The College Student's Guide to Surviving St. Louis

Aug 29, 2018 at 6:00 am
The College Student's Guide to Surviving St. Louis

Starting college is daunting enough on its own — add in the stress of moving to a new city, and you might be feeling like you're in way over your head.

And if you've moved to St. Louis for college, we'll be the first to admit: St. Louis isn't just any city. It's a quirky, one-of-a-kind town that locals love to brag about and hate at the same time (see "I Left St. Louis for College, and That's When I Began to Love St. Louis" for way more on that). Beyond our crime problem, which has earned us bad headlines from coast to coast, and our infamous polite distance to outsiders (where did you go to high school, anyway?), we may have some of the worst weather in the world (110-degree heat index in summer and zero degrees in winter? Come on!).

But with a little guidance, you can thrive in St. Louis. We've put this guide together with the mindset that you'll like St. Louis a lot more if you bother to explore it. We're recommending places to eat and drink, things to do, ways to get around and even attractions just outside the city for those looking for a little road trip.

Short on money? We've got a list of suggestions specially tailored for you. Our "Survival Strategies" includes a list of ten restaurants, ten bars and ten clothing shops to get you through the coming years without taking out another loan. College may be hard, but with a little inside info, St. Louis can be downright easy.
—Lexie Miller

There's no better place to be than Cherokee Street. - FLICKR/PAUL SABLEMAN
There's no better place to be than Cherokee Street.

7 Neighborhoods to Explore

Any campus can be an insular bubble, but if you can force yourself to get outside of it, there's a whole city's worth of fascinating neighborhoods to explore. Plan a day or even just an evening in one of these areas, and you may quickly find yourself scouting out post-dorm-room housing.

The Central West End
St. Louis' densest neighborhood is also one of its most youthful. It's positively brimming with med school students, law school students and young college grads — and, not surprisingly, that means a host of good restaurants, bars and coffee shops. (It's also very close to most of the area's major colleges; a ten-minute drive will get you here from SLU, Wash U or Fontbonne, although good luck finding easy parking if you come by car!)

The CWE is a bit pricier than other St. Louis neighborhoods, but plenty of low-key spots offer dinner (and drinks). Check out El Burro Loco (313 North Euclid Avenue, 314-224-5371) for huge margaritas in a host of fruit flavors, including lemongrass and watermelon. For a West Coast take on similar fare, Mission Taco Joint (398 North Euclid Avenue, 314-930-2955) offers great tacos and even better margaritas. Or check out Subzero (308 North Euclid Avenue, 314-367-1200), which offers sushi, burgers and more vodka options than anyone could ever partake in. Finish the night at Coffee Cartel (2 Maryland Plaza, 314-454-0000), a 24-hour shop where you can sober up with coffee or ice cream or just people-watch over a sandwich.

The Loop
This Wash U-adjacent area offers several blocks of good times, with everything from live music (the Pageant, Blueberry Hill) to art-house movies (the Tivoli) to comedy (Delmar Hall) to bowling (Pin-Up Bowl). One of these days, it may even get a trolley and not just tracks. You can get excellent coffee here at Blueprint (6225 Delmar Boulevard, 314-266-6808) or really good Korean fusion at Seoul Taco (6665 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-863-1148). Up way too late? Peacock Diner (6261 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-721-5555) will keep you filled up even in the wee hours of the morning.

Cherokee Street
The creative heart of south St. Louis runs through Cherokee Street. Cruise the antique shops, which are mostly east of Jefferson, and the art galleries and vintage stores, which are mostly west. Whichever way you go, make time for coffee at the Mud House (2101 Cherokee Street, 314-776-6599) or a drink at Earthbound Beer (2724 Cherokee Street, 314-769-9576). After dark, Foam (3359 South Jefferson Avenue, 314-772-2100) hosts all-ages shows; get your late-night eats (and juices, natch) at the Juice (2640 Cherokee Street, 314-354-8515).

South Grand
If you're homesick for food with international flair, get to South Grand, stat! The commercial district straddling the neighborhoods of Tower Grove East and Tower Grove South offers restaurants that represent more nations than Epcot Center, from the Persian Cafe Natasha (3200 South Grand Boulevard, 314-771-3411) to Thai mainstay the King and I (3155 South Grand Avenue, 314-771-1777) to Middle Eastern the Vine (3171 South Grand Boulevard, 314-776-0991) to Moroccan Baida (3191 South Grand Boulevard, 314-932-7950) to Ethiopian Meskerem (3210 South Grand Boulevard, 314-772-4442). There's even fast-casual Filipino at Guerrilla Street Food (3559 Arsenal Street, 314-529-1328). There's also vegetarian cuisine to be had at both Treehouse (3177 South Grand Boulevard, 314-696-2100) and Lulu's Local Eatery (3201 South Grand Boulevard, 314-300-8215). Come during the day, and you can browse a decent shopping district that includes a great used bookstore, Dunaway Books (3111 South Grand Boulevard, 314-771-7150), fair-trade gifts at ZeeBee Market (3211 South Grand Boulevard, 314-932-1000) and assorted raunch at Cheap Trx (3209 South Grand Boulevard, 314-664-1830).

click to enlarge Atomic Cowboy is a nightlife hub in the Grove. - FLICKR/PAUL SABLEMAN
Atomic Cowboy is a nightlife hub in the Grove.

The Grove
The city's "gayborhood" has also become its nightlife hub, with bars that center around LGBTQ customers — such as Attitudes (4100 Manchester Avenue, 314-802-8603) and Just John (4112 Manchester Avenue, 314-371-1333) — as well as others that target a broader base, like Handlebar (4127 Manchester Avenue, 314-652-2212) and Atomic Cowboy (4140 Manchester Avenue, 314-775-0775). Grab a spectacular sandwich at the bar at the Gramophone (4243 Manchester Avenue, 314-531-5700) or seek out a taste of Kabul at Sameem Afghan Restaurant (4341 Manchester Avenue, 314-534-9500). Either way, you'll want to see who's playing the Ready Room (4195 Manchester Avenue, 314-833-3929) — or what's on tap at the Monocle (4510 Manchester Avenue, 314-932-7003), where options include comedy and burlesque.

One of St. Louis' loveliest historic neighborhoods, Soulard is tucked into a spot that's a bit off the beaten track just south of downtown. But you won't feel one bit isolated once you're here, because this area is also party central for the crowd that loves to indulge. You'll see buses full of suburbanites getting their drink on, bachelorettes and veritable football teams' worth of frat boys. And no matter how drunk you get, watch out for the golf carts — Soulard thinks of itself as a little island, and puttering around is the perfect way to get from Bar A to Bar B.

Start your night with a pitcher of margaritas at Chava's (925 Geyer Avenue, 314-241-5503) or, if you're starting early enough, barbecue at Bogart's Smokehouse (1627 South 9th Street, 314-621-3107). From there, head to the terrific patios at Mollys (816 Geyer Avenue, 314-241-6200) and John D. McGurk's (1200 Russell Boulevard, 314-776-8309). Both are always jumping and filled with attractive people who want to make new friends.

Just a quick hop from both Wash U and Fontbonne, these first-ring suburbs may be a bit less diverse than the city proper, but they offer plenty of options for hungry (and thirsty) college kids. Start with brunch at Half & Half (8135 Maryland Avenue, Clayton; 314-725-0719) before grabbing coffee at the lovely Kaldi's on DeMun (700 De Mun Avenue, Clayton; 314-727-9955) — and maybe cap off the trip with ice cream at Clementine's Creamery (730 De Mun Avenue, Clayton; 314-858-6100). Make an appointment to visit Mauhaus Cat Cafe (3101 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-384-2287) to get access to the furry friends you're barred from keeping in your dorm room. Or grab dinner at Pastaria (7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-862-6603) and then taste some of the city's best craft beer at Side Project Brewing (7458 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-224-5211). Still thirsty? Check out Tapped (7278 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-899-0011), a short walk down Manchester offering pour-it-yourself beer and wine from 40-plus taps.
—Sarah Fenske