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40 Marvels That Will Restore Your Faith in St. Louis 

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click to enlarge The World Naked Bike Ride. - SARA BANNOURA
  • SARA BANNOURA
  • The World Naked Bike Ride.

Best Joyride

The World Naked Bike Ride

You don't need to be literally naked to participate in the St. Louis World Naked Bike Ride, but there's no reason for false modesty. Even if you decided to wear a thick parka — and you really shouldn't, considering this is a summertime event — it would take just a single glance over your handlebars to see the glittery blur of nipples, flanks and butts pedaling against the evening sky. Still going strong after a decade in St. Louis, the ride attracted around 2,000 riders to its 2017 celebration of bikes and bodies, and each participant followed the "Bare as you dare" slogan however they saw fit. You're just as likely to see painted slogans opposing the fossil fuel industry as bodies painted to look like Game of Thrones characters. At its heart, though, is the ride itself: a dozen or so miles on a circuit that starts at the Grove and winds its way downtown before returning to the starting line. It's not a race or a parade, although thousands of spectators gather along the route to cheer and take pictures, and police officers temporarily halt traffic to allow the riders to pedal safely along downtown's busy streets. Amid the vulnerability, the thrill of exposure, is the sense of being part of something bigger, stranger and more daring than any halftime streaker's mad dash to the 50-yard line. Such is the glorious paradox of the ride, a straddling of the mainstream and taboo that's best experienced perched on a bike seat, face to the wind, feeling comfortable and triumphant in your own skin. —Danny Wicentowski

Best History Trip

Hidden History of Downtown St. Louis

Many books have been written about St. Louis, but few are as full of peculiar facts and revelations as Maureen O'Connor Kavanaugh's Hidden History of Downtown St. Louis. The slim volume charts the growth of the city from its days as a suburb of the great Mississippian culture centered in Cahokia, Illinois, up through the twentieth century. Kavanaugh digs into the city's single Revolutionary War battle (spoiler alert: St. Louis owes its existence to Spanish soldiers, black people and a bunch of French farmers) to the rich culture that sprang Athena-like from the river trade. Many locals know that the murder ballads "Stagger Lee" and "Frankie and Johnny" were based on events that happened in St. Louis, but Kavanaugh digs deeper, discovering the name of the street singer who most likely wrote both songs. (Did you know St. Louis had street singers prowling the wards 100 years ago?) From the creation of ragtime by Tom Turpin in 1897 to the working days of young Thomas Lanier Williams III (later known as "Tennessee"), St. Louis has been home to artists, writers, poets and, at one point, three professional baseball teams. Kavanaugh shows us a St. Louis that has been grander, more inclusive and stranger than you've ever imagined. — Paul Friswold

Best Private Entrance

Club Seats at the Fox Theatre

527 North Grand Boulevard, 314-534-1111

Being a baller in this town doesn't require the Busch family pedigree or a connection to the Veiled Prophet organization (ugh). Really, all you need is a friend with membership in the Fox Club. The incredible box seats on this tucked-away level at the ever-fabulous Fox Theatre don't just offer comfortable chairs and a table to set your drink (or food — your server is more than happy to bring you both). They also offer private parking right next to the theater and, yes, a private hallway to whisk you from the gated lot straight into your luxury box. Walking down these lushly appointed halls, you can't help but think this is how old money St. Louis lives. Who needs a Hummer when you have an entrance all your own? But don't even think about saving up for this luxury. It's not just that season tickets start at (gulp) $34,150 for a four-seat box. There's also a waiting list. —Sarah Fenske

The Greek Festival at St. Nicholas. - STEVE TRUESDELL
  • STEVE TRUESDELL
  • The Greek Festival at St. Nicholas.

Best Food Adventure

St. Louis Greek Festival

www.opastl.com

St. Louis isn't hurting for tasty Greek cuisine — you can find excellent gyros and saganaki at any number of sit-down restaurants and food trucks — but the St. Louis Greek Festival in the Central West End is a special treat no matter how much moussaka you've downed recently. Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2017, the Labor Day Weekend tradition offers cheap eats and plenty of entertainment. Inside St. Nicholas, parishioners bake and serve classic Greek dishes such as spanakopita, shish kabob and pastitsio, and their box of assorted pastries comes with the sweetest, most authentic baklava this side of Mykonos. Feast on the deliciousness while watching Greek folk dancers in the historic church's auditorium, or head outside to the taverna to grab a few bottles of Zeos beer and listen to musicians play songs from the homeland. There's a lot to take in, and first-timers may become a bit overwhelmed by the hubbub, so map out your strategy ahead of time online. Best advice of all might be to plan to visit this essential St. Louis festival more than once during the weekend; we guarantee that no two experiences will be exactly alike. For the love of Zeus, hundreds of thousands of revelers over an entire century can't be wrong. Opa! —Allison Babka

Best Staycation

Chase Park Plaza

212 North Kingshighway, 314-633-3000

The staycation is a growing trend for road-weary travelers, for obvious reasons. It offers all the upside of the traditional vacation — the day drinking, the temporary resignation of responsibilities — without the inescapable downsides (the hassle of airports, the expense of rental cars and all that wasted time in transit). And that means there's no good reason to let your out-of-town relatives hog all the fun; you too can spend a blissful weekend at the Chase Park Plaza. It's the perfect place to get away in St. Louis without having to actually leave town. The classic hotel has the feel of high-end historic hotels in Chicago and New York, only without the hit to your bank account. The 1920s Art Deco architecture will make you want to head straight to the bar for a gin rickey before doing the Charleston with the nearest dame, while the pool outside features a poolside bar and plenty of deck chairs and cozy cabanas. Or maybe see a movie: The Chase is home to a five-screen theater that features current films at great prices. Evenings at the Chase, too, are rich with possibility. Want to stay in for dinner? Choose between the Preston, which takes a "food is art" approach to small, thoughtful plates; the Chase Club, which offers more casual pub fare; and the Tenderloin Room, which has been serving up fine cuts since the 1960s. Heading out for the evening can mean a short walk to countless options around the Central West End. It's a fun experience to see St. Louis through the eyes of a tourist, walking the streets and wandering into places you've previously only driven past. And at the end of your adventure, you need only stumble a few blocks to make it back to your room, where you can rest easy knowing that tomorrow morning, the pool will be there waiting for you. —Jered Schneider

Vicia. - MABEL SUEN
  • MABEL SUEN
  • Vicia.

Best Place to Eat Like a Californian

Vicia

4260 Forest Park Avenue, 314-553-9239

For more than 100 years, St. Louis has been a meat and potatoes town, and while the city's culinary landscape is changing rapidly, old habits die hard — which may be one reason Vicia found itself facing a mini-tempest this summer. The editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tod Robberson, wrote an entire column denouncing the acclaimed Cortex district restaurant by suggesting it exemplified everything wrong with modern liberals: "This place (along with the entire culture that supports it) is trying way too hard." Never mind that owners Michael and Tara Gallina have done nothing overtly political since moving to town a few years ago. To the old fogeys that live by (and grow flabby on) the city's notoriously generous portions of dead animals, the Gallinas' "vegetable-forward" cuisine was an affront, a situation that didn't need to be avoided so much as stopped in its tracks. Still, once you get past the clumsy way Robberson tried to build his argument, the attempted takedown was actually hugely flattering — what restaurant is so revolutionary that it requires the full power of the Paper of Record's editorial pages? Vicia is a game-changer, and for anyone who cares about food, that's a wonderful thing. For too long, many St. Louis restaurants used big portions to make up for a certain carelessness about freshness and flavor. The Gallinas, with their thoughtful attention to every last detail in carefully harvested fruits and vegetables, are changing that. Their tasting menu stands alone in town as a culinary experience that will change the way you think about food — and, perhaps, the status quo that so heavily relies on carcasses as a source of nutrition. No wonder Robberson felt threatened. And if you're looking for a more insightful take on the Vicia experience, you might turn to the Post-Dispatch's actual food critic: He calls the tasting menu "transcendent." –Sarah Fenske

Best Way to Feel Like a Champion

Rooting for the St. Louis SLAM

Don't let anyone tell you there's something dishonorable about jumping on a winning team's bandwagon. What do you think happened in St. Louis after the Rams' Super Bowl-winning season in 2000, huh? Under the radar, however, those halcyon days have been replicated — and arguably exceeded — by the St. Louis SLAM, the reigning, back-to-back champions of the Women's Football Alliance and the region's only all-women, full-contact football team. Having won the WFA Division II championship in 2016, the SLAM defended its title in June, burying the Tampa Bay Inferno 42-15 and starting a bona fide dynasty in the process. Come springtime, the season will offer the opportunity for the roster of 40 or so players to chase their championship dreams anew. And this is a home team worth rooting for: because putting your butt in the bleachers and watching live football is a particularly American joy; because the fans to your left and right are likely cheering for sisters, mothers, daughters and partners; and because no one is paid, and therefore each run, hit, jump and block is executed by a woman who refuses to let the pain of the last play put her on the bench for the next one. So root, root, root for the home team. Let the energy lift you off your seat. Yell 'til your lungs give out. That's the feeling that championships are made of. —Danny Wicentowski

click to enlarge St. Louis Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. - RON JAMES
  • RON JAMES
  • St. Louis Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus.

Best Civic Obsession

William Shakespeare

1564-1616

As far as the RFT can determine, William Shakespeare never made it to St. Louis during his lifetime (if you know otherwise, please send a telegram). No matter — St. Louis has taken in the Bard as an honorary son. Each new year brings with it more opportunities to see his plays presented in theaters, in parks and in the streets. We have one theater company devoted to his works (St. Louis Shakespeare). We have Shakespeare Festival St. Louis in Forest Park in the summer, as well as an autumn sub-festival that features a recast and modified Shakespeare play performed by actors and citizens together in a different neighborhood every year (Shakespeare in the Streets). His dramas show up regularly in the schedules of various theater companies around town (Repertory Theatre Saint Louis puts on its first-ever production of Hamlet in a little under two weeks). In the week leading up to Big Bill's birthday (April 23), various groups team up to present all 38 of his plays in whole or in part at unusual locations (Shake-38), and the whole thing is capped off by the laying of a wreath at the base of his bust in Tower Grove Park on the day of his death (also April 23). Technically, William Shakespeare is dead and buried. But in St. Louis, William Shakespeare lives a pretty great life. —Paul Friswold

Best Source of Inspiration

TEDxStLouisWomen

www.tedxstlouis.com

"Inspirational" conferences are a dime a dozen, and they're often pretty darn bad — especially when they're geared toward women. PowerPoint presentations riddled with mind-numbing platitudes? Speakers who insist that you can "have it all" if you just "lean in" and "believe in your dreams?" Yeah, no. You keep that swag bag full of nail files and fruity lip balm; we're good. TEDxStLouisWomen is different. A local offshoot of TED talks, TEDxStLouisWomen gathers national and regional women with diverse experiences who have succeeded, failed and everything in between to help participants recognize and overcome obstacles. During the one-day conference, these women get you to think about your ideas, business and life, but you won't find any of the typical faux-cheerleader stuff here. And why would you expect to, when Tabatha Coffey is one of this year's keynote speakers? A noted business owner, editorial hairstylist and author, Coffey became known for her no-holds-barred coaching style on Bravo's Tabatha Takes Over. She promises to bring the same fire to TEDxStLouisWomen, scheduled for November 2, at Peabody Opera House. With Coffey, Jessica Bryndza of Uber, Dr. Toniya Singh of St. Louis Heart & Vascular, Crystal Martin of LaunchCode's CoderGirl program and other kick-ass women, TEDxStLouisWomen is more about substance and less about the trite "wisdom" taking over your Instagram feed. —Allison Babka

Best Place to Experiment

St. Louis Theater Scene

St. Louis punches above its weight when it comes to theater. We have more companies than comparably sized cities, and we also have a greater variety of shows. What has been lacking in recent years are experimental shows — but even that problem has slowly worked itself out in the wake of the St. Louis Fringe Festival's 2012 debut. A handful of avant garde companies have sprouted up, scratching the itch of those who crave non-linear plots, silent productions and interesting, atypical ideas of what a play is. TheatreLab, ERA, Theatre Nuevo, Prime and YoungLiars have all mounted shows that challenge audiences and provoke thought and argument. Not all of them will be to your liking — but neither will some of the more conventional shows produced in town. The young artists powering these new companies are willing to expend the time, talent and money to stage a work exploring the concept of Hell, or a series of short plays about conspiracies, or even a fractured recreation of a Greek tragedy because they believe there's an audience for it — and there is. At long last, there really is. —Paul Friswold

Turn the page for more marvels, including the best place to drink like a beer baron.

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