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?
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, www.franzpark.org.
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, crepesstl.com.
With its stiff drinks and open-minded clientele, Colony Theater offers the perfect environment to extinguish an old flame before immediately spraying gasoline onto another. This is not your typical bar, even by debaucherous East St. Louis standards, and you will definitely not be sinking into leather recliners to catch the new billion-dollar superhero movie in IMAX 3-D. Neither the cocktail lounge nor the movies have seen an update in at least 30 years: The three screening rooms project legends like a young and handsome Ron Jeremy in action, alongside many other ghosts of porno past. The incredibly friendly bar staff can offer a nice sedative for your relationship's execution, while those faded blue movies can let you both see just how wonderful and exciting sex could be...if only it weren't with each other. 4500 Forest Boulevard, East St. Louis, Illinois, 62204. 618-874-9621.
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
Jason Rosenbaum's mind is an omnivorous thing, so we're lucky he has an appetite for state and local politics. After spending four years in Jefferson City covering the capitol's power structure, he moved to St. Louis in 2010, working first at The Beacon, and now at St. Louis Public Radio (90.7 FM). Rosenbaum has proven himself a versatile reporter, shifting comfortably from radio and podcasting to print and photography — yes, he even takes his own pictures. But he's most prolific on Twitter, where he breaks news, gets into enlightening policy debates with insiders, and throws in nerdy asides on subjects like hip-hop and professional wrestling — that's what we mean by "omnivorous." He claims to have "legendary karaoke skills" as well, but that could not be confirmed as of press time.
f you're a parent who wants your kid to know and appreciate every incredible thing from your youth, Rollercade is your jam. With its colorful, blacklight­-approved carpeting, its designation of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" as a "couples skate" and its restrooms' half­-doors that won't stay shut while you're trying to pee with skates on, Rollercade is perfect for showing your mini­-me the kind of fun people had way back in 1986. It's pretty cheap, too — a birthday party with twelve admissions, skate rental and sodas will set you back just $90. At that price, you'll have plenty of cash left over for the claw machine. Party on! 11703 Baptist Church Road, Sappington, 63128. 314-842-3845, rollercadeskating.com.
Commercialism, man. It's no good. It has ruined so many days that should be fun and festive — Valentine's Day? Forget it. Christmas is a mess. Even birthdays are fraught with anxiety, and God help you if you're throwing a bash and need to find a venue to host it. But for now, anyway, Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19) has retained its innocent, non-commercialized nature, and that's reason enough to hop aboard the Gypsy Rose Landship. Another reason? It's a hell of a place to throw a grown-up's birthday party. Once that Hummer rolls up to your house pulling a big-ass pirate ship (some 40 feet long, counting the Hummer), it's an instant celebration. The ten-foot-wide ship has masts that stretch some twenty feet into the air, and unlike a boat that takes to the water, this one will hold as many buds as you can cram on there — no life jackets are required, and there's virtually no chance of motion sickness. Let the cannon balls fly, have a sword fight, drink all of the grog: You landlubbers get an hour and a half ($400) on the Landship to live out all ye pirate-y dreams with ye best mateys — and you're never too old for that. 314-541-7394, www.gypsyrosepirateship.com.
Only a fool would underestimate the power of social media in 2015. With a few taps on the keyboard or mobile device, we can engineer major cultural shifts, hold politicians accountable for their words and directly ask a rock star why he cries every time he dedicates a song to Aunt Sherry. But in addition to being incredibly powerful, social media — and Twitter in particular — also indulges our basic need for free shit. If you're a tweetmaster, you can snag tickets to coveted, expensive shows at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (@OTSL), the Fox Theatre (@FoxTheatreSTL), the St. Louis Symphony (@SLSO) and more. Seriously, these places are giving away dozens of free seats for certain shows; to grab them, all you've got to do is pay attention when the entertainment giants tweet out the call. You don't need to boast 5,000 followers to be chosen, either. We've seen them take the first twenty people to respond, or ask for some brief biographical info. It's all very friendly and informal. If you're chosen, the luxury is gratis as long as you use a special hashtag while livetweeting the proceedings — everything from the crazy costumes to your favorite musical numbers to the way an actor recovers after tripping over a prop. For one night, you could be Twitter's eyes and ears of a performance — a rush of power that will invigorate even the most mild­-mannered arts lover.
Best Local Boy Gone Bad
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?