Before I moved to St. Louis last year, my impressions of the city were based mainly on memories from a few family trips in my childhood, in which, of course, the famous Arch loomed larger than anything else. Well, except for the Christmas when it snowed 12 inches (!) — one of only two white Christmases I’ve experienced in my life.
Ever since then, I’ve associated St. Louis with wintertime in my mind. And now I’m living here — and it’s winter! So what does an honest-to-goodness St. Louisan do for fun in “the Lou” when the weather turns cold (if not necessarily snowy)?
I set out to find out one December weekend, heading first to Forest Park to check out the Steinberg Skating Rink. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to relive that year when I was 15 — it was unseasonably warm, and there wasn’t any snow on the ground — but I figured that I could at least pretend that it was the depths of winter while gliding around on the ice.
After paying the $6 rink admission and renting some skates, my friend Karah and I laced up and took off — trying to steer clear of the large puddles that had formed in the balmy weather. Weekend afternoons draw lots of families and small visitors, and I found myself dodging several mini-skaters trailing behind a black-booted Santa. But still, the large oval — open to skaters from mid-November through February — was far less crowded than I ever found the one at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington to be. There was room to soar, like Michelle Kwan. Well, okay. Not exactly like Michelle Kwan.
When our leg muscles started aching, we headed into the center, a retro space (it dates from the 1950s) done up in aquamarine decor and filled with arcade games. After all these years, I still couldn’t beat Pac-Man, darn it all.
Frustrated, I said goodbye to Karah and made my way to Cherokee Street, a South St. Louis neighborhood that hosts numerous seasonal festivals and block-party-like events and is home to the local treasure known as the St. Louis Curio Shoppe. I called ahead to make sure that the store was still open, as it was getting close to closing time. Not only hadn’t they shut their doors yet, but there also was a live music performance taking place on the back patio. Par for the course for Cherokee Street, where closing time doesn’t necessarily mean that anybody’s actually closing.
The merchandise at the Curio Shoppe cleverly walks the line between “vintage” and “grandma’s attic.” I found a little bit of every type of history there — old high school yearbooks and city guides written by locals are housed next to racks of postcards, framed maps and antique jewelry. The store has even been known to carry memorabilia from the 1904 World’s Fair. But there’s new merchandise, too, including handmade jewelry, scented candles, lip balms, books from local authors, tote bags, men’s grooming products — and even green cleaning products from the St. Louis-based company Better Life. The store’s motto, in fact, is “shop truly local,” and a staffer told me that all its merchandise comes from suppliers who operate within 50 miles of the city.
Though winter exercise outside the gym is always fun, sometimes you just want to snuggle on a couch, open a bottle of red and enjoy a movie. For that, there’s the Moolah Theatre and Lounge, next door to the campus of St. Louis University, near the Central West End, where I ventured later that night.
The treats began with the free garage parking and only got better once I headed into the theater. The viewing area itself is large and offers only one show at a time, which gave me a great opportunity to settle in and check out Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook” — my second go-round with that particular movie, if you must know. I moved quickly to stake out a seat on one of the several easy chairs, couches and love seats that fill much of the theater floor. But they go fast to couples and groups of friends. Being alone, I ended up in a traditional folding seat. Not bad, but next time, I’m definitely getting one of those cushy armchairs.
After the lights came on and I headed for the door, I was greeted by ushers holding out silver platters filled with Tootsie Rolls and butterscotch candies. This farewell, which I’ve experienced at other theaters in town, is a sweet trademark of the St. Louis Cinemas family. And much appreciated: I grabbed more than a few on my way out.
Outside the theater, there are extra couches in the theater lounge across from the bar. The lounge hosts regular screenings of Cardinals games and television shows such as “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” (i.e. shows you don’t want to leave the couch for) when they’re on during the season. The atmosphere is relaxed and casual, so if — when! — you feel roots beginning to grow in your chair, head downstairs for a round of bowling (seriously!).
St. Louis’s beer culture usually gets all the ink, but I’ve found that the real movable feast — and winter comfort — can be found in the coffee shops spread across the city. On a brisk Sunday morning, I was able to begin my day by sinking into one of four oversize leather chairs at Cafe Ventana, also near the university, and select between fresh beignets and a bagel bar while listening to live jazz. If I’d wanted to have my own home brew, I could have headed a half-mile away and grabbed a fresh bag of beans to go at Northwest Coffee, where they roast on site. And whenever I need to work after hours, I can find company in the heart of the Central West End at Coffee Cartel, which never closes.
As I’ve discovered, the “Lou” is more than just a gateway to the West. It’s filled with great museums, vintage stores and fabulous music venues, including University City’s Blueberry Hill, where rock-and-roll legend Chuck Berry performs a sold-out show every month, and quirky bars, like the appropriately named HandleBar, where you can park your two wheels indoors for a change.
With a great music scene, candy-filled movie theaters and an overflow of coffeehouses, I know that I’m set for the winter — and can easily slide right into spring.
Williams is a multimedia journalist in St. Louis.