Best Of 2004

Sure, it was Nelly who restored St. Louis to its rightful prominent place on the music map with Country Grammar back in the summer of '00. But four years later it's Alonzo "Zo" Lee Jr. and Shamar "Sham" Daugherty, a.k.a. the Trak Starz, who are keeping us there. The production whizzes behind Chingy's 2003 debut Jackpot saw the album rise to No. 2 on Billboard's album chart and spawn the hit singles "Right Thurr" (which hit No. 2), "Holidae In" (No. 3) and "One Call Away" (No. 2). No wonder The New Yorker stood up and took notice. In a feature about the Starz' local rivals the TrackBoyz (Mark "Tarboy" Williams and Joe "Capo" Kent), writer Jake Halpern injected this tasty morsel of local color: "The atmosphere in St. Louis is now a little like that of Nashville in the nineteen-thirties, with the Grand Ole Opry, or of Detroit in the sixties, with Motown Records."
Carping about the "bitter" St. Louis winter is the city's second-favorite weather-related pastime (right after bitching about the brutal St. Louis summer). But you know what? Winter in St. Louis is beautiful, and January is the best time of year to be here. The air is cold enough that you can see your breath, which is usually sufficient to keep the crybabies indoors. Add a little snow, which is not uncommon in January, and the streets become emptier still. With the promise of another year stretching out before you and the joy of another Christmas still warm in your soul, the trees bent slightly under their snowy burden and the crisp air filling your lungs, St. Louis in January is a city of hope. A brisk walk through this St. Louis revitalizes your spirit and nourishes your basic human kindness. Even the prospect of another summer in St. Louis doesn't seem so bad when you're enveloped in January's tender embrace.
You know Sarah Clarke as Nina Myers on 24, and you were devastated when she was killed off in the third season. But you may not know the rest of this 33-year-old Ladue native's résumé, which includes a supporting role in last year's sleeper thirteen and a Screen Actors Guild Emerging Actor Award at last year's St. Louis International Film Festival. But the best is yet to come, as she stars in the recently filmed indie powerhouse Happy Endings as -- get this -- Laura Dern's girlfriend. Though she now lives in California with her husband, veteran actor and ex-24er Xander Berkeley, and pals around with Alexandra Kerry, Clarke hasn't forgotten the Lou. Besides her appearance at SLIFF, she had a role in local filmmaker Amy K. Barrett's The Third Date last year and has promised that another collaboration between the two is on the horizon.
St. Louis Blues center Mike Danton's fall has all the elements of a Southern -- make that Midwestern -- gothic drama: A devoted volleyball-playing fan/lover, rumors of drug addiction, celebrity, shady hit men and a murderous plot bred of the rising star's intense homoerotic relationship to his controlling agent. Hell, even Danton's childhood -- marked, to hear him tell it, by a paucity of toilet paper -- was positively Faulknerian. So is it any wonder our local enfant terrible's been the subject of countless prime-time psycho-biographies? Sure, Los Angeles may have O.J. and Vail has Kobe. But we will always have Danton.
If belaying, shirtless hunks isn't your idea of a good time, by all means stay away from Upper Limits climbing gym downtown. "It's a great place to meet people," a helpful staffer tells us. "We have a lot of people who start dating because they met there." Men are said to be more common on the scene than women, and the average climber is in his early 30s. "Climbing is just by nature an activity you do with someone else, because you need someone to manage the ropes," the staffer imparts. Worst-case scenario for women: You meet buff men but they're all taken, or gay. No problem -- you'll just have to take the long view. Boy Scout troops make regular pilgrimages to Upper Limits as well, says our staffer buddy.
Sorry, fella, but you gotta go where the odds are with you. You're unlikely to luck out at a bar, where drunk dudes outnumber sober ladies by about twelve to one, and where even the best pick-up line is so obviously a cry for help. Plus, what does a respectable woman want with a drunk? She's looking for a man with strength, balance, focus and a handlebar mustache, who understands the power of breathing, the power of, ahem, the body/mind convergence. A yoga studio, where women outnumber men by twelve to one, is the perfect atmosphere for a casual smile and simple conversation. At big classes, as many as 30 people cram into a room, get all strong and sweat, and commence to pose. We've been in classes that size and been the only man. After class, the eye contact and soft smiles have poured forth like gentle rain, and the level of mellowness is such that a sincere, sleaze-free compliment -- "nice headstand!" -- is greeted with openness rather than wariness. Of course, you have to work. You're not gonna be able to waltz in once, leer all session and then get some action. There's nothing sadder than a fat-ass yoga creep. The goal is internal balance, not external lovin'. But if you're sincere in the practice, you may have the ladies lining up to do headstands for you.
The beauty of Union Station's Grand Hall -- now the Hyatt Regency's lobby and cocktail lounge, replete with vaulted glass ceiling and handsome club chairs -- conjures up Bogart-Bacall romance: witty banter over stiff drinks with a secret paramour, the titillation of a clandestine rendezvous held in plain view. Enough of that: Now it's time to take it behind closed doors and inject a little Pamela-Tommy Lee kink into the affair. Tell your lovah you're paying a visit to the powder room and you'll be right back. But stop short of rounding the corner to the bathrooms beyond the Hyatt's front desk. Instead, inform the clerk in your best vestal-virgin voice that you're planning your wedding and shopping around for a honeymoon suite for the night of. Might you be able to check out a room? Happily agree to surrender your driver's license in exchange for a key. Head to the room. Once there, break out your cell, call your sweetie on his/hers, and change vocal tones to your smoky, seductive best. Give the room number and say you're waiting. If you're not sure where to take it from there, we're not going to tell you. In fact, we never told you any of this. It's really not a good idea.
Unless owners Kathy Marks-Petetit and Michael Petetit hire folks to hang out in the parlor of their bed and breakfast impersonating satisfied customers, their Park Avenue Mansion is the real deal. The Petetits, who moved to Lafayette Square from Clayton a few years ago as empty nesters, rehabbed a stately Victorian to keep themselves busy and bring in some retirement income. The result is a meticulously renovated home with a lovely courtyard framed with flowers and vines and dotted with fountains. Inviting outdoor seating coaxes visitors to grab a bottle of wine from nearby 33 Wine Bar and Shop, or a book from the home's library. "It's like staying at your favorite aunt and uncle's house," Michael Petetit says. "You might find a dust bunny or dog hair laying around, but if it bothers you that much, go stay at a hotel." The Petetits' hospitality and the comfort of one of their five guest rooms will run you about $100 per night ($160 for one of the two suites). You can try doing as we did and drop in on the spur of the moment ("Sorry for barging in, but some friends coming in from North Dakota need a place to stay..."), but we suggest you make reservations.
On a clear day you can't see forever from a room at the Best Western Inn at the Park -- but you can treat yourself to a pretty spectacular view of the Central West End. Which brings us to three of this hotel's best features: location, location, location. It's within walking distance of Forest Park and the shops and restaurants of the area and just a short drive away from downtown or virtually any other destination in the city. And your room with a view will be clean, spacious and comfortable. But half the fun of staying at this particular Best Western takes place before you unpack your bags. Marvel at the curious sculpture in the parking lot and the rather large, detailed replica of a ship behind the front desk in the lobby. Once you're checked in by a friendly hotel employee, take in every detail of the retro-fabulous 1970s carpeting and décor, and ride to your room in style on the creaky, lazy elevator. After you're settled in, take advantage of the outdoor pool, fitness room and sauna. In the morning enjoy a hearty breakfast at Michael's, the adjacent restaurant. And if you spent all your money the night before, no worries -- rates here are an eminently reasonable $89 a night if you've got a AAA membership.
What is a citizen? Merely a resident? No, a citizen has rights, privileges and responsibilities. Isn't the best citizen, then, the person who's most successful at getting others to exercise their rights, privileges and responsibilities? In one sense, strip-joint mogul Micheal Ocello is an everyperson's perverted older brother, unabashedly shilling for his east-side empire of nudie bars. But this past year Ocello, president of the Association of Club Executives trade group, added a twist, launching a nationwide voter-registration drive from his Sauget, Illinois, headquarters. Aiming to correct what Ocello believes has been Dubya's encroachment on his gyrating ladies' First Amendment rights, the drive has registered hundreds of voters so far. His message to Republicans, as Whoopi Goldberg might put it: Don't mess with bush!
This past December, a group of neighbors opposed to a trash-transfer station in their neck of south county distributed a tough-talking anonymous flier slamming Fred Weber Inc., the company behind the proposed waste dump. The handbill suggested that residents contact county officials, boycott Fred Weber's landfill and make a donation to the cause in order to "stop the trash terrorists." Fred Weber Inc., a multimillion-dollar construction firm with deep pockets and a shallow grasp of the First Amendment, took umbrage at being labeled terrorists and sued Thomas Diehl, the landfill's most vocal opponent, along with his "John Doe" cohorts, for a cool $5 million. According to the lawsuit, "FWI [Fred Weber Inc.] is not a terrorist, FWI is not fanatical, FWI has not killed or injured people at any time and FWI does not hate the United States." True. They're just a big company that's bogging down the legal system by threatening to break the financial backs of ordinary folks who dare to speak against them. On second thought, ain't that the American Way?