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40 Marvels That Will Restore Your Faith in St. Louis 

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Das Bevo. - MABEL SUEN
  • Das Bevo.

Best Place to Drink Like a Beer Baron

Das Bevo

4749 Gravois Avenue, 314-832-2251

To imbibe aristocratically takes more than just a dinner jacket or a dainty pinkie extended from a tea cup. In St. Louis, where a German immigrant beer-brewing heritage still holds meaning, one should ideally locate the windmill now dubbed Das Bevo and its grand, chandelier-lit hall of dark wood. Built in 1916 by August Busch Sr., the south-city landmark has been given new life by owners Pat and Carol Schuchard, who took over in 2016 and invested more than $1 million to renovate and restore the property before reopening this year. Inside, the cavernous main dining hall features a soaring ceiling, walls lined with hunting trophies and an inviting communal table that can support the steins — or if you're feeling particularly brave, ubersteins — of dozens of comrades. Outside, a biergarten offers a dog-friendly patio perfect for a snack of pretzels and sausages. Between bites and draughts, take a moment to marvel that Busch's windmill still turns. The era that birthed this eccentric heirloom may have passed on, but the warmth of its old-world luxury persists, beckoning the common folk who each day pass by. At Das Bevo, every drink is a toast, every meal a banquet, each traveler a king. —Danny Wicentowski

Best New Bar

Bronson House

3201 Washington Boulevard, 314-312-3192

The best new bar to open in St. Louis this year would be an awful place to visit on one of those steamy August days when the mercury tops 100 and the humidity ups the ante to flat-out oppressive. Nor would you even want to think of stopping by come December, when sleet streaks from a white-gray sky. But on a twilight night in September? It's positively perfect. Located on the expansive back patio of the historic (and newly remodeled) Bronson House, the space boasts only a pergola over the bar for shade or cover, depending on your weather-related needs. But it also boasts incredible cocktails, courtesy of Noah Prince-Goldberg and Rob Somerscales of the Artisan Well, and a glorious ambience, with live music providing a soundtrack for the setting sun. It's magic ... especially when the weather is cooperating. —Sarah Fenske

Best Reason to Get Up Early

Sunrise at Bellerive Park

5570 South Broadway

With the exception of the Gateway Arch grounds, the city of St. Louis is home to just two public parks that abut the Mississippi River: the North Riverfront Park near the Chain of Rocks Bridge and Bellerive Park (with the adjacent Sister Marie Charles Park just below) on the bluffs above Carondelet. The latter is one the city's most unassuming jewels, a two-block-long expanse of grass, brush, pines, oaks and a wildflower garden, planted to entice the monarchs to rest a while. And you should join them, any time of day, but especially at sunrise, when the mist moves like smoke from a prairie fire over the Cahokia bluffs to the east and curls around the barges passing slow and silent downstream. Arrive at least a half-hour before dawn, find a bench up on the hill or just below the pavilion, and meditate on a low planet (if time and season align), as the sky turns from slate to peach and rose, and the waters seem as still as a winter pond. You might even climb the playground tower for a broader view. A train will signal in the distance. Radio towers will blink to the southeast. But it's all still and luminous as the sun lifts over the Illinois side. One note of gentle caution: Bellerive is an urban park, so take a friend along. They can bring the donuts and coffee. You'll have the St. Louis magic covered. —Roy Kasten

click to enlarge The Trial, another brilliant American premiere by St. Louis' premier opera company. - KEN HOWARD, OPERA THEATRE OF ST. LOUIS
  • The Trial, another brilliant American premiere by St. Louis' premier opera company.

Best Reason to Get Dressed Up

Opera Theatre Of St. Louis

130 Edgar Road, Webster Road; 314-961-0644

Yeah, yeah, you've heard the rap on opera: It's for old people, it's for rich people, it's histrionic, it's boring. Never mind, because the word on the street is all wrong, especially if the opera you're talking about is being mounted by Opera Theatre of St. Louis. The area's premier opera producers (oh yes, we have more than one opera producer) smashed it out of the park last season, with spot-on takes on Madame Butterfly and The Grapes of Wrath, as well as a darkly funny/horrifying American premiere of The Trial, which brought Phillip Glass himself to the audience. But the experience isn't just for opera buffs. The company's young friends events, open to those 45 and under (opera takes an expansive view of "young"), provide a buffet dinner and outside bar before the show, a wonderful spot to meet, greet and get a Champagne buzz going before you head in. All in all, it makes for the perfect evening, rendered even more exciting in that it's one of the only places in the city where you have a great excuse to dress smart. Elegant and enriching? Not many evenings can boast that combination — and at just $49 a person for an inclusive young friends ticket, it's also a surprising bargain. All the better to buy a fabulous dress ... or maybe even some opera gloves .—Sarah Fenske

Best Newcomer

The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum

3524 Russell Boulevard, 314-282-0234

American identity is shaped by many things, and Mark Twain and baseball — two Missouri specialties — undeniably loom large among them. A small museum in south city is now helping to showcase handwritten contributions to history relating to both of those and plenty more. The St. Louis branch of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum dates back to just 2015. David and Marsha Karpeles, California real-estate magnates with an interest in original documents, have established manuscript libraries in cities across the country, with a mission of bringing primary documents to cities whose offerings were lacking. The museums house the couple's impressive collection, which includes documents like a hand-copied (by Beethoven) version of Handel's Messiah and Einstein's notes on his theory of relativity. St. Louis became the thirteenth iteration after the Karpeles acquired the gorgeous old Third Christian Scientist building in Compton Heights. Seeing the actual history-bending pen strokes of a genius is a unique thrill — and, thanks to the Karpeles' incredible largesse, a totally free one. This summer, our branch's featured exhibition showcased works of one of Missouri's favorite sons, Mark Twain. Visitors could see his handwritten notes on a staged version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer — and a note to a woman where Twain called himself a "loser." In September, the exhibition changed over to Very Early Baseball, which includes documents from giants such as Babe Ruth. There are also two smaller, all-local companion exhibitions: one on the 1944 Streetcar Series, when the St. Louis Cardinals took on the St. Louis Browns in the World Series, and one on the city's Negro League team, the St. Louis Stars. In addition to the featured traveling exhibitions and local supplements, the museum houses the St. Louis Media History Foundation, a fascinating retrospective of the city's heritage in radio, television, print, advertising and public relations. Check out its Sports in the Media exhibition this fall after you've enjoyed Very Early Baseball. —Melissa Meinzer

click to enlarge Three Sixty. - SARA BANNOURA
  • Three Sixty.

Best Place to Look Down on Everyone Else

Three Sixty

1 South Broadway, 314-241-8439

We're not letting you in on any secret by saying that Three Sixty is amazing — it's been included in countless Best Of issues and featured on list after list of the city's hottest hot spots. But here's the thing about Three Sixty: Unlike many of the other places you might recall being wowed by back in the summer of 2011, Three Sixty's charms don't fade. Chief among them is that view — the bar soars 400 feet above the city, with a perfect angle on the action at Busch Stadium. Still, despite its lofty perch, there's nothing snobby or pretentious about the scene here. The bartenders are actually helpful, and the food remains as good as the day the place opened, if not better. To our mind, Three Sixty is yet another reminder of all St. Louis has to offer. In New York or LA, a bar like this would be infuriating: overcrowded, overpriced and overwhelming. The beautiful people would make it impossible for the rest of us to ever get a seat with a view, much less reasonably pleasant service. But here in St. Louis, 26 floors above the steaming sidewalks, you don't need a connection or a big bankroll. You just need to show up and drink it in. —Sarah Fenske

Best Lifetime Achievement

The Muny

1 Theatre Drive, 314-361-1900

The Muny has seen it all in its 99 seasons, and also outlasted it all. The theater opened in 1919 with a production of the ballad opera The Bohemian Girl, which is about a young Hapsburg noblewoman who is raised by a band of Roma travelers. The show stayed in the repertoire until 1951, when changing tastes bumped it for more modern fare, like Carousel and Annie Get Your Gun. The Muny survived the decline of the comic operetta, the staple of its first 30 years, and just kept moving forward. It has ushered in the Golden Age of Musicals and witnessed that era's eventual decline. It has outlasted two world wars and the advent of radio, TV and digital streaming. It has even weathered the rise and fall (and rise again) of St. Louis itself. Few other civic organizations can make that claim, with the notable exceptions of the St. Louis Artists' Guild and the St. Louis Cardinals, and even the Cards eventually gave in and allowed video replay. At the Muny every show is still performed live, no do overs and no nets. And that's part of its longevity. The star power featured has grown and waned over the years, but current artistic director and executive producer Mike Isaacson has restored luster to the Muny name in his short tenure. The casts are stronger, the staging is smarter and the shows continue to bring droves of St. Louisans to an outdoor theater on hot summer nights. Will season 100 be rung in with a reprise of The Bohemian Girl, just for old time's sake? Probably not. The Muny hasn't made it this far without having a very good idea just what the audience wants. —Paul Friswold

Best Shock and Awe

Two Weeks of Fireworks

Your Alley, St. Louis

The ban on fireworks has got to be the city's most-ignored law, eclipsing even prohibitions against being drunk and disorderly or driving with expired license plates. The shelling goes on for a solid two weeks around the Fourth of July. It begins with a steady increase in the firecracker pops that occur all year and descends into full-scale mayhem. By the date of the actual holiday, St. Louis is covered in a haze of smoke and smells of sulfur. It's a balance of beauty, wonder and terror as explosions light the sky in all directions and homeowners run outside to search their roofs for signs of fire. The chaos divides the city into free-wheeling bombers and conscientious objectors, who point to the annual toll of wounded humans, terrified pets and charred buildings. It's neighbor versus neighbor, but the pleas for a more sedate Independence Day prove futile every year. The nights fill with the scream of rockets and the claps of small explosives, drowning out the complaints with Black Cats and six-shot mortar shells. Those behind the annual show of force seem to feed off the criticism as they detonate untold thousands of dollars in fireworks, reload and fire again. The objectors may have the law on their side, but the bombers always win. —Doyle Murphy

click to enlarge The view from the highest tier at Confluence Tower. - FLICKR/DAVE HERHOLZ
  • The view from the highest tier at Confluence Tower.

Best Breathtaking View

Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower

435 Confluence Tower Drive, Hartford, Illinois

The drive up Illinois' Route 3 toward Alton and Grafton is just the thing on a lazy weekend afternoon, even without stopping anywhere. But if you're feeling a little more lively, a visit to the Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower, which made its debut during the bicentennial celebration of the storied explorers' westward voyage, offers spectacular panoramas and plenty of scope for the imagination. Overlooking the junction of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and the place officially deemed the 1804 "point of departure" in expedition journals, it's a relatively unassuming facility compared to, say, a certain arch rising up from the opposing riverbank about fifteen miles south. But don't judge a monument by its size alone: This one gives you not one but three different birds-eye vantage points — from platforms 50, 100 and 150 feet high — to view the surrounding Mississippi River basin in all its understated yet breathtaking glory. For just $6 (and $4 for kids 12 and under), you can channel Lewis and Clark, get in touch with your own spirit of adventure and learn about life along the river for peoples present and past.—Evie Hemphill

Best Defiance of the Odds

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The RFT made it to 40 — and still doesn't care about golf. —Paul Friswold

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September 9, 2020

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