Destination: South Grand
Shopper: Natasha Bahrami, the Gin Girl
My parents are Persian. They opened Cafe Natasha (3200 S. Grand Boulevard, 314-771-3411) about fourteen years ago, and I just launched my own pop-up bar, the Gin Room, in the same space. To me, South Grand has always been this rich stew of shops and people — and it's super condensed and walkable.
My first stop was Bali Cargo Company (3203 S. Grand Boulevard, 314-762-0231). The owners fly to Indonesia and hand-pick items to bring back and sell in their shop here. When you walk in, you see how everything is unique, and a lot of it is hand-made. I found a painting of woman's face for $45. Usually I buy gifts there, but I'm keeping that painting.
Next, I strolled up to Zee Bee Market (3211 S. Grand Boulevard, 314-932-1000). I'm a fan of their fair-trade, sustainable model. A lot of people go there for the hats or scarves, but I actually bee-lined for the chocolate. They sell a whole slew of chocolates with these unusual flavors, like lemon ginger, and it's not too pricey. I got a bar of dark for $5.45.
I also swung by Jay International Food (3172 S. Grand Boulevard, 314-772-2552). At my bar, the Gin Room, we make our own tonics. To do that, I need lemongrass. My go-to spot for lemongrass is always Jay. I spent a whopping $1.65. You never have to throw down a lot of cash at Jay, and they have basically every ethnic ingredient you can think of.
The other ingredient I need to make my cocktails is bitters. Some drinkers will head to the liquor-supply store for this item, but you can get some amazing bitters at a health store like New Dawn (3536 Arsenal Street, 314-772-9110). It makes sense, historically speaking: Back before mixologists used bitters, regular folks used them to aid in digestion and settle one's stomach. I found some NatureWorks Swedish bitters for $15.06.
When I make craft cocktails at the Gin Room, I prefer to pour them into period glasses, so I headed to Rocket Century (3189 S. Grand Boulevard, 314-875-0705) to see what they had. Your typical antique store is a jumble of time periods, but the owners of this place have curated midcentury-modern furniture and accessories. And sure enough, there were these old collectors-item glasses with culver gold leafing. Those were $20. I mean, even if my cocktail itself isn't your thing, you'd be excited to drink out of these glasses.
Finally, I had to drop into Cheap TRX (3211 S. Grand Boulevard, 314-664-4011). People misunderstand this place. They think it's just a sex-toy shop. It's true that some of their merchandise in the basement requires batteries or a VHS player, if you know what I mean. But they have a lot of other stuff. I'm always tickled by their greeting cards, which are not necessarily raunchy, but just funny in a real-world way — not in a mawkish, corny, Hallmark kind of way. I got one for my friend that ribs him for drinking and being old. It was totally appropriate — for him, at least. – As told to Nicholas Phillips