Best Of 2021

People & Places

The People & Places that make St. Louis what it is.

St. Louis can sometimes feel like one big tug of war. Filled with huge personalities, opposing ideas and neighborhoods with identities so distinct that they can seem more like a collection of countries than simple municipal divisions, this town rattles and rumbles, constantly straining against itself. But that friction is energy, and it produces some of the most interesting characters, banging around and through some of the most compelling contexts, that you will find in the entire nation. Here’s to them, and this city.
Doyle Murphy

Defiance Roadhouse
Rural Missouri offers quite a few pleasures alongside its many terrors. There are rolling hills, lush green grasses, the beautiful colors of changing leaves and biker bars. Yep. The wineries aren’t the only way to get a buzz on while out in the country. Save an otherwise dull trip to the vineyards with a stop into the Defiance Roadhouse (2999 South Missouri 94, Defiance; 636-987-2075). With the bar and grill set along a severe curve in Route 94 right next to an otherwise supremely peaceful stretch of the Katy Trail, you’ll often hear it before you see it because of the frequently large amount of big, loud bikes revving up in the parking lot. But don’t be scared off by the big men in leather. The folks there will know you’re not a regular, but that isn’t an issue if you’re not a dumbass. Order a whiskey and order some food (it’s pretty good), and then, if the spirit moves you, head out to the open barn alongside the bar and get to dancin’. —Jaime Lees
Javad Khazaeli with Dow Boyer
For Dow Boyer and her family in rural St. Francois County, St. Louis attorney Javad Khazaeli was the difference between devastation and reunion. Born in Thailand and brought to the United States as a child, Boyer was never told that she wasn’t a naturalized citizen, only learning the truth through an arrest in 2013: She had been skimming cash from her employer to support her family after her husband’s legs had been crushed in a work accident. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement moved to deport her, ripping her away from her husband and young daughter, but Boyer’s rural community, including the employers she had stolen from, rallied around her to oppose the cruel separation. Yet it was Khazaeli, a former prosecutor with ICE and Homeland Security, whose calls to federal officials halted Boyer’s exile just hours before her plane was scheduled to take off. Instead of being abandoned to a country she could barely remember, she was returned to her family. Six years later, with her husband recovered and the arrest behind her, Boyer became a full citizen — a happy ending that couldn’t have happened without an attorney who cared enough to fight. —Danny Wicentowski
The St. Louis area, and indeed the world at large, lost a giant in the canine community this past January. Snowball, truly one of the finest dogs to ever play the game, warmed the hearts of all she met, frequently staring deep into the souls of those she loved and hypnotizing them into giving her treats. A well-traveled pooch, she was most at home in the mountains, though she found the ocean to be quite peaceful as well, enjoying the occasional island getaway. Whether she was nestled in her favorite spot behind the chair, slumbering belly-up on the couch, or snuggled peacefully at the foot of the bed that she allowed her people to share, she was always a calming presence and a source of deep wisdom, forever willing to lend an ear or to offer a helpful “ra-ra-roooo!” Today, Snowball is a being of infinite light, traveling throughout untold dimensions to planes of existence of which we mere mortals could never conceive, and trying as ever to persuade the creatures therein to scratch behind her ears and perhaps give her the last bite of their food. She is survived by her young friend and roommate Waffles, who tries her best, God love her. —Daniel Hill
Planned Parenthood
While some think of masks as torture devices, others think of masks as invisibility cloaks. And there’s no other spot that many people would rather be invisible than when they’re entering the Central West End location of Planned Parenthood (4251 Forest Park Avenue; 314-531-7526). As the last abortion clinic in Missouri, this Planned Parenthood location catches a lot of action from protesters who often get up in the faces of patients just trying to access exams and annual pap smears. If you want your face covered anywhere, it’s around them. In addition to keeping you safe from the cooties outside, the mask will keep you safe from COVID-19 inside as you navigate your way through whatever issue you’re facing or preventative measures you’re taking to keep yourself healthy. —Jaime Lees
Plaza Frontenac
As anyone who has experienced a filthy public bathroom knows, some restrooms are better than others. And in St. Louis, one of the finest public bathrooms is at Plaza Frontenac (1701 South Lindbergh Boulevard; 314-432-6760). The restrooms there are not even that fancy; they’re just perfect. It’s like they’ve never been used. Always. Each time you walk in it’s like you’re the first person who has ever been in there. Nothing is dirty, supplies are full and the experience is always chill. Unlike other public rest areas, this one always seems to be low-key and cool. It’s a place that you wouldn’t mind lingering in, really, which is the highest compliment anyone can give to a room with multiple toilets. —Jaime Lees
Pop's is always there for you.
St. Louis is known as a drinking town. We’re beer lovers who are also known to enjoy a cocktail from time to time, too. And though we have multiple entertainment districts that provide ample alcohol experiences in the evening, during the day the best place to go to get tipsy is just across the river in Illinois. It’s the variety of different drinking destinations offered here that impresses — from drinking along the Mississippi River at the Loading Dock, to hiding from the sunshine in Pop’s NightClub & Concert Venue, to sipping suds at Fast Eddie’s Bon Air, to slamming brews between betting on horses in Collinsville. Best of all, these locations are just a quick Uber away, so you can easily hire a car and still get home without issue if your designated driver slips up and gets you into a pickle. —Jaime Lees
The Hill Neighborhood.
It’s quiet at night, the restaurants are amazing, the neighbors are nice, and the streets smell of freshly baked bread each morning. That’s right, there’s nothing quite like living on the Hill. The home of Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola Sr. is well known as the top place in St. Louis to stop in for a hearty Italian dinner, but living there brings a whole other world of pleasures. In addition to fabulous meals, the Hill offers gorgeous little family houses, tiny (yet packed) neighborhood grocery stores, small shops, walkable sidewalks, huge church culture, a tight sense of community and countless nonnas outside sweeping their front porches. Living on the Hill is like traveling back in time, but with the ability to bring home high-quality olive oil as a souvenir. —Jaime Lees
Marissanne Lewis-Thompson.
We typically judge journalists on their impact and courage standing up to outside forces, and St. Louis Public Radio afternoon newscaster and reporter Marissane Lewis-Thompson is certainly a pro by that measure. But she also proved fearless in standing up to her own bosses, potentially putting her own job on the line, to call out racism and unfair treatment at the station. Multiple journalists at the station pushed back against management in the summer of 2020 after growing tired of years of unanswered complaints and watching their colleagues leave. Lewis-Thompson laid out a troubled history, naming names in a blistering Medium post under her own byline. In doing so, she put herself on the line to improve conditions not only for herself but colleagues. “We deserve better than what you have given us,” she wrote. Ultimately, fair and supportive working conditions for journalists will help the station and improve the work it produces. It is hard to imagine a bigger impact on journalism in St. Louis than that. —Doyle Murphy
Janna Añonuevo Langholz
Activism in St. Louis often takes the form of groups marching through the streets, their collective presence shaking the halls of power. But other times, there’s only a still, small voice, keeping the flame of truth alive. Such is the case of Janna Añonuevo Langholz, a Filipino American artist in St. Louis who has single-handedly created a memorial to the lost residents of the 1904 “Philippine Village,” which housed some 1,200 people imported from the Philippine Islands to populate an unapologetically racist exhibit for that year’s World’s Fair in St. Louis. Segregated in 47 acres and put on display for the cost of 25 cents, the exhibit was a testament to the white supremacy and “race science” flourishing across the imperialist world. More than a century later, Langholz has become a one-person memorial as she leads tours of the former site of the human zoo. Her work and research are just the start of a larger reckoning. After all, before there can be a protest march, there must be at least one person willing to speak out. —Danny Wicentowski