Best Of 2015

People & Places

People & Places
What do Stan Kroenke and a Nile hippopotamus have in common? They're both winners in this year's Best of St. Louis issue -- although only the hippo should be happy with his selection. Read on for our staff choices for everything from Best Villain to Best Zoo Animal -- and don't miss this year's pick in the hotly contested "Best Hair on a Local TV Personality" category.
Doesn’t look much like a used-car lot now, does it?
Mabel Suen
Doesn’t look much like a used-car lot now, does it?
Something's happening in downtown Maplewood. Once a dystopia of pawn shops, Florida repo car lots and antiquated office-equipment clutter, the city's stretch of Manchester Road now boasts posh restaurants, Mexican tiendas, a good dive bar and coffee shops, as well as a seedling nursery (where a body shop once stood) and, on the northeast corner of McCausland and Manchester avenues, one delightfully overgrown patch of green. The Franz Park Community Garden was previously another depressing lineup of bad-credit-no-credit clunkers, and it could easily have turned into an even more depressing CVS. Instead, for six years, the garden — part of the Gateway Greening initiative — has flourished. Plots of purple bell peppers, sweet potatoes and sunflowers stand tall; wild, native blossoms surge around a yield sign; and tiger lilies and wildflowers spill out over the sidewalks. It's like the plants are taking over the neighborhood with a "Big Yellow Taxi" in reverse: unpaving the parking lots and putting up paradise where you'd least expect it. 6947 Manchester Avenue, St. Louis, 63143. 314-588-9600,
Best Place for a First Date
Selecting a spot for a first date is agonizing. It should be well known, but not too well known. Impressive, but not too impressive. Worldly, but not too worldly. And for the love of all that is holy, it should have some interesting aspects that the two of you can discuss while filling the inevitable awkward silence that comes after you've blabbed too much about your ex. Crêpes Etc. has all of that, and delicious food to boot. Slip into the Parisian-style cafe around 1 p.m. (late enough for the lunch rush to die down, but early enough to have the 3 p.m. closing time as a built-­in exit) to enjoy fruity crêpes and savory quiches at a table along the back wall. There, you'll be granted just enough privacy to unload all of your relationship expectations onto each other. If, after that, you decide that you're not soulmates, it's no big deal ­— spicy hot chocolate and a few colorful macarons are right there to help soothe the pain. Crêpes Etc., 52 Maryland Plaza, St. Louis, 63108. 314-367-2200,
Best Lawyers
If Cornell McKay didn't have better lawyers, he'd still be in jail today. His protests of innocence — that he never robbed a woman in the Central West End — would have been ignored. He would be spending the next decade with the thousands of other young black men locked up in Missouri's prisons. McKay was arrested in 2012 during the frenzied search for the person who murdered Megan Boken. Despite his airtight alibi for the killing, St. Louis police fingered McKay for a cell-phone robbery; McKay countered that the police had their wires crossed, that the robbery was actually committed by Boken's killer, to no avail. In 2013, McKay was convicted on robbery charges and sentenced to twelve years. Into this confounding legal fray entered attorneys Bob Ramsey, James Dowd, Thomas SanFilippo and Joe Yeckel. Drawn by their belief in McKay's innocence, the lawyers went about unraveling the case against him. They eventually convinced an appellate judge to vacate the conviction, and when the state's key witness balked at a new trial, the state had no choice but to release McKay. His first act of freedom was taking a selfie with SanFillippo, a fitting tribute to the team of lawyers who believed in him, fought the law — and won
Best Local Boy Gone Bad
Jennifer Silverberg
When did St. Louis police union spokesman Jeff Roorda become a bad joke? Perhaps the final straw came in March, when Roorda appeared on CNN and told a visibly cringing Anderson Cooper that evidence of racial bias within Ferguson's police department was actually a "flimsy tortilla" intended to conceal the "meat" of Darren Wilson's innocence in Michael Brown's death. Say what? Although Roorda advocates blind trust in police, he himself has a strange history with law enforcement: In 2001, after serving as a cop in Arnold for more than a decade, Roorda was fired for making false statements and reports. He went on to build a reputation as a police apologist, opposing dash cameras, body cameras and civilian oversight boards. In the wake of Ferguson, Roorda became the face of a system that many St. Louisans want changed. With reforms on the horizon (like that civilian oversight board), we've got to ask: How's that flimsy tortilla tasting now, Roorda?
Best St. Louis Cardinal
Scott Kane, Icon Sportswire
When top Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras tragically died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic last October, Cardinal Nation was devastated. Nobody was more rattled, however, than Taveras' long-time friend, teammate and fellow Dominican Carlos Martinez. The 22-year-old right-handed phenom known as Little Pedro entered into the 2015 season as the biggest question mark among a proven starting rotation featuring Adam Wainwright, John Lackey, Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha. Anyone with an even minor gambling addiction would've laid their money on Martinez as the one most likely to fizzle among those studs. But lo and behold: In his first season as a starting MLB pitcher, Little Pedro has been dominant. With a newfound sinking heater and a nasty slider, the kid's stuff is filthy. Earning a spot on the 2015 All-Star team, Martinez has managed to front some phenomenal numbers in his first season as a starter. He pitched eleven consecutive quality starts — a feat that hasn't been accomplished since Chris Carpenter in 2010 and only matched this season by the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. Not bad for a dude who's barely old enough to drink.
Best Old Building
James Clemens House is crumbling. That's a shame, because this stately landmark in the city's near north side has a rich pedigree. Mark Twain's cousin James Clemens Jr., who was one of the area's first millionaires, built the brick-and-cast-iron structure in 1860 after his wife Eliza died of cholera — which explains why the exterior window lintels are adorned with likenesses of her face. In later years it became a convent, then a homeless shelter. According to Michael Allen, founder of the Preservation Research Office, the mansion's roof is steadily caving in, endangering the ornate parlor rooms on the ground floor. Developer Paul McKee owns the property, and he hasn't done much to slow the decay. Still, Allen remains hopeful: "It's not yet past the point of no return." 1849 Cass Avenue, St. Louis, 63106.
Best Hair on a Local TV Personality
No poof, no crimp, no bangs, no flowing, follicular bombast — with Farrah Fazal's hair, you get right to the point. Fitting snugly over her head like a black combat helmet, Fazal's swept-back style can be seen on the streets of Ferguson, inside a police ballistics lab or on the trail of the city's most heinous crimes. And this isn't some gelled-to-the-max diving cap, oh no: This is hair with backbone and feeling, a companion to Fazal's ascent as one of St. Louis' best investigative journalists, an authoritative 'do that takes the news just as seriously as she does.
Best Place to Live
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Phil Roussin
Folks who assume "north side" equals "vacant wasteland" haven't visited Old North St. Louis lately. Perched just above downtown on the map, the place is flourishing, thanks in part to a $35 million overhaul of its main drag, Crown Square Mall on North 14th Street. It was completed in 2010, and since then, merchants have claimed about 80 percent of its commercial space, while the residences above it are full. Total crime in the neighborhood has fallen by almost half, and the weekly summer farmers' market even offers yoga. This renewal comes just in time: The neighborhood, which is overlapped by three districts on the National Register of Historic Places, will celebrate its 200th birthday next year. Old Northers are a tight-knit bunch, evident at a recent happy hour at the local restoration group's gallery. "Everything we do is potluck," says resident Travis Sheridan, who loves sampling the food. He also likes strolling to Crown Candy Kitchen for a malt — and quite often, it seems: "I live 162 paces away."
Best Activist
Steve Truesdell
As a battle rapper, Bruce "Ooops" Franks adopts a cocky persona — "Ooops in da building!" is his tagline. But day to day, this 31-year-old native south-sider spends a great deal of time trying to defuse violence in the city. Spurred to activism by the events of Ferguson, Franks first joined the Peacekeepers, a group that acts as a buffer between cops and protesters. Now he runs 28 to Life, a grassroots organization that — without much fanfare — is opening dialogue between African American teens and well-meaning officers and prosecutors. "If 28 to Life doesn't get any recognition, I don't give a damn," he says. "As long as my community gets fixed."