Best Of 2014

While the majestic Central Library casts quite a shadow upon its subordinate branches, the city has plenty of other luminous libraries that shine brightly on their own. The most dazzling of all is the Carpenter branch on South Grand Boulevard, an impressive structure that serves as an epicenter of activity: No other library is busier, and only two other locations best it in terms of circulation. But beneath Carpenter's day-to-day bustle lies a history rich with mystery and strongly named men. Case in point, architect William T. Trueblood started work on the building in 1925 and drew inspiration from the lofty, ornate archways and wide spaces of Florence's Loggia dei Lanzi. The library opened two years later and has since undergone several renovations over the decades. During one restoration in the 1940s, a mural commemorating the Louisiana Purchase became damaged and was taken down for a touchup. Curiously, the painting has not been seen since, although one fact about it is undeniable: The mural's artist, Washington University professor Charles Quest, had a very strong name indeed.

The STL Lost Pets Angels are not an organized group. They have no leader, no scheduled meetings, no mission statement — only a moniker ascribed to them by the few people who know what they do for St. Louis. They are "angels" because they tirelessly match missing-pet reports from Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist and anywhere else frantic pet owners post with the found-pet reports sent out by the official guardians of the animals of St. Louis: the Humane Society, Animal Protective Association and St. Louis County Animal Care and Control. Matching lost and found pet reports is an endless, thankless, repetitive job, but it's one that a handful of locals have enthusiastically claimed as their own. No one else has the time to sift through the reports that flood in daily from an unapologetically dog-loving city. So to the indefatigable guardian angels looking after the lost dogs and cats of St. Louis, thank you. You make St. Louis a happier, safer place for creatures big and small.

Though Rise as we know it started in September 2013, it has been around in some capacity since 1997, working to revitalize some of St. Louis' most struggling areas. Over the years, Rise has consulted in the development of more than 4,000 homes and some 60,000 square feet of commercial space, with direct participation in the development of nearly 2,000 homes and nineteen commercial spaces. From Overland to Lemay on the west side of the Mississippi and from East St. Louis to East Alton on the Illinois side, Rise has spearheaded projects that aim to energize local communities. In 2014, Rise hosted its inaugural Rise Up Festival in Crown Square. The fest was held on land that has been redeveloped by Rise, and it celebrated revitalization and its goal of bring communities together. "We go into areas, sometimes St. Louis' most distressed areas, and we improve the quality of life where most other organizations won't go," says Rise's communications manager, Larry Perlmutter. "That's the most important thing to us."

The Festival of Nations in Tower Grove Park promotes cultural awareness through art, music, crafts and, most importantly, food. Sample a medley of delicacies, then watch elegantly costumed dancers move gracefully to music from around the world (as you await blood to return from your stomach to the rest of your limbs). Ruminate on the fleeting beauty of life over Tibetan sand paintings while munching an empanada. Marvel at the athleticism of Scottish log tossing with a lap full of injera. Buy a Peruvian water whistle shaped like a duck and see if it still works when filled with a margarita, or try juggling samosas from every booth that serves them. The best festival in St. Louis proves that world peace is possible, not from threats of war or high-minded rhetoric, but through the dizzying smells of exotic spices and an endless variety of meat skewered on sticks.

St. Louis is full of simple thrills that don't cost a thing. Free beers. Free zoos. Free art. But there are few joys in this world on par with encountering a Cubs fan. Sure, they feel pretty good about their choice of team when they're sitting inside Chicago's 100-year-old altar to failure, sipping on tepid Old Style and craning their necks to see around support pillars. But then they come to St. Louis and find out what a real baseball town has to offer: Our gorgeous stadium with plentiful, comfortable seating, parking that won't cost you your firstborn, to say nothing of Ballpark Village. There's so much to brag about you might not even get around to mentioning that our team has won a World Series or two (or eleven) since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

A few years ago Gina Sheridan was working at a library in California when she went out back and saw a woman rummaging through the dumpster. Upon seeing Sheridan, the woman shouted: "Just call me Cuckoo." Sheridan wrote down the incident and continued documenting in her journal the bizarre and funny goings-on she witnessed as a librarian. Eventually Sheridan put her observations online in a Tumblr page titled iworkatapubliclibrary.com and kept adding to it after moving and taking a job with the St. Louis County Library. She also started accepting submissions from other librarians across the country. The result is an amusing and pithy blog with posts as simple as a photo of a misprinted Disney book (The Loin King) to curious exchanges with patrons, such as the kid who wanted to know about the "culinary period" of the U.S. (he meant Colonial), or the couple who figured the reference librarian was just as good as a doctor to ask if hemorrhoids are contagious. And librarians aren't the only ones who've found Sheridan's blog entertaining: It also caught the eye of book publisher Adams Media, which earlier this year released I Work at a Public Library in paperback.

Most people who get laid off stop doing their job. Doug Miner did the opposite. When AOL laid him off — along with 500 other reporters from its botched journalism experiment Patch.com — Miner poured his energy into opening an independent news site funded by local advertisers. Because he covers Maplewood, Brentwood and a smattering of nearby neighborhoods, he named it 40 South News, and he covers anything and everything that's important to the people who live, work and play in his mid-county reporting territory. Whether it's a ballot issue, a 26-cent price difference between two local McDonald's or the flock of plastic flamingos that mysteriously appeared on a neighborhood street, Miner gets to the bottom of it. Like any good small-town reporter, Miner knows who's who at the town halls, the high school football games and the chamber of commerce meetings, and his stories are uniquely well-sourced. Miner epitomizes shoe-leather reporting but with an Internet-age twist: His posts are often nothing more than a photo snapped on an iPhone with a brief explanation of some local oddity.

When you're gearing up to say a final goodbye to that not-so-special someone, two things are essential: ready access to booze and a plan. Fortune Teller Bar — the dark, moody, wonderful watering hole on Cherokee Street — has got you covered. Wednesday through Saturday an actual fortune teller is perched in one of the windows ready to read the future — or the lack thereof for a troubled couple. Since psychics are obviously psychic, she'll take one look at her tea leaves, turn to your unsuspecting partner and say something helpful like, "The only way your heart will mend is when you learn to love again," thereby setting the stage for a truly cinematic dumping. (Conversely, she may turn to you and say, "You're making a huge mistake." Also helpful.) Once the deed is done and your very brand-new ex has fled the scene, belly up at the bar and settle in for a good stretch of misery drinking. Just don't forget to tip the clairvoyant.

Ballpark Village got off to a rocky start — literally, when the prolonged construction of the ten-acre site left a gravelly pit next to St. Louis' baseball heaven, and again when news of the entertainment district's overly restrictive dress code went viral. But now that Ballpark Village is in full swing, St. Louis is finally experiencing it the way developers intended. BPV is a new destination for the best fans in baseball to get as close to the action at Busch Stadium as they can without a ticket, and images of the FOX Sports Midwest Live! plaza spread across international news outlets during the 2014 FIFA World Cup as U.S. and Bosnia fans filled the place to the brim. Ballpark Village has a little something for everyone. Families can run in the footsteps of legends at Busch-II-Infield, designed on the same lines as the old Busch Stadium, while late-night party animals can try their luck on the mechanical bull at PBR St. Louis.

On a typical weekday at Sasha's on De Mun, the tables inside and on its lovely patio start filling up with patrons for happy hour. There are students from Washington University blowing off steam after class, young professionals, people moseying in from the leafy surrounding neighborhood. And one begins to notice that an awful lot of them are women — table after table of two and three girlfriends getting together to relax over a glass of wine and a plate of cheese. It makes sense — Sasha's is cute, it's got a great view of the park, and there's wine. Lots and lots of wine. Slide up to the bar — you won't be the only single person sitting there as the high X chromosome count at Sasha's hasn't gone unnoticed. From your perch it's the perfect vantage point from which to casually and non-creepily take in the room and figure out which table to send that bottle of rosé to.