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40 Cheap Thrills That Keep Us Loving St. Louis For Less 

The Chain of Rocks Bridge: Always a thrill.

KELLY GLUECK

The Chain of Rocks Bridge: Always a thrill.

We've learned a few things in our four decades in St. Louis. One big one: how to have a blast without breaking the bank. The people, places and things highlighted in these 40 superlatives keep us laughing, keep us drinking, keep us on a fascinating journey and, perhaps most importantly, keep us excited about St. Louis. Use this list to fill your calendar — and savor all the wonderful little things that together make the fabric of this city.

Best Sound

The crows of Forest Park

There was a time when parents pulled their small children inside when University City's crows appeared in the trees. Standing two feet tall (and appearing larger, depending on your own physical size), the birds weren't so much aggressive as they were menacing. Then came the summers of avian flu, and by 2004 you rarely saw any crows. It's been a long road back, but after more than a decade of sparse sightings, gangs of sizable birds again wing east through the late-afternoon skies. They're all croaks and caws as they pass over the Delmar Loop's buffet of dumpsters, but by the time they end up in the tippy-tops of Forest Park's big old trees, they've settled down for the night. There's something in corvids though that makes them incapable of remaining still even when sleeping. If you find yourself in Forest Park near sundown you'll hear the susurration of their wings as they mutter wickedly in their sleep. It's chilling, but also comforting; these are the everyday sanitation engineers, picking up edible garbage from the streets and over-full dumpsters. And besides that, they're simply beautiful creatures, intelligent and playful. Honestly, some of us prefer them to children.— Paul Friswold

Best Place to Experience the Mississippi

Chain of Rocks Bridge

Intersection of Schillinger and Chain of Rocks roads, Granite City, Illinois

Other than a trip back in time to join a riverboat crew alongside Mark Twain, the old Chain of Rocks Bridge directly north of St. Louis offers perhaps the most memorable encounter with the mighty Mississippi in the world. The structure first opened to automobiles in 1929 and was once the bearer of heavy Route 66 traffic — but now it's a picturesque byway reserved for pedestrians and cyclists. And whether you access the bridge via the Riverfront Trail extending all the way from downtown or the parking lot adjoining the Illinois side, the mile-long, quirkily bending span does not disappoint. Lean over the railing and watch the swirls of water and driftwood below. Imagine a life inside one of the charming intake towers that stand nearby, solid and historic above a fast-moving current. Take a stroll just before sunset and ponder the great river's unfathomable vastness — and take some great pictures while you're at it. Even if your photography skills are next to nil, the setting is so gorgeous that any latergrams you post are sure to make your feed light up with virtual love.—Evie Hemphill

Best Freebie

Tower Tee

6727 Heege Road, 314-481-5818

Dave Swatek is running a power drill on a laundromat coin slot, which he's rigged onto the batting cages at Tower Tee, his south-county temple to golf clubs and baseball bats. Suddenly he springs up and strides over to the 80-mph cage, where a young lefty has just blasted a 30-degree line drive off a small, circular sign at the back of the cage. When the batter's twelve hacks are up, Swatek grabs him, pulls out a point-and-shoot camera, and shoves the unwitting man in front of home plate. "The latest inductee into the Wall of Fame! All right. Hold this baby like that." He gives him a token. "Be proud! All of your peers will walk by and say, 'I know that guy!'" The sign the man has hit contains two simple words: "Cubs Stink." And Swatek, the eccentric man who has manned Tower Tee for 50 years, awards a free round of hits to anyone who can smack the put-down with a well-placed shot. "It's a family-friendly place, right? So it doesn't say 'Cubs Suck,'" he says. Inductees — there's a new one every couple days or so — have their photos plastered on the Wall of Fame by the service desk. It may not be Cooperstown, but it's the closest any of us will ever get.—Robert Langellier

The DeMun Oyster Bar. - JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • The DeMun Oyster Bar.

Best Happy Hour

DeMun Oyster Bar

740 DeMun Avenue, Clayton; 314-725-0322

There are two kinds of happy hours in the world: the discount drink joints and the half-price appetizer establishments. Sometimes, the two converge, but rarely with panache, let alone an atmosphere that recalls the last undiscovered café in the French Quarter. The DeMun Oyster Bar presents a third option: the freshest oysters in a landlocked city at the mouthwatering price of just a buck a shuck. What's more, the venerable Concordia Park-side establishment considers an hour an afternoon, as the bargain runs through the daylight, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. And while the bar, which first opened its wide, garage-style windows in 1999, is best known for its succulent West Coast oysters, the happy hour selection focuses on medium-sized East Coasters, similar to the classic Blue Points, just a little creamy and delicately brined. Like all of the bar's finest offerings — the Purple Mountains, the Miyagis and the Miradas — these molluscs were harvested in the morning, flown direct to Lambert, and met at the airport every day at 6 p.m. sharp. Few restaurants in town can match the freshness. Of course, you'll want a cocktail or a bottle of wine with the three dozen (hell, at this price, make it four) you order, and the classy but casual bar serves a great ginger Manhattan and, if you're lucky, a tomato shrub, with bloody mary-infused vodka and sweet green sriracha. It's a killer pairing with the main attraction. —Roy Kasten

Best Trip to Brazil

Radio Rio

KDHX (88.1 FM) on Mondays, noon to 2 p.m.

Andrea Dunn has hosted Radio Rio since October 2001, enough time for her to get to know her audience really, really well. With a show that's moved across different days and times over those many years, she can recall the experience of fielding calls from her most devoted fans with each move. (Those who listened on Saturday nights, she recalls, consistently told her "how they enjoyed listening while they cooked dinner.") Along the way, the show has become a soundtrack for many St. Louisans and, for others, their first concentrated exposure to Brazilian music. Dunn notes that the two-hour program does touch on new works, which she finds through internet searches or via labels supplying music to the community station. But a big part of the show is given over to the important performers and composers in the Brazilian music canon, several of whom burst onto American airwaves in the 1960s and '70s, "which makes it a little bit of an oldies show," she says, adding, "I even have listeners in Brazil, who don't hear these songs on the radio there." Though she's taught herself a modest Portuguese vocabulary, this mother of two and KDHX donor relations point-person says that she hopes someday to visit Brazil, preceded by some language immersion. In the meantime, she'll speak the universal language of music, with a listenership that spans the globe.—Thomas Crone

Best Place to Get Wet

St. Vincent Water Park

7335 St. Charles Rock Road, 314-615-8788

St. Vincent Park, established in 1978 after the county purchased 130 rolling acres from the Catholic church, is among our most underappreciated public spaces. Nestled between two cemeteries in Normandy, the park's ball fields, tennis courts, and hiking and biking trails are excellent and rarely crowded, though on a steamy summer day, the coolest attraction becomes a family-friendly party like no other green space in town. Part of the St. Vincent Community Center, the aquatic park is modest in size but vast in fun: The shallow pools feature sprawling hammocks for swinging or chilling; volleyball nets for spiking; and jets, pipes and fountains for spraying, like Water Wiggles gone mad. Thumping R&B mixes provide the soundtrack as a twisting, 30-foot slide launches kids into a pool with a howling splash. Admission is cheap: $4 for adults, $3 for kids ages twelve to five, and toddlers are free. The water park is open Memorial Day through Labor Day, but only on weekends in August. It's not exactly a read-a-novel-under-a-parasol kind of pool. This is a party cove built for kids — and oldsters, if they can keep up with the action. —Roy Kasten

The Penrose Park Velodrome. - FLICKR/STRAIGHTEDGE217

Best Place to Chase Your Tail

Penrose Park Velodrome

4200 North Kingshighway Boulevard, 314-289-5300

You wouldn't think riding a bicycle around in a circle would be all that difficult — but that's because you haven't tried doing so on a 28-degree bank. Not that you couldn't have tried — after all, the Penrose Park Velodrome is right here in north city. A rather unique piece of St. Louis history, the cycling track is one of only 27 such structures in the United States, and the only one in Missouri. Designed by Olympic cyclist Frank Burlando, the track sits on land donated to the city in the early 1960s when the velodrome at Forest Park was demolished to make way for Highway 40. The track is perfect for bike races or exercise or simply seeing what it's like to balance upright on an angle. Who'd have thought riding a bicycle the same one-fifth of a mile over and over and over again could be so much fun? —Daniel Hill

Best Handheld

Eckert's

951 South Greenmont Road, Belleville, Illinois; 618-233-0513

You hear a lot of chatter about the wonders of Georgia peaches, but for an ardent contingent, nothing can surpass the taste of peachflesh grown in southern Illinois. Many and devoted are the St. Louisans who look forward to the day Eckert's peaches show up in grocery stores, waiting impatiently for the heat of summer to finish ripening the golden harvest. There is an interminable stretch when June turns into July and the bins are all still labeled "California peaches," but the faithful are certain that their great reward will arrive by their next grocery visit. And then that day finally comes: You walk through the doors and spy a double-wide bin of Eckert's peaches. You will see elderly women and young mothers standing side by side as they root through the first harvest, handing each other ripe peaches to hold and judge, reminiscing about how good they were two or ten or twenty years ago. This year's crop was nothing to sneer at, rife with fat little hand-fillers bursting with sweet juice. Eckert's is rightly famous in these parts for its apples, but this year's peaches will go down in local history for their succulence and their well-balanced flavor. —Paul Friswold

The Capitalist Pig's pork belly BLT. - MABEL SUEN
  • MABEL SUEN
  • The Capitalist Pig's pork belly BLT.

Best Trip to the Slammer

Capitalist Pig

2727 South 12th Street, 314-772-1180

If your street cred needs a little buffing up, we suggest locking yourself away at Capitalist Pig, where you can go to jail for the price of a pulled pork sandwich. This counter-service lunch and Sunday brunch spot is located inside Mad Art Gallery, which is housed in what used to be the city's 3rd District Police Station. The barbecue joint is sustainable in every sense of the word, sourcing from local and regional farmers who grow organic produce and raise their animals humanely on a primarily vegetarian diet — and you can taste the difference. Take a menu and get in the line forming up to the window to order from Capitalist Pig's variety of sandwiches, platters and sides. Then grab a sauce or three from the wide assortment on the nearby counter before grabbing a table in one of the prison cells. Don't worry, you can enter and exit at will. The rustic feel combined with low lighting will make you swear you're in an old Western movie. And when your meal arrives? Let's just say prison food has never tasted this good. —Elizabeth Semko

Best Place to See the Future

The Fortune Teller Bar

2635 Cherokee Street, 314-776-2337

As a bar, Fortune Teller could stand on its own, but the raised window booth on site for tarot card readings was a master stroke. Every night, a revolving cast of readers takes its perch behind a small table and welcomes the curious to peer into the future. Screw pool or darts. This is by far one of the best drinking activities in the city. You don't even have to get a reading to appreciate it. Just grab a cocktail, position yourself with a decent sight line, and enjoy the before-and-after view of people who partake. Sure, a lot of people climb those stairs on a lark, but more than a few exit the tiny, semi-private stage with the look that comes from wrestling with some heavy business. (Our favorite might be the couples; now that they know what they know, should they run for the hills?) You could search a long time and never find people-watching this compelling. But be prepared to go from spectator to participant by the end of the night. It's nearly impossible to watch the parade and not wonder what's really going on up in that booth. —Doyle Murphy

Turn the page for more cheap thrills, including our best Instagram stop.

click to enlarge Great American Human Foosball. - SARA BANNOURA
  • SARA BANNOURA
  • Great American Human Foosball.

Best Place for Sober Gamesmanship

Great American Human Foosball

3227 Morganford Road, 314-882-6191

Some people might suggest that friendly competition is best accompanied by a drink or two. Hey, there's a reason games like volleyball, pool and ping pong are often found at bars. But at Great American Human Foosball, you won't have time for that — or even a hand free to take a sip. At this family-owned business, the classic tabletop soccer game is expanded to life-sized proportions, and you and your friends become the players on the field. Teammates grab onto handles attached to rods and move side-to-side in an effort to get the ball and score. Previously the home of Future Antiques, the venue now hosts fitness classes, parties, Boy and Girl Scout programs, neighborhood nights, fundraisers and even human foosball leagues. Foosball isn't the only attraction — other life-sized games include foot pool, tic tac toe, Connect 4, checkers, Yahtzee and chess. Great American Human Foosball understands that all that activity is bound to make you thirsty: Gatorade, water, light snacks and popcorn are for sale, and the company has specials worked out with nearby restaurants. Alcohol is not allowed, but who needs it? You'll be on to your next game before you even notice its absence. —Elizabeth Semko

Best Place for Drunken Gamesmanship

Skunk'd Ping Pong Parlor at Brennan's

4659 Maryland Avenue, 314-497-4449

Brennan's seems like a natural fit in one the city's most upscale neighborhoods. High-end spirits and a wide variety of fine cigars attract a certain clientele. But just beyond the blue haze of cigar smoke and the business casual crowd, not-so-distant cheers can be heard rumbling up from the basement below. In the grotto beneath Brennan's sits Skunk'd Ping Pong Parlor, a marvelous den of sport. To say that the environment at Skunk'd is a stark contrast to the bar's upstairs persona is an understatement — the quirkiness of the ping pong parlor seems more suited for the Grove or Cherokee Street than the Central West End. As the bar's website proclaims, the parlor is a tribute to the Chinese paddle master Wang Liqin. The shrine features three glossy red ping pong tables, a mural of Muhammad Ali, a collage of photos of ping pong royalty, and various vintage video game consoles set up on the TVs along the perimeter. And the best part? It's all totally free. When is the last time you heard that in the Central West End? —Jered Schneider

Best Bringer of Laughs

Bobby Jaycox

@bobbyjaycox

An upbeat, energetic sort, Bobby Jaycox was training to be a firefighter in his dad's own High Ridge, Missouri, department. But when his application for full-time status was due, he wavered, knowing that he had to give comedy a true shot. "I believe I'm confident," Jaycox says. "Less confident than some people might think, but definitely more confident than most people in the room. I don't mind being the center for attention, for any reason. That's probably not a healthy thing, you know?" These days, Jaycox, 27, isn't fighting fires, but works day jobs as he can, in between frequent trips out of town for standup gigs. In St. Louis, he works in sketch and improv groups, too, often at his home base, the Improv Shop, where he indulges in all forms, "a comedy polygamist." He explains, "A lot of people limit themselves and don't realize how good they could become." While St. Louis has provided him a wealth of opportunities, there's little doubt that Jaycox is going to test himself further with an extended run in New York, a move he plans to make in 2018. "The community here is so cool," he says. "It's weirdos finding other weirdos. We were in high school and stressed out and now we've found each other. But there's a bigger goal. It might come predominantly from improv, or maybe I'll become a staff writer on a show, or write some copy for something that's not as fun, but makes me enough money to fund myself and create whatever else I want." His confidence intact, of New York's challenges and opportunities, Jaycox says simply: "Bring it on." —Thomas Crone

The Book House. - HARLAN MCCARTHY
  • HARLAN MCCARTHY
  • The Book House.

Best Place for a Disney Moment

The Book House

7352 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-968-4491

Disney's Beauty and the Beast blasted back into the zeitgeist this year when Harry Potter star Emma Watson took on the role of Belle in the live action version of the fairy tale. But bookworms and tried-and-true Disney aficionados having been obsessing over the Beast's impressive library long before Watson brought his comely paramour back to the big screen. Fans can get their own real-life dose of that magic by stepping inside the Book House, an independent bookshop where customers are greeted by a room with floor-to-ceiling shelves of books and gliding book ladders not unlike the ones in the movie. Don't get us wrong, this new and used bookstore is nowhere near the size of the castle library on screen — but when you experience its cozy vibe, you'll realize you wouldn't have it any other way. You'll also have a children's section and a lower level to explore, with genres ranging from fiction to cooking to books by St. Louis authors, plus rare and out-of-print books. Big-box chains can keep their fancy e-readers and in-store coffee shops. For a truly enchanting experience, the Book House is the place to go. —Elizabeth Semko

Best Instagram Stop

Beyond Sweet

5901 Delmar Boulevard, 314-899-5021

The St. Louis food media scene is notoriously overcrowded and overly competitive — seriously, if there's another town this size with two print magazines devoted solely to the dining scene, we'd love to hear about it. As a result, openings and closings are greeted with the kind of saturation coverage that other municipalities reserve for mayoral elections. Which is why Beyond Sweet's instant, over-the-top success was so fascinating to behold: The ice cream hotspot outgrew its original location within a month of opening this January without so much as a single press clipping. Instead, the scoop on owner Dallas Holland's amazing creations spread by word of mouth — and thousands upon thousands of Instagram oohs and ahhhs. It makes sense. Holland's milkshakes aren't just delicious; they're flat-out dazzling. Glasses of cold, creamy ice cream come studded with chocolates, brownies, sprinkles or marshmallows, then topped with showstoppers like entire ice cream sandwiches, Oreo cookies, donuts and even chocolate-dipped ice cream cones. They're a marvel to behold and just as much fun to eat, the kind of guilty pleasure that sends sugar rushing through your veins and leaves you downright giddy. The shop's second home, which Holland opened just a few blocks from its previous incarnation in the city's West End on April 1, has been packing in customers ever since opening day. Small surprise that the food press eventually — finally! — got hip to the scene, too. Treats this visually stunning aren't only fit for online consumption; they look pretty amazing on the cover of food magazines too. –Sarah Fenske

Mauhaus. - KELLY GLUECK
  • KELLY GLUECK
  • Mauhaus.

Best Place for a Kitty Cuddle

Mauhaus Cafe

3101 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood, 314-384-CATS

You really, really want to adopt a cat, but it's just not in the cards right now. Maybe your landlord doesn't allow animals. Maybe your honey is allergic. Maybe you're not sure that you're responsible enough to fully care for another life. But, man, you need some feline friendship STAT. Luckily, Mauhaus is here to let the fur fly. As one of the only cat cafes in the Midwest, Mauhaus offers kitty lovers a safe space to snuggle with a dozen purrrrfectly sweet cats. Get to know Taylor, Lorelai and other new friends while enjoying coffee, pita and hummus, artisan cheeses and cupcakes. And though the cafe welcomes human buddies, the socializing area really caters to the cat crowd with its high kitty walkways and floor-to-ceiling climbing tree. To experience Mauhaus, book an hour online for just $10, or drop in (and wait quite a while for your turn) for $5. For those who can't host cats at home, Mauhaus certainly scratches an itch, but if you happen to fall in love with one special sweetheart and live in a space where kitty can thrive, you're in for a treat — you can apply during your visit to adopt a fur baby. All feline friends come from Stray Haven Rescue and are spayed/neutered, microchipped and up to date on their shots. Paws up for that! —Allison Babka

Best Harbinger of Spring

St. Pius V Fish Fry

3310 South Grand Boulevard, 314-772-1525

South-city neighbor St. Cecilia Catholic Church is rightly celebrated for its margaritas and chile rellenos, but give us the underappreciated St. Pius fish fry for a purist's execution of the annual ritual. The golden brown cod or jack salmon are solid. The sides of mac-and-cheese, cooked vegetables, iceberg lettuce salads and sliced bread with butter aren't going to surprise or thrill you. But it all comes together in the church basement for a perfectly earnest evening in a cynical world. You'll cram into folding tables alongside parishioners and Tower Grove East neighbors while a loosely formed band plays in the back and occasionally pulls in new musicians from the crowd to bang on drums. Little kids dance in the aisles like maniacs while an array of donated desserts wait for you to make your selection. There's a booth where you can buy cans of beer, but if the line to get inside the church is especially long, the kind people of St. Pius have been known to hand out a few free Bud Lights to keep the spirits up. Was Lent really meant to be so pleasant? —Doyle Murphy

Best Free Workout

Yoga at Tower Grove Farmers Market

4256 Magnolia Avenue, www.tgmarket.org

Sure, the Tower Grove Farmers Market is a prime location to stock up on your produce, let the kids play in the splash pad and gush over all the cute dogs accompanying their owners — but it's also a good spot to kick off your weekend with a workout. The market, which takes place on Saturday mornings from April through November, offers a free yoga class starting at 9 a.m. Everyone from beginners to yoga veterans gathers on the lawn near the vendors' tables, forming a loose circle around the instructor for an hour. Don't let the open-level concept give you the idea that you won't break a sweat: One moment you will be doing a gentle stretch, the next you may find yourself attempting a headstand (though, seriously, there's no shame in going at your own pace — injury doesn't look good on anyone). If you're extra crazy, pick a spot in the sun. Who needs hot yoga in a temperature-controlled classroom when you have the St. Louis heat beating down on you? Bring water and your own yoga mat and get ready to breathe in the fresh air. —Elizabeth Semko

Peter Mathews Memorial Skate Garden. - DANIEL HILL
  • DANIEL HILL
  • Peter Mathews Memorial Skate Garden.

Best Place to Get Your Skate On

Peter Mathews Memorial Skate Garden

4415 Morganford Road

The Peter Mathews Memorial Skate Garden has just seen a major upgrade. The Bevo-area skate spot earned a $25,000 grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation in August, triggering a flurry of construction and improvements. Hawk himself even touched down in mid-September to grant his blessing to the three-year-old outdoor park — as strong a co-sign as you can possibly find in the skating world. The park was initially constructed in 2014 after the guerrilla alternative beneath the Kingshighway Bridge found itself on the chopping block owing to a massive construction project. That park had technically been an illegal affair — the skaters responsible for its construction had poured concrete and built the park without permits, asking for forgiveness rather than permission — but it was allowed to operate by the city, which was pleased that the spot's new inhabitants were diligent about cleaning up trash and removing graffiti. When the time came to move on, the Skate Garden was constructed by that same group with the city's blessing, making it St. Louis' first fully legal outdoor skate park. Three years later, thanks to the hard work of volunteers and some cash from one of skateboarding's patron saints, that park is still open for business — and better than ever. —Daniel Hill

Best Reason to Look Up

Noguchi Design at U-Haul Moving and Storage

1641 South Kingshighway, 314-773-1400

Sometimes, you just want to rent a truck. Other times, you want to be swept away by an otherworldly, swoopy masterpiece of 1940s sculpture by Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. For either, head to the U-Haul building in the Hill. A section of the lobby's ceiling — criminally obscured by a drop ceiling for decades — was restored last year to its Zen-like futuristic glory. The sculpture was designed for the building's original owner, the American Stove Company Magic Chef Building. Before U-Haul bought the property in 1977, it had been sitting vacant for about a decade. In the course of considering upgrades to the lobby in 2014, local U-Haul executives were hopeful about revealing the ceiling. And a model of the ceiling in Saint Louis Art Museum's 2015 St. Louis Modern exhibition further whetted folks' appetite to see it. After a delicate and painstaking process, it was again ready for its close-up last May. Drop by during business hours to enjoy the feeling of being inside a lava lamp. The lunar landscape includes compelling droplet shapes and a section in deeply saturated purple and scarlet. Just don't get in the way of the folks lining up for truck rentals. —Melissa Meinzer

Turn the page for more cheap thrills, including our best reason to have another.

click to enlarge John F. Kennedy Memorial Forest. - ELIZABETH SEMKO
  • ELIZABETH SEMKO
  • John F. Kennedy Memorial Forest.

Best Place to Get Away From It All

John F. Kennedy Memorial Forest

Forest Park, southwest corner, forestparkmap.org/kennedy-forest

We love our Forest Park standbys — landmark spots like the Muny and the Saint Louis Zoo are truly priceless (never mind their "free" price tag). But among your go-to destinations should be a less recognized, but no less wonderful, destination: the John F. Kennedy Memorial Forest. This forest preserve is a free oasis in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Skinker Boulevard and Highway 40. You can leave the din of traffic in the distance as you head down one of the bike trails or gravel paths winding through these 60 acres of beautiful of trees, flowers and wetland. Kennedy Forest became the first part of Forest Park reserved for environmental conservation when it was dedicated in 1964. Today, it's a prime spot for bird watching and serves as home for a number of frog species in addition to being a favorite spot for hiking and biking. Whether you want to explore, work out or simply enjoy a few moments of solitude, this bit of tranquility is a great place to go. Sure, you already have plenty of places you love in Forest Park — but Kennedy Forest should definitely be one. —Elizabeth Semko

The Skyview Drive-In

5700 North Belt West, Belleville, Illinois; 618-233-4400

By far the worst part of going to the movies is the exorbitant prices you're expected to pay at the concession stand. The robber barons at the AMCs and Wehrenbergs of the world want you to spend some $30 on chicken feed and sugar water, leaving you with no choice but to line your pockets with more reasonably priced snacks purchased on the way to the theater. It is not fair or right that you are reduced to the status of a common smuggler just for daring to watch a movie on a huge screen. Luckily there's another option, a better way. Belleville's Skyview Drive-In has been entertaining moviegoers in their own cars since 1949 — no smuggling required. Want some popcorn? Go ahead and bring a whole tin. Soda? A cooler full in the backseat will quench your thirst. Go big and get some brown liquor to go with that too; just make one of your more sober companions drive you home. Not that we have any first-hand knowledge about this or anything, but it's reasonable to think you could smoke blunts back to back in your car all throughout the show, as long as you're sly about it. Ditch the pricey concession stands in the typical theaters. It is time to put the dignity back in the moviegoing experience. It is time to visit the Skyview Drive-In. —Daniel Hill

Samantha Levison. - THOMAS CRONE
  • THOMAS CRONE
  • Samantha Levison.

Best Reason to Have Another

Samantha Levison

Atomic Cowboy and Thaxton Speakeasy

Now about ten years into her run as a bartender, Samantha Levison has worked at high-volume bars like the Pin-Up Bowl and regulars-heavy spots like the Crow's Nest. These days, she splits time between the Prohibition-themed Thaxton Speakeasy and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink appeal of the Atomic Cowboy. Her blend of experiences and interests have given her a unique skillset, met with a personality that shines in any setting. The 33-year-old Levison combines excellent customer service with sharp technical skills. "Obviously, you have to have a balance of both, or you're not going to succeed," she says. "That's my life's story: It's a blessing and a curse that I can see both sides to everything and want to balance things out. I used to worry that I didn't specialize in anything, whether bartending, my hobbies, what I went to school for. But, maybe, I could interweave all these things into my own life and career while helping other people have good lives." While she has an abiding interest in the finer aspects of bartending and digs a busy night with simpatico co-workers, Levison really just wants to share the good vibes, even on shifts when the bar is slammed. "I've met so many beautiful people; that's one of the perks of the job," she says. "Maybe you see a stranger, looking bummed out and no friends with them at that moment? Introduce them to someone else. That creates good energy in the place. People take that energy outside and, hopefully, they're nicer to family and friends." Cheers to that. —Thomas Crone

Best Place to Eavesdrop on the Revolution

MoKaBe's Coffeehouse

3606 Arsenal Street, 314-865-2009

If you ever wanted to feel better about the Resistance, spend a few nights camped out in MoKaBe's. The Tower Grove South institution unabashedly mingles its business with a progressive social conscience. When St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announced in 2014 that ex-Ferguson cop Darren Wilson would face no charges for killing Michael Brown, 70 to 80 people watched a broadcast of the announcement inside the coffee house and later took shelter there when city police dropped canisters of tear gas just outside the doorway. It's not usually that dramatic. On any given night, you're likely to spot people of all ages addressing envelopes to politicians as part of letter-writing campaigns, customers dropping off packages of socks to be handed out to the homeless and volunteers creating assembly-line operations on a back table, stuffing tampons, toiletries and informational fliers into care packages for young women in need of help. Far from the alt-right fantasy of a shadow network of mercenary protesters paid by a bogeyman George Soros, the activists quietly at work in MoKaBe's embody a reassuringly genuine example of grassroots organizing. Plus, the sandwiches are pretty good. —Doyle Murphy

The Donut Stop. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • The Donut Stop.

Best Sugar Rush

The Donut Stop

1101 Lemay Ferry Road, 314-631-3333

Depending on your appetite and imagination, you could probably spend weeks — and more — trying to devour every possible variety of donut available at the Donut Stop. How many varieties, precisely? The store touts 103 combinations of cake donut alone, but that estimate is likely outdated. On a recent morning, an employee just laughs at the question. "We've stopped trying to count," she says. To be fair, the folks behind the counter at this south-county pastry temple have better things to do than play donut accountant. The options are dizzying. For instance: Start with the base cake (vanilla, devil's food or blueberry) and then choose icing or glaze, and of course then you have to decide what kind of icing or glaze. Maybe you're in the mood for sprinkles, nuts, cream filling, powdered sugar — or then again, you may be aiming for that which can't be classified as a donut at all, like the lumpen pleasure of the "Cinnamon Glob." The aforementioned glob, nationally recognized several times over, is a fried hunk of pastry with the visual appeal of a sat-upon muffin and the taste of buttery heaven encased in crispy fried dough. Now on its fourth set of owners and continuously in business since 1953, the Donut Stop is proof positive that quality and quantity can coexist, and in this case, in the sweetest of harmonies. —Danny Wicentowski

Best Trip Down Memory Lane

Cruise Night at Chuck-a-Burger

<p>9025 St Charles Rock Road, St. John; 314-427-9524

Fifties nostalgia is hot right now. While in some cases that amounts to a rather soul-crushing national effort to make our country Great Again™, at Chuck-A-Burger it's more about golden oldies, flattened burger patties and classic cars. For some 60 years the north-county drive-in has been a hub of such time-tested delights, serving up soda pop and Elvis in equal measure while customers in the lot outside debate the merits of Ford versus Chevy. And on the last Saturday of each month the nostalgia gets kicked into overdrive, when the eatery hosts its monthly Cruise Night, bringing dozens of ancient automobiles out from the safety of their garages to be ogled and gawked at by strangers. With a bacon cheeseburger in one hand and a hand-dipped milkshake in the other, you can stride throughout the lot and behold these carefully restored beauties in what is truly their natural habitat. Just make sure you don't spill anything on the cars, or you just might find yourself on the wrong end of an old-fashioned ass-kicking. —Daniel Hill

Best Throwback Bar

Mike's Ten-Pin Lounge

18 East Broadway, Alton, Illinois; 618-465-6565

As we arrive at Mike's Ten-Pin, the bartender scrambles away from her perch near the bar's entry. First, it's to button up her flowing shirt; before long, she's scooting to the back room, from which she emerges wearing ... pants. (As in, yes, pants, and no, they were not part of her earlier ensemble.) These are clues that Mike's Ten-Pin Lounge is a critical link, tying the current day to Alton's not-so-distant life as a nightlife zone with a touch of extra, unexpected, random excitement. A pool table stays active throughout our stay and the drinks are appropriately priced; a Three Olives Rangtang cocktail and bottle of American lager are $5.50. The room, an unusual hue of light green, is lit primarily by televisions and beer signage, including a glowing Spuds McKenzie, the backbar's appropriately decorative centerpiece. Despite a handful of large rubber rats that seem to be a thing here, every surface is strangely pristine (like, eat-off-the-floor clean), even though a deep nicotine funk hangs heavily in the air. Combined, these are all vivid reminders that Mike's Ten-Pin is only two blocks removed from Alton's downtown bar district and a good two decades removed from that area's wilder past. Or, its present, if you know where to visit and happen by on just the right night. —Thomas Crone

click to enlarge The Laclede's Landing Wax Museum. - SARA BANNOURA
  • SARA BANNOURA
  • The Laclede's Landing Wax Museum.

Best Place to Get Your Picture Taken with Celebrities (Wax Version)

Laclede's Landing Wax Museum

720 North Second Street, 314-241-1155

Your life is boring, and your friends are starting to catch on. Your social media feeds betray your secrets (or lack thereof). The only photos you've uploaded in the last year are of your dinner (for one, sigh) and your dog (cute, but also bored of you). What do you do? You fake it for the 'gram, of course! Head on down to the Laclede's Landing Wax Museum and snap some selfies with the stars. Pull up that seat next to Barack Obama on a park bench and smile for the camera. Cower beneath Michael Jordan's mighty dunk and get an employee working there to take a convincing picture of your lack of sports prowess. "#SLAMDUNK" you'll tweet to your followers, and no one will be the wiser. "Oh my god, you met Shrek? The real Shrek?" your friends will ask you enviously, and you will click "like" and all will be fooled. With more than 200 life-size figures in its collection, from presidents to movie stars to super heroes to monsters, you're sure to find something at the Laclede's Landing Wax Museum capable of tricking the gullible into thinking your life is interesting. If not, at least they have an ice cream shop where you can drown your sorrows. —Daniel Hill

Best Place to Get Your Picture Taken with Celebrities (Real Version)

Eclipse at the Moonrise

<p>6177 Delmar Boulevard, 314-726-2222

The kingdom of Joe Edwards is vast. It sprawls throughout the Delmar Loop, including many of the retail shops and buildings on both sides of the busy street. Notably, it includes all of the district's major music venues now that Cicero's has closed its doors. Blueberry Hill's smaller Duck Room, the mid-sized Delmar Hall and the world-class Pageant stage are all firmly under Edwards' dominion. How do you think he achieved that bonkers wall of photos with celebrities inside Blueberry Hill? Seeing all the stars he has shared photos with is enough to make anyone jealous. But fret not, dear reader, because here's a little tip: Edwards owns the Moonrise Hotel as well, and oftentimes when musicians perform at one of his venues they also stay at his inn. The Moonrise has a terrific rooftop bar sitting atop it, meaning that, if you're smart about the timing (and a little lucky) there's a decent chance you can catch some of those musicians putting back a few following their concerts just down the street. Say goodbye to your envy and start your own celebrity wall of photos! —Daniel Hill

Best Place to Find a G-Spot

Shameless Grounds

1901 Withnell Avenue, 314-449-1240

All libraries contain magic of a sort, and the enchantment held by the wall of bookshelves in Shameless Grounds opens a portal to a world you'll be hesitant to leave. The café, a sex-positive haven where even the menu items are raunchy — such as the "Ample Breast" turkey and bacon sandwich — boasts a library of human sexuality that begs to be explored over a bottomless cup of coffee and a long afternoon. More than 1,700 titles, plus periodicals, are available for reading and check-out, with subjects that cover everything from Cosmopolitan sex manuals to academic research on gender theory. Perhaps most impressively, the library hosts a gargantuan amount of literary smut, ranging from vanilla fantastical BDSM kinkery to pulp fiction stories so outlandishly written, they're best enjoyed by passing the copy to your partner and daring them to read the hot-and-heavy metaphors without cracking up. Be warned, though, lest ye wind up on the Wall of Shame. Just because this is a library of wonderful smut, you still have to return your books on time. —Danny Wicentowski

Turn the page for more cheap thrills, including the best free pool in the city.
The Hi-Pointe Theatre. - FLICKR/PAUL SABLEMAN

Best Old Hollywood Flashback

The Hi-Pointe Theatre

1005 McCausland Avenue, 314-644-1100

Ditch the high-priced megaplexes for a truly unique movie experience at the Hi-Pointe Theatre, the area's second-oldest movie theater that's still in business today. Built in 1922, the main 414-seat theater served as the movie house's single screen until the Hi-Pointe Backlot, a 48-seat satellite theater in a building behind the original theater, opened in 2015. Family-owned since the 1970s, the theater has experienced numerous upgrades over the years, including Dolby Digital sound, a new screen and refurbished seating. Despite these additions, however, the small cinema maintains its old-school charm with details such as a turquoise curtain, old Hollywood movie posters and cozy, local vibe. The nostalgia gets especially real when Hi-Pointe features special showings of old Christmas movies on Saturday mornings in December. You'll love the prices, too: the first show of the day is only $5, and movies are $5 all day on Wednesdays. Even at later times other days of the week, adults only pay $9 and seniors and students pay $7 — a definite improvement from the double-digit price tags you see elsewhere. The deliciously addictive (and equally affordable) popcorn at the concession stand is the cherry on top. —Elizabeth Semko

Best Free Pool

Ryder's Tavern

4123 Chippewa Street, 314-899-9343

Comedian Patrick Monahan recently tweeted, "Bars with pool tables are good because you get to drink and watch very serious people ask people to move aside so they can miss pool shots." His point: Bars with pool tables are often annoying. Many times the hardcore pool sharks camp out at the lone table in the bar, taking far too seriously a game meant to be enjoyed by drunks. These billiards bullies will not abide a group of tipsy amateurs knocking around the balls for the evening. And even if a table is available, someone is going to have to dig up four quarters, which in the days of Apple Pay and Square is an almost impossible feat. Ryder's Tavern on Chippewa eliminates the downsides of most public pool tables with a low-key atmosphere and free pool table welcoming to groups of pool noobs who fear the judgment of the elite poolerati. Between games you can treat yourself to a burger and cheese curds served from the kitchen just feet from the pool table, and keep the hits coming on the nearby jukebox. Just don't forget — loser buys the next round. — Jered Schneider

The Sinkhole. - STEVE TRUESDELL
  • STEVE TRUESDELL
  • The Sinkhole.

Best Place to See a $5 Rock Show

The Sinkhole

7423 South Broadway, 314-328-2309

Since opening in the fall of 2016, the Sinkhole has become the go-to hole-in-the-wall for the local DIY, noise and experimental punk scene, while offering a space for touring bands that have outgrown their buds' basements. Co-founder Mitch Kirkwood has described the cash-only Carondelet venue as a kind of "clubhouse for the music scene"; that gets it about right. Likely dating back to the 1890s, the building sports one of South Broadway's coolest facades, and beneath the exposed rafters, the cement-block walls are covered with blurry photos and setlists from shows. With a capacity of 150, the stage action is up-close and in your face. New and underground St. Louis bands dominate the schedule (the club has shows nearly every night of the week), along with stalwarts like the Homewreckers and Boreal Hills as regular openers for out-of-towners you've probably never heard of — at least not yet. And the club's bookings, led by veteran talent scout Matt Stuttler, occasionally dip into indie pop and even Americana. St. Louis may have no shortage of small music venues, but there's no better place in town to grab a beer and catch a loud, fast and messy rock & roll show. —Roy Kasten

Best Place to Stuff Your Face

Sushi Ai

Multiple locations, including 910 Olive Street

If you need a place to stuff your face, Sushi Ai can't be beat. The homegrown chain (now with three restaurants, and counting) offers a $12.99 all-you-can-eat special for lunch. The dinner all-you-can-eat special, which rings in at $19.99, includes some special rolls not available on the lunch menu. That's hard to beat in this town, especially when the offerings include favorites like the Spider Roll, an overstuffed roll positively bursting with battered soft-shell crab. There's plenty of appetizers to choose from here, including the ginger salad, sweet and crisp crab Rangoons and miso soup. It's a great spot to bring apprehensive first-timers. Don't like spicy tuna rolls? Move on to the baked salmon. With locations in Clayton and St. Charles as well as Midtown, you won't have to worry about driving too far out for a lunch date. If you're going to stuff your face, though, be sure to do just that — or get a friend to pick up your slack. Sushi Ai charges an extra fee for any sushi ordered that you don't finish. —Taylor Vinson

Best Place to Buy Clothing By the Pound

Goodwill Outlet

3728 Market Street, 314-531-0671

You really messed up this time. You got greedy and got caught, and now your significant other is out of patience and has thrown you out on your ass. The entire contents of your closet were left on the lawn for the neighbors to pick through; you have been left with nothing. What to do? Easy. Head on down to the Goodwill Outlet and buy yourself a whole new wardrobe — by the pound. You see, the Goodwill Outlet is no ordinary Goodwill store, with such amenities as "racks" and "shelves." No, here you will instead find blue bin after blue bin, priced as cheap as can be (the "expensive" stuff goes for 99 cents per pound; the cheap stuff a mere 29 cents) and ripe for the picking. "Ripe" is an appropriate word here: This is a Mad Max Thunderdome free-for-all affair of completely unsorted goods — gloves and maybe even a painter's mask are highly recommended. Deck yourself out in hand-picked secondhand duds at unreasonably cheap prices and get ready to strut your stuff for the next poor sucker foolish enough to fall for your crap. The Goodwill Outlet is here to help. —Daniel Hill

The Heavy Anchor. - MABEL SUEN
  • MABEL SUEN
  • The Heavy Anchor.

Best Place to Laugh on a Monday

The Heavy Anchor

5226 Gravois Avenue, 314-352-5226

Most bars and restaurants treat Mondays as their de facto weekend, a day off after several busy nights serving the nine-to-five crowd. But the Heavy Anchor in Bevo Mill knows what most people really need after a Monday at work: a cold drink and a good laugh. Every Monday at 10 p.m. the bar hosts the most popular open mic comedy night in the city. The free show, hosted by local comedian Chad Wallace, is an opportunity for novice and veteran comedians to test out new material. The crowds are often generous with laughs, as Mondays are also "Case of the ($1 PBR) Mondays," so most of the crowd has spent a few dollars on Pabst Blue Ribbons before venturing into the show. Although the talent ranges from complete rookies to touring veterans, during their five minutes under the hot stage lights, alone against the weathered maroon wall, they are all equal. Think you've got what it takes to make a room of strangers laugh? Put your name on the legal pad in the back and give it your best shot. If you aren't made for the spotlight, you can still sit back, kick back a few $1 beers and enjoy the show. —Jered Schneider

Best Place to Live Your HGTV Dreams

Refab

3130 Gravois Avenue, 314-357-1392

If your idea of a good time involves lounging in front of shows like Fixer Upper and Property Brothers, you need to pay a visit to Refab ASAP. Step inside this warehouse, and you'll immediately find yourself surrounded by rooms overflowing in furniture, housewares, lumber, decor and other odds and ends to make your renovation dreams come true. But don't think of this as IKEA 2.0. The nonprofit creates jobs by providing training in deconstruction and refabrication to people who can then safely disassemble buildings and remove useful items that would otherwise be demolished by machine. As a result, the perfectly good materials from these buildings can be sold for reuse rather than being sent to a landfill. As an added bonus, the warehouse offers plenty of unique extras to complete your home or contribute to your renovation project, whether that's a funky doorknob, a toilet, a front door, a vintage chandelier or even something as random as a (fake) Christmas tree. You can further get involved in the effort by dropping off or asking Refab to pick up products you'd like to donate, or volunteer to help with deconstruction. It's a true treasure hunt that also saves the earth and creates employment. And that's something sure to get any HGTV host's approval. —Elizabeth Semko

Subterranean Books. - KELLY GLUECK
  • KELLY GLUECK
  • Subterranean Books.

Best Way to Get Lost

Dunaway Books and Subterranean Books

3111 South Grand Boulevard, 314-771-7150

6275 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-862-6100

St. Louis is blessed with a treasure-trove of great bookstores, but two of them are truly underappreciated gems: Subterranean Books in the Loop and Dunaway Books on South Grand. In keeping with their evocative names, they're each filled to the brim with hidden depths and adventures just waiting to be discovered — simply wander the stacks and see. You may think you're just stopping by for one specific work only to find yourself wondering where the last hour has gone. Meanwhile, from the moment you arrive, a palpable sense of gladness emanates from kind staff members who never seem put off when a visit becomes lengthy (and less than lucrative). The two operations are also the respective domains of very good bookstore dogs Teddy (at Subterranean) and Blue (at Dunaway). And both operations celebrate local writers in generous ways. But don't get them confused; their wonderful assortments for St. Louis bibliophiles are as distinct as the architectural spaces and neighborhoods they inhabit. While Dunaway's several floors are bursting with a wide array of rare, used and out-of-print books, the volumes cleverly tucked inside Subterranean's storefront along Delmar Boulevard are all brand new. —Evie Hemphill

Best Way to Celebrate St. Louis

Blues at the Arch Series

www.bluesatthearch.com

Don't get us wrong: Forest Park has been a fine steward of the annual Fair St. Louis Fourth of July celebration for the last four years. But remember back when America's biggest birthday party was called the VP Fair and was held at the Arch every year? There's something magical about being able to gaze out at the riverfront while standing shoulder to shoulder with your fellow music-loving St. Louisans as a band performs in the shadow of the world's largest horseshoe. Fortunately, the Blues at the Arch series has kept that experience going for the last two years, hosting late-summer concerts featuring local and national blues luminaries. And frankly, these events may even edge out Fair St. Louis in terms of pure St. Louis-ness. Our city's blues history is storied, and hearing those soulful sounds on the Arch grounds qualifies in our book as the quintessential St. Louis experience. And sure, Fair St. Louis recently announced that the party would be returning to the Arch next year, but that shouldn't diminish the Blues at the Arch experience one bit. After all, which is the more St. Louis experience: Counting Crows performing for a crowd of thousands or our very own Marquise Knox doing the very same? We'll take the latter every time. —Daniel Hill


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