What To Do For A Day In Old North St. Louis

It’s easy to get lost in romantic quirks of St. Louis’ neighborhoods, full of merging styles of architecture, historic buildings, materials, cafes, pathways to another time and friendly residents. One neighborhood on our radar is Old North St. Louis, an area of growth and urban revitalization.

The neighborhood has been embraced by artists, nonprofits, cafes, shops, restaurants and more. To celebrate them, we’ve prepared a curated experience for a day of dining, shopping and exploring in Old North.

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DINE

Crown Candy Kitchen, 1401 St. Louis Ave.

There’s a time warp at the corner of North 14th Street and St. Louis Avenue, and it will transport you into a magical land of brain freezes and sugar rushes. Everything inside has a carefully maintained soda fountain feelthe cozy booths, the décor, the menuplus, there’s the promise of immortal fame to anyone who can drink five giant milkshakes in under 30 minutes.

In the summer, customers will often bring their ice cream cones out onto the streets of Old North neighborhood. But in winter, those cozy booths beckon for bowls of beanless chili or overstuffed grilled cheese sandwiches with Swiss, provolone, cheddar and American.

For one’s sweet tooth, there’s the chocolate—Crown Candy’s signature attraction—in dozens of variations, including the incomparable hash (milk or dark chocolate cradling a fluffy marshmallow filling). The holiday-themed figurines have a longstanding reputation as seasonal favorites for many St. Louisans. Third-generation owners steered their restaurant past its 100th anniversary five years ago.

As the surrounding neighborhood changes, with new retailers opening up shop along North 14th Street, Crown Candy is poised to introduce a new wave of customers to the decadent delights of a double-scoop sundae, crafted from homemade ice cream.

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Smoki O’s Bar-B-Que1545 N. Broadway

Coming off its 20th anniversary, Smoki O’s is both a nationally recognized culinary leader and a small neighborhood hideaway. Its founding family, Otis and Earline Walker, grew their business through word of mouth instead of traditional advertising, trusting that news of their delicious menu at realistic prices would carry far and wide. And it has—their barbecue joint on a quiet stretch of Broadway, north of Downtown, attracts both regulars and drop-in celebrities like author, chef and TV personality Andrew Zimmern.

Unless you’re in the know, you may have never tried Smoki O’s signature rib tips and snoots. Snoots—or pig snouts cured overnight—are a true barbecue delicacy, rubbed with cayenne and salt, grilled for an hour to render the fat and then coated in the Walkers’ secret-recipe barbecue sauce.

Food is central to the Walkers’ family history, so of course there are stories behind several  dishes (like Flo’s Mac and 3 Cheese or Minnie’s potato salad). The barbecue itself, with its unique reddish color as a result of the cooking process, is a story unto itself—but good luck squeezing the secret out of the multigenerational family staff.

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La Mancha Coffeehouse, 2800 N. 14th St.

The scent of fresh bread wafts from the space next door to La Mancha, contending with the aroma of coffee for customers’ attention. What was already a difficult breakfast decision—sandwich, waffles or burrito?—may feel even harder.  

Helmed by owners David and Veronica Holden, this is one determined, resilient little business. The coffeehouse has found its niche as a community gathering spot as Old North continues to evolve. First-time customers might be surprised at the heavy Latin influence on the menus—until they learn that Veronica Holden has family ties to Puerto Rico. Then the delicious smell of homemade  empanadillas, burritos and Cuban bread loaves suddenly make sense.

The lunch menu leans toward portable items like sandwiches and wraps, but there’s plenty of reason to hang out and enjoy them in houseespecially during weekday happy hour (there’s a selection of beers, sangria and cocktails), or on weekends until 8pm. It’s an ideal venue for sitting back and observing a neighborhood on the upswing.

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ART

UrbArts2600 N. 14th St.

The age-old synergy between art and culture is a central theme at this 16-year-old nonprofit. Founder M.K. Stallings put forth the notion that cultural ideas and values can be harnessed to create new visions for the future.

On a practical level, this manifests into events like poetry readings, storytelling sessions and trap yoga (asana movements paired with a hip-hop DJ). Organizations from across the region rent the space for events—and as perceptions of the neighborhood change, these events are becoming more diverse, encouraging connections between attendees of varying backgrounds. It’s just one example of the ways art can change enrich the lives of community members and beyond.

UrbArts also puts great effort into its youth programming. A highlight is the VerbQuake Youth Poetry Slam, a six-month initiative that teaches writing, performance and leadership skills to neighborhood children. Teens also have the opportunity to join the youth advisory council to experience a challenging leadership role. There’s even a St. Louis Youth Poet Laureate competition—connecting young poets with publishing houses. 

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Firecracker Press, 2612 N. 14th St.

Firecracker’s letterpresses can print just about anything on paper. Examples include business cards, invitations, packaging for Kaldi’s special holiday coffee and even hand-held placards, which would be totally appropriate at a protest march. Firecracker Press even uses 100 percent  cotton “paper,” which is specially made in St. Louis from recycled t-shirts. Like traditional paper, the material can handle the repeated pressing of an inked, raised surface, which gives letterpress printing its unique look and feel.

The original Firecracker Press location opened on Cherokee Street in 2002, but the newer Old North location is three times bigger. The extra space made it possible for Firecracker to expand and to launch the aforementioned nonprofit, Central Print, which offers printmaking classes and education.

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EXPLORE

The Griot Museum of Black History, 2505 St. Louis Ave.

One of the most meaningful interpretive exhibits in St. Louis is the Griot’s full-scale model section of a slave transport ship. Within the cramped wooden space, it’s not hard to imagine how miserable the transatlantic journey must have been for Africans who were captured and forced on such ships for generations. Viewers can also experience an authentic slave cabin, originally built in Jonesburg, Missouri.

The museum celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, and founder Lois Conley is exactly the type of dedicated, resilient visionary celebrated in the November 2017 exhibition “Black Women Speak.” The Griot also makes use of life-size wax representations celebrating local African-Americans like musician Miles Davis and entertainer Josephine Baker.

As the museum’s mission is to represent all facets of Black history and culture, it also serves as a gallery for both traveling exhibits and local art installations. Topics range from wax prints in fashion to medical contributions by Blacks during the Civil War and the complexities of eminent domain.

While you’re in the neighborhood, visit … 

Gina’s Bar & Grill, 1901 St. Louis Ave.

Gina’s has gained a party-loving following who nosh on pub snacks like Cajun chicken wings. 

Gene’s Bar and Grill, 1319 St. Louis Ave.

Get down with Boss Lady Sherry for entertainment, ranging from live jazz to fish fries.

Cornerstone Cafe, 1436 Salisbury

There’s a strong sense of home when you’re one of the two-dozen guests sipping coffee or chowing on New York-style pizza.

Old North Provisions, 2720 N. 14th St.

After winning $100,000 in a startup competition, this grocery and restaurant is gearing up to spotlight the fresh produce of its parent organization, Good Life Growing.

Sun Cafe, 1435 Salisbury St.

Started in 2014 as a nonprofit retail incubator and community hub, this eatery recently retooled to focus more on healthy menu items.

Old North Gallery, 2700 North 14th St.  

Hosting receptions, workshops and community celebrations, all set against a backdrop of art exhibits.

Zuka Arts Guild Gallery and 14th St. Artist Community, 2701 N. 14th St.

A beautiful rehab with ornate tin ceilings that serves as a home base for the Zuka artists.

Central Print and Alpha Beta Club, 2624 N. 14th St.

A nonprofit letterpress studio offering classes and studio space.

Sk8 Liborius Social Club, 1840 Hogan Street
A skatepark, performance and event venue housed in a former Catholic church.

Photography by Carmen Troesser. For more St. Louis day trip ideas, visit our friends at explorestlouis.com.

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