Some might insist that spring and fall are the best times to be in St. Louis, what with the manageable temperatures and the breezy, drier days. Not us. We're into June — in a big way. Those first few humid days warm our still-pale skin just as the faintest memories of cold weather begin to fade. It's the only time all summer that we don't mind the moistness in the atmosphere — in fact, we embrace it. The air has a sweetness to it, the smells of blooms and hope and activity. There are festivals and artsy events for days on end: Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and the Muny fire up Forest Park, the Whitaker Music Festival fills the Missouri Botanical Garden, Circus Flora awes in Grand Center and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis impresses in Webster Groves. Plus, you've got your back-yard barbecues, your evening strolls and your beer-bucket patio parties. It's almost too much to fit in, but not for true St. Louisans. Our summertime stamina is only improving, and if you can hang, you're one of us, no matter where you were born. So welcome to town! We hope you stay a while — if not for the weather, then for the full calendar.
Picture nine businessmen with their feet up in comfy old pleather recliners, neckties tossed over one shoulder, eyes closed, mouths open, soft buzzing noises coming out of said mouths, and you'll get a fair idea of the Missouri Athletic Club's "Reading Room" after lunch, give or take a few smoldering cigars. But the room known to cognoscenti as the "Snooze Room" is just one area on the top floor of this venerable downtown institution, which also offers plenty of activities for the younger and more energetic — basketball, squash, swimming, billiards, weightlifting, spinning, tae kwan do and racquetball, to name a few. Started as a men's club in 1903, the MAC and its many services have been open to women since 1988, though there's still a strong masculine feel to the place. The clubhouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, and one look around the magnificent lobby, paneled in century-old quarter-sawn oak and decorated with moose heads, shows why. But it's the trophy collection in the Sportsman's Grill on the fourth floor that tells the club's true story: Athletic has always been its middle name.
For a decade, Rod Jetton's political career was rising as fast and carefree as a cloud of helium. Then, last December, pop! A police report sent the former Missouri House speaker plummeting back to Earth and made both Jetton and the term "green balloons" running jokes in state politics. Elected to the Missouri House in 2000, Jetton was just 37 when his GOP colleagues elected him speaker five years later. In short time, Jetton would become one of the most powerful Republicans in all of Missouri. Jetton's influence seemed to increase when he was term-limited out of office in 2009, rolled up his sleeves and concentrated full-time on his political consulting business. Then last December word leaked out that Jetton had been named in a police complaint for allegedly beating a woman after she failed to say the safe words of "green balloons" during a night of sadomasochistic sex. A few months later, Jetton faced further embarrassment when it was revealed that he was being investigated for a "pay to play" scandal during his time as speaker of the House. In a February interview, Jetton told the Post-Dispatch, "I got an application in to drive a garbage truck, and I got turned down to sell appliances. I've got no reputation. I have no money. I've got nothing."
Beginning this fall, the South Grand business district near Tower Grove Park will undergo a six-block face-lift designed to make the area more pedestrian friendly and safe. "You could put your life at risk crossing Grand," says Rachel Witt, executive director of the South Grand Community Improvement District. "The goal of this project is to make the area more walkable, like cities used to be." Average speed along Grand has already slowed some 11 mph since the Great Streets Initiative downsized the thoroughfare's four lanes to three (including a center turn lane), Witt says. In coming months, expect to see new, wider sidewalks to accommodate outdoor dining on Grand, street corner "rain" gardens filled with native plants, new lighting, benches and bike racks. The project will extend from Arsenal Street to Utah Street. The East-West Gateway Council of Government has secured $3 million in stimulus funds to pay for most — if not all — of the project. Construction should conclude next year.
Host Jim Belote greets guests in a tux and tails when they pull up to the portico of the Beall Mansion, nestled in Alton's Millionaire's Row. He'll give you a history lesson, if you'd like. (It's a sordid history, really, best told by Belote.) And the Beall offers more than breakfast. "Bed and Graze" is a better term. The dining room features a 24-hour chocolate and hot-beverage buffet. An antique wooden buffet holds crystal tiers and dishes filled with everything from dark-chocolate-drenched fruit to Hershey's Kisses. The hot beverages include the inn's own line of fair-trade, organic teas and sometimes treats like warm chocolate-chip cookies or cake appear on the dining-room table for guests — perhaps the work of Alton's infamous spirit world, or perhaps that of hostess Sandy Belote. Whether you've been out exploring the Mississippi or snuggled into one of the mansion's many nooks, balconies or porches, finish the day with a complimentary Cognac nightcap, served in the reading room from cut crystal glasses, which can make even river rats feel like the Victorian upper crust.
The William L. Clay Sr. Early Childhood Development/Parenting Education Center at Harris-Stowe State University is exactly what people in the 1950s thought the 2000s would look like: clean lines and dramatic angles juxtaposed with generous swoops straight out of The Jetsons. Yet the building's functionality and swagger place it squarely in the present tense, void of retro kitsch and post-modern pomposity. The center is a friendly push toward the flying-car future promised to us by forward-thinking baby boomers. More important, it's a glowing example of age-appropriate abstract architecture; what four-year-old kid wouldn't want to attend daycare in a spaceship?
They want to let go, these married women of Frontenac and Ladue, of Town and Country and Huntleigh. All morning they have tottered on the heels of their Louboutins from Saks to Tiffany to Neiman Marcus. Now they want nothing more than to sit down and enjoy a good meal and a glass (or three) of good wine. They want, in other words, to have lunch at Cardwell's at the Plaza. The food is very good, the ambiance casual yet refined and no one will pass judgment when they order a glass (or three) of wine with lunch. Your mission, oh seeker of pampered poontang, is to identify which housewife of west county might be looking for a little afternoon delight to complement her morning spree. We recommend sitting at the bar and looking for the following signs: 1) by herself; 2) playing with her wedding ring; 3) shopping bags on either side of her seat and at least one of the other chairs at her table. One of the three signs? Proceed with caution. Two of the three? Have the bartender send her a glass of wine, on you. Three for three? Without a doubt, Hubby is banging the marketing intern. Take a seat on the barstool next to her...and start talking.
With the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department's new free iPhone app, St. Louisans can give themselves a self-guided tour of the seedy underbelly of our city. Want to do some amateur sleuthing? The app shows you dates, times and locations of various felonies around the city, from breaking and entering to car theft to murder, so get out there and collect some evidence! There has been a recent rash of flashers along Tucker Boulevard; that might even be a fun crime spree to get the beat on. If people-watching is more of your thing, the app shows you the homes and photos of area sex offenders so you can keep tabs on them. Just don't get caught stalking a stalker, or you could end up with a CrimeReport of your own.
For millennia, gardens have served as a showcase for man's ability to control and reproduce, in miniature, the wilds of the natural world. St. Louis' own garden, the Missouri Botanical Garden, is no exception, though it encapsulates the essence of the urban landscape around it as well. It doesn't matter if you take your guests to one of the colorful weekend cultural festivals, invite them to check out the life-size dinosaurs currently on display in the glittering jungle-under-glass Climatron or merely walk them down the winding paths of the garden to take in the ever-changing colors and textures; they'll still get a sense of the things about St. Louis that are hardest to explain to out-of-towners. Cloistered fountains, like so many gated neighborhoods, showcase the beauty of careful, homogeneous cultivation. Shadowed Victorian lawns and hedge mazes convey the reverence for history of a city that suspects its greatest days were gone with its gaslights. Free programs, concerts and events, offered every day for just a few dollars, perfectly illustrate the civic spirit with which Shaw's Garden was planted. While plenty of programs are available at the garden, the most edifying tour for your out-of-town guests may be one of urban psychology, not rhododendrons.
In July the City of St. Louis began moving the last group of dogs out of the pound on Gasconade Street, a frightful place Charles Dickens might have invented, to the new shelter being built by Randy Grim's Stray Rescue. This marked the latest remarkable chapter in the story of Grim, a former flight attendant who has rescued and rehabilitated thousands of stray dogs since he opened Stray Rescue in 1998. Grim gained national fame for Quentin, whom he adopted after the dog miraculously survived being gassed, and Quentin has become the face of the dozens upon dozens of companionable dogs that are ready for adoption at Grim's Stray Rescue at any given time. (Visit www.strayrescue .org to see the current list.) Grim's work continues despite national acclaim; his new facility needs more funding to be completed. More important, dogs continue to be abandoned, a cruel state of affairs that Grim and his staff will continue to tackle — one dedicated, loving effort at a time.