fest. The Whitaker runs Wednesday nights from June through August at the Missouri Botanical Garden (4344 Shaw Boulevard) and features local and national acts in a tranquil setting. All shows are free and begin at 7:30 p.m. Check www.mobot.org or call 314-577-5100 for more information. The Big Muddy Blues Fest takes place September 3 and 4 on Laclede's Landing. The late, great Johnnie Johnson was the scheduled star, but his unfortunate passing left the headliner spot open at press time. Check www.lacledeslanding.org for additional information.


It's the small stuff that makes St. Louis tick. Neighborhood parties are lower-key than giant gatherings, but if you really want to get to know the city, this is the way to see the Lou in its authentic splendor.

Here are a few we highly recommend:

The Central West End Art Fair and Taste includes hundreds of regional and national artists selling their wares along shady Euclid Avenue, and some of the finest restaurants in the city proffer their gastronomic delights, from the haute cuisine of Chez Leon to the Welsh rarebit of Llywelyn's. There are 50 restaurant booths with food and drink aplenty, plus live music at both fair entrances (Maryland and McPherson avenues), so come out Saturday and Sunday, June 11 and 12 (10 a.m. to 11 p.m. both days). Although attendance has been known to hit 50,000 art- and food-craving souls, the fair never feels too crowded, making it easy to enjoy the leafy streets and wondrous architecture. Visit www.thecwe.com for more information.

Soulard's Bastille Days celebration takes place in the city's historic French neighborhood, and from Friday through Sunday, July 15 through July 17, you can fully expect Soulard to burst into giddy celebration as it plays host to the nation's second-largest Bastille Day party. There's the traditional re-enactment of the beheading of Marie Antoinette. The French food is plentiful, and the cold beer flows. Soulard is rich in fine bars and eateries, and the nabe's especially worth seeing when the bands are playing in the street and everyone's out and about. There's nothing like a little gumbo in a brick courtyard to celebrate the French Revolution. Call 314-621-6226 for more information.

July 30 is Hill Day, and you're definitely going to want to head straight to St. Louis' great Italian neighborhood, located in a quiet area south of Forest Park and west of Kingshighway. There'll be plenty of Italian food, wine and music. Bocce ball? Maybe! The Hill's restaurants (far too numerous to mention) are some of the finest authentic Italian spots in the city, and this is a great way to get to know the neighborhood that spawned Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola -- as well as some legendary St. Louis hangouts. The merriment lasts from noon until 9 p.m.

For full German flavor, check out Bevo Day in the Bevo Mill neighborhood (so named for the giant mill). The festival convenes at the intersection of Morgan Ford Road and Delor Street on August 28 from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Like the other neighborhood parties, this one features traditional food and music, albeit of the Deutsch persuasion. But unlike the other fests, Bevo Day comes replete with amusement rides and a flea market. Don your lederhosen and head to the south side! For more details, call 314-352-0141.

For a clear look at the ever-changing ethnic makeup of St. Louis (as well as more unbelievable food) may we recommend the Festival of Nations? In Tower Grove Park on Saturday and Sunday, July 23 and 24, the International Institute presents live music on two stages and more than 50 booths featuring wares from around the world in a free multicultural extravaganza. Here you'll see music and dancing from Bosnia, Russia, China, Vietnam, Mexico, Brazil, India -- the list goes on. Now that you've seen old St. Louis, why not greet the new? Take in the parade down Grand Boulevard at 10 a.m. Saturday, and let the party begin. Visit www.iistl.org for more information.

The Japanese Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden is a grand St. Louis tradition, and the three-day celebration over Labor Day weekend is well worth experiencing. What is it? It's the supernatural boom of taiko drumming, the tea ceremony, the food, the dancing, the music -- and the meticulously crafted Japanese garden, one of the most spectacular in the nation. Come feed the fish in the koi pond. Tickets are $3 to $10, and the festival runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, September 3 and 4, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, September 5. See www.mobot.org for details.

If you've been in a cave, you might not know that Washington Avenue is the club center of St. Louis. Beat Fest is a multi-venue superparty that begins at 9 p.m. Sunday, September 4. The fest spans five clubs and features around a dozen local and national DJs who spin mercilessly into the night -- until 3 a.m., when the clubs are legally obligated to kick you out. Washington Avenue itself has been newly remodeled to meet sci-fi standards, what with lights coming out of the street and future-retro streetlamps. It's also host to gorgeous loft space, high-end restaurants and, of course, dance clubs. Come out of that cave and shake it at Beat Fest (wristbands are $10 in advance, $15 day of event). Visit www.wabf.net for more details.

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