Best Of 2016

Migratory birds consider St. Louis a must-visit.
Migratory birds consider St. Louis a must-visit.

Visit Tower Grove Park (4256 Magnolia Avenue, 314-771-2679) enough, and you'll start to spot the birdwatchers. They can be identified by their binoculars, backpacks full of guidebooks and squinting eyes pointed skyward. Spotting a migratory warbler, cedar waxwing or summer tanager among the usual suspects (robins, woodpeckers and starlings) gives these avian enthusiasts the kind of rush that a Pikachu, Michael Jackson or leprechaun sighting would give a normal human.

The birders camp out here for a reason: Tower Grove Park is a favorite haunt of migratory birds every spring and fall. They flock to its varied habitats, with stately trees, prairies and the revamped Robert and Martha Gaddy Wild Bird Garden, which boasts a bubbling waterfall, native fruiting plants and plenty of places to dwell. And the birds here are capable of bringing joy even to those who can't tell the difference between a blue jay and an indigo bunting. Hearing the park's great-horned owls spookily call to each other at dusk, or watching a red-tailed hawk scoop up a bunny only to rip it to shreds, is enough to make even jaded city dwellers look up to these modern dinosaurs with the admiration — and fear — they deserve.

The St. Louligans aren't your father's fan club.
The St. Louligans aren't your father's fan club.

The Cardinals famously have the best fans in baseball, and our Blues supporters aren't half bad either — but if you want to see real spirit in St. Louis, you need to head to a St. Louis Football Club game at World Wide Technology Soccer Park (1 Soccer Park Road, Fenton; 636-680-0999). Forget rally towels; in the St. Louis FC fan section you'll see light-up drums, coordinated cheers and smoke bombs lit in St. Louis FC colors. These fans calls themselves the St. Louligans, and they've been a big part of the team's success since it started playing last year.

From pre-game tailgates with bigger food spreads than you get most Thanksgivings to special gear and a dedicated section in World Wide Technology Soccer Park, being a St. Louligan is a serious undertaking. But not too serious — the fan club's running joke is that "everything is silly," and that's the one rule that never requires a referee.

One of the founding members, Mitch Morice, says, "We really don't know how many people are in it — there's no roster, no dues. The team says there's 300 season tickets in that corner and they're all sold out, so somewhere north of that."

Morice claims it's all very informal. "We just set out a collection bucket, and when we do scarves or T-shirts we tack on a couple extra bucks, but everyone works together. It's a big dysfunctional family." When pressed, he admits there was some cheer practice in the off-season. But, he adds, "A lot of the best chants that come up are spur of the moment. Last year we were playing one of the Canadian teams, and one of their players faked going down and the chant was 'You've got health care.' On the scarf right now, we've got 'I want to dance with somebody' — people just started singing it at a game, and now people just break out into Whitney Houston. To see 300, 400, 500 men and women singing Whitney Houston is pretty great."

With an International Tap House trailer conveniently located near the fan section in addition to those amazing tailgate spreads, the St. Louligans enjoy their beer, but many families bring their kids along, too — Morice says his six-year-old daughter loves screaming cheers. Some high school students have even formed a group called "The Next Louligans."

While there are people in leadership positions, the St. Louligans have no elections — the group functions as a meritocracy. "Two guys said, 'Can we organize a tailgate?' And it's now huge. We've had Sugarfire come out with food, there's Nacho Night and Wing Night," Mourice says. "Same thing with the drummers — one guy said, 'I want us to have an incredible drum corps.' It started as soccer fans learning how to drum, but then one guy said, 'I've got a guy who's a great drummer, we should bring him.' It's a soccer first, drums second mentality, but now we do have a drummer with a degree in percussion." These days, the St. Louligans even have their own podcast, This is Silly with the Louligans! Each episode gets about 3,000 listens.

All this support isn't just fun and games. It's also about showing that St. Louis has a community of soccer fans ready to support a Major League Soccer team, should the MLS decide to add another team. (St. Louis FC is actually an affiliate of the Chicago Fire MLS team, similar to a minor league club in baseball.)

They're proving effective missionaries. Last year, local radio host Randy Karraker of 101ESPN's The Fast Lane talked on air about not liking soccer, and so the St. Louligans extended an invite to come out to a game (and enjoy some free beer). He did, and two days later, Kerraker announced on his show that everyone in town needs to go to a St. Louis FC game and see the St. Louligans in action.

Says Morice, "When you get somebody who is a professed soccer hater to say it's something fun, that's what it's all about. We're doing something right."

These are the tours you wish you went on in high school.
These are the tours you wish you went on in high school.

St. Louis history and architecture isn't just the provenance of overpriced textbooks and stuffy lecture halls as long as Renegade STL (, 314-467-8588) is around. The go-getting women behind this local company take the idea of city tours and turn them upside-down, putting a fresh, laidback and often humorous spin on bus and walking tours throughout St. Louis. You won't get the typical rundown — it's less about T.S. Eliot's boyhood home and more about, say, the red light district that flourished after the city legalized prostitution in 1870. Or the true story of Madame C.J. Walker, the first female African-American millionaire. It's the history you didn't know you were craving, possibly with a few curse words thrown in.

Founder Amanda Clark had been giving private St. Louis tours under the Renegade STL name for a few years when she took on partner Adriana Perrone in 2015 and set out to give public tours. The original "Whole Damn City Tour" laid the groundwork, covering all the neat and nitty-gritty aspects of St. Louis that can be crammed into a two-hour tour. On its first run it sold out two entire buses.

Since then, Renegade STL has grown into a team of young women fascinated by history — a unique selling point in a trade otherwise largely dominated by older men. The tour options have grown as well, with geeky-cool themes such as "The Whole Damn City Tour: Badass Babes," "The Whole Damn City Tour: Disasters and Catastrophes," "Central West End for Nerds" and the "Baseball City" tour.

Whether you're a transplant or a lifetime native, you're bound to learn something new about St. Louis on a Renegade STL tour. Are they traditional? No. Informative? Always. Entertaining? Damn straight.

Is the eagle flapping, or filling? Oh the suspense!
Is the eagle flapping, or filling? Oh the suspense!

Whether you're driving back to the suburbs from the Soulard Market or heading to the Hi-Pointe, three magical words always ring out on westbound Highway 40 between the Forest Park and Kingshighway exits: "Flapping or filling?!" So goes the favorite car game of St. Louis millennials, generously and unintentionally brought to you by Budweiser. Budweiser's large digital billboard sits to the left of the freeway, parallel to the Grandview Apartments. The fun comes in that you never know which of its two movements you'll get — the digitized bald eagle, flapping its wings in all of its pixelated glory, or the mug of beer it clutches, slowly filling up. Once the beer reaches the top, the billboard switches back to the bird, so the fun is guessing correctly which will be on screen at the moment you pass by. Hey, it's better than endlessly scrolling through your phone.

Visiting Stone Hill Cellar is like being in Napa, only minus all the Coppolas.
Visiting Stone Hill Cellar is like being in Napa, only minus all the Coppolas.

Napa Valley may have the better wine, but if you're seeking a trip to rolling countryside and gorgeous vineyards, there's no need to fly to San Francisco first. A trip to the heart of Missouri wine country is only a short drive away in Hermann, a German settlement-turned-wine-haven located off Missouri 94 in the Missouri River Valley. Here you'll find the Hermann Wine Trail (312 Market Street, Hermann; 573-486-2744), a network of seven family-owned wineries, each with its own unique qualities, specialties and history. The group collectively sells about 200,000 gallons of wine each year, about one-third of all sales of Missouri wine. Despite those achievements, Hermann is a far cry from a tourist trap. Blissfully free from kitschy commercialism, Hermann will make you feel like you've stepped into the past, with locally owned shops and quaint bed and breakfasts lining the pedestrian-friendly streets and a trolley providing transportation around town. You can also enjoy traditional festivities such as Hermann's month-long Oktoberfest and the themed wine trail events that mark the calendar all year long (the "Wild Bacon Wine Trail," anyone?). Be sure to pause in the midst of the good times and look up from your wine glass to enjoy the view. This may not be California, but that's just fine by us — this place is beautiful all on its own, and it's a much shorter drive, too.

"Gorgeous" Gary Jackson, hero of the South Broadway Athletic Club.
"Gorgeous" Gary Jackson, hero of the South Broadway Athletic Club.

The second Saturday of every month is wrestling night at South Broadway Athletic Club (2301 S. 7th Street, 314-776-4833). Located deep in the bowels of Soulard, the space looks like a cross between a middle school gymnasium, a VFW hall and your great-uncle's den, sparsely decorated with pictures of 40 years' worth of performers. Wrestling here transcends the boundaries of age, class, sex and race. A 90-year-old woman will scream "you suck" in unison with her four-year-old grandson. Hipsters in ironic T-shirts are indistinguishable from the guys the next card table over, who wear the same outfits without the slightest wink. Families of every color share popcorn, nachos and questionably prepared cheeseburgers.

At SBAC Wrestling, the lines between good and evil are as clear as the opening bell; the heels sneer at the audience, while the good guys dole out high fives to ecstatic fans in the front row. Where else in real life is the difference between right and wrong so easy to distinguish? Where else (besides a Trump rally) is screaming obscenities at a total stranger justified and encouraged? But unlike a Trump rally, spewing hate isn't all that brings this diverse crowd together — love for the heroes gets loudly vocalized as well. Sometimes cheering for an injured, knocked-out good guy will help bring him back to life, a meaty Tinkerbell who just can't die.

Some fans scrutinize the complicated plotlines — the storylines are as juicy as the best soap operas — but the nuances tend to get fuzzy, thanks in part to the $2 drafts of Bud Light and the $4 wells, poured by a surly-yet-affable crew of pompadoured bartenders. Most of the crowd ignores the complicated twists and turns of the long-running plots, instead agonizing over major injustices in particular matches. Threats of physical violence are leveled regularly against the hapless refs, who somehow consistently miss illegal moves — "moves" like an unauthorized wrestler jumping into the ring to pummel someone else's opponent with a stop sign and promptly jumping back out again. COME ON REF!!! ARE YOU BLIND?!

Most matches are a treat — amazing aerial stunts and feats of strength by some, cringeworthy displays of physical incompetence by others — but the matches featuring fan favorites are always the most fun to watch. "Gorgeous" Gary Jackson, beloved longtime hero of SBAC, has a series of catchphrases that alone are worth the $8 price of admission: "Rule No. 1: I came here to win. Rule No. 2: I refuse to lose. Rule No. 3: I will cheat if I have to. Rule No. 4" — and here the crowd roars along — "Don't forget the rules!"

Brandon Espinosa is the man everyone loves to hate. With a long beard, belly button ring, swooped hair and a practiced leer, Espinosa knows how to whip the crowd into a vicious frenzy — he has been known to make children cry by yelling "shut up, little girl" into tiny, frightened faces. In other words, he is a master of his art and quite possibly the best wrestler at SBAC.

Pro tip: Call ahead to reserve a table or two; it gets seriously crowded after the bell rings at 8 p.m. The room tends to thin a bit at intermission, but it can stay packed until the "main event," which ends at 10 p.m.

Sk8 Liborius.
Sk8 Liborius.

For some, mass in a Catholic church is an uplifting and joyful experience, filled with singing and prayer and fellowship with your neighbors and friends. For others, it is more of an exercise in patience, a weekly pilgrimage undertaken at the behest of your parents, who drag you along for an hour of peculiar rituals and disconcertingly affectless chanting when all you really wanted to do was stay home and watch cartoons. (Hey, we all worship in different ways.)

But if that Catholic church was a mecca of skateboarding? Well, let's just say it'd be much easier to persuade the heathens among us to put on their Sunday best.

So it is with Sk8 Liborius, a 127-year-old abandoned cathedral that has been overtaken by a team of skateboarders, former City Museum fabricators, and engineers, who've transformed it into a skater's Heaven on Earth. Brought to you by many of the same people who built the KHVT guerrilla skate park under the Kingshighway bridge (now demolished), the building is truly a St. Louis gem. The area where the congregation would have gathered is now covered in ramps, stretching all the way up onto the altar, with the occasional graffiti mural adding modern color alongside the church's architectural antiquities.

Sk8 Liborius was formerly St. Liborius, a German national parish established in 1856 in the St. Louis Place neighborhood north of downtown, with construction completed in 1889. The massive Gothic Revival structure was active until 1992, when a decrease in area Catholics led to its doors being shuttered. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the edifice eventually became property of St. Louis' Land Reutilization Authority before being sold to its current owner.

Though the park is technically a private one, it regularly hosts skate jams and competitions, accepting small donations to help with the building's upkeep and repairs (online donations can also be made at It has drawn visits from some considerable stars — rapper/skateboard enthusiast Lil Wayne even showed up for a late-night session after his Chaifetz Arena show in February. In time, thanks to the hard work of a dedicated group of volunteers, the unique park may open officially to the public. It's good news for those who prefer our Sunday worship to include more kickflips and fewer kneelers. Can we get an amen?

SLAM's Taylor Hay. Who needs the Rams anyway?
SLAM's Taylor Hay. Who needs the Rams anyway?

Outlined in their black and orange uniforms, St. Louis' Greatest Show on Turf rode to victory in 2016. The title, once owned by Rams like Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, is now rightfully repped by the St. Louis SLAM — an all-female, full-contact team of bruisers who cranked out a series of righteous blowouts en route to a Women's Football Alliance Tier II championship win. The title game pitted the SLAM against the undefeated Tampa Bay Inferno. At halftime, SLAM was up 24-0. The final score was an utterly dominant 38-7.

There are no pros on the SLAM roster. No one gets paid. But through the exhaustion and the pain, there's no denying the results. "It's just one of those sports where anyone can be successful, no matter your shape," says running back Taylor Hay, who punched in the team's first touchdown of the championship. "You find a way."

How do you improve on such a season? Another trip the championship doesn't seem too farfetched. We don't want to jinx it, but — is it too early to start talking dynasty?