What to Do for a Weekend in Downtown St. Louis

 In Culture, Guide

If you think you know Downtown St. Louis—or even if you don’t—the city leaves much room for surprise and discovery. You’ll find coffee shops resting alongside urban parks and sculpture gardens; food from acclaimed chefs on nearly every block; art, fashion and cultural centers and much more. Keep reading to learn more about where to eat, drink and discover new experiences in St. Louis like a native.

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Robust Downtown at the MX, 635 Washington Ave.
Though no longer a newcomer to the Downtown scene, this nearly six-year-old restaurant has the feel of a fresh discovery. Perhaps it’s the clientele: a mix of tourists, residents, officeworkers and passersby. We love the shareables menu, with dishes like wild-mushroom bruschetta, crab cakes and sweet pepper hummus.

Just like the original Webster Groves location, there’s an emphasis on finding the right food-and-wine pairing using the “Robust factor,” an eight-category method for sorting out similar tastes and styles of wines. The menu lists dozens of dishes that pair well with each flavor profile, like curried shrimp with light-bodied white wines. But if there are questions—and there might be, with dishes like the chipotle apricot turkey sandwich—there are sommeliers on staff to steer customers in a palate-pleasing direction.

Owners Stanley and Arlene Browne understand deeply the intricacies of both wine and hospitality. While there are strong similarities between the Webster location and this Downtown outpost, they’ve drawn clear distinctions: while one may host live music, the other could be kicking off a chocolate-pairing workshop with a dozen local makers.

While You’re In The Neighborhood …
Bridge Tap House & Wine Bar
A huge amount of beer on tap and wines by the glass, plus mix-and-match cheese and charcuterie boards.

1004 Locust St.

Rosalita’s Cantina

A fiesta of Tex-Mex favorites, plus fusion dishes and a margarita menu that offers creative twists on the classics.

1235 Washington Ave.

Three Sixty
This elevated venue radiates elegance, welcoming customers to eat—or drink—indoor or out, nearly 400 feet above street level.

1 S. Broadway

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Porano Pasta, 634 Washington Ave.
Downtown diners have plenty of fast-casual options, especially for lunch. So what sets Porano apart? It begins with the owner, Gerard Craft, who won a James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Midwest” in 2015, a year before this Italian eatery opened.

Craft brings a relentless energy to the dining experience, and customers feel comfortable enough at his tabletops to explore new flavors and combinations. That’s how Porano gets away with sauces like pumpkin-seed pesto atop a base of farro, an Italian grain.

The Italian influences at Porano are pure, but not rigid—which is how executive chef Michael Petres was able to add Detroit-style pizza to the menu. With a crust more like focaccia than crackers and a caramelized, crusty edge of mozzarella, it’s a novelty among the many pizza styles served locally. The base + protein + sauce + toppings formula lends itself over very traditional comfort foods, like pasta with rich sugo sauce, smoked park and Parmesan—or lighter fare like romaine and kale with marinated chicken, vinaigrette and crispy garlic. Craft and his team source local ingredients from tofu to vegetables, and they have perfected house-made pasta that holds up to the demands of the fast-casual dining line.

Porano is one of several distinct ventures operated in St. Louis by Craft’s Niche Food Group. The ambitious restaurateur is already expanding his restaurant footprint beyond St. Louis, with the opening of a second Pastaria in Nashville during the fall of 2017. Similar to Porano, Pastaria’s wildly popular location in St. Louis’ upscale Clayton neighborhood also riffs on the theme of modern Italian food, making it the perfect concept for expansion.

Stay tuned for more of this delicious saga.

While You’re In The Neighborhood …
Hiro Asian Kitchen
Thanks to owner/chef Bernie Lee, St. Louisans can sample the flavors of East Asia from a diverse menu.

1405 Washington Ave.

Sauce on the Side
This calzone shop offers a mix of classics and unique fare, with dozens of filling options wrapped in house-made dough.

411 N. 8th St.

Cielo Restaurant & Bar
Cielo’s patio on the eighth floor of the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis showcases the scenic Arch grounds and Downtown skyline.

999 N. 2nd St.

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Kaldi’s Coffee At Citygarden, 800 Chestnut St.
Looking to spend a few minutes off the beaten path? The glass-walled Kaldi’s Coffee located in this central-city sculpture park is a natural destination for relaxation. The local coffee brand has perfected the art of matching its coffee houses to their surroundings, and this location is a prime example. During the winter, the space feels cozy, and the coffeehouse awakens, expanding its hours for the weekends and prepping its patio for a steady flow of tourists and families.

For coffee-lovers, the name “Kaldi’s” conjures up a world of specialty brews and carefully sourced ingredients. The company prides itself on relationships with farmers and importers all over the world, and as its food menu has expanded over the past two decades, Kaldi’s has been doing the same with its purveyors of supplies from sausage of potato chips.

At the Citygarden location, the delicious menu is reason enough to visit. But along with the crustless quiche and veggie falafel, there’s the attractive setting: 24 unique pieces of art, 235 trees, 1,170 scrubs, 8,000 bulbs and more than 32,000 square feet of lawn.

While You’re In The Neighborhood …
Park Avenue Coffee
This coffee shop sources beans straight from producers to a small-batch roasting facility on The Hill.

417 N. 10th. St.

Blondie’s Coffee, Wine & Dessert Bar
An eight-hour weekend brunch? Sign us up—especially in a restaurant with such graceful style.

1301 Washington Ave.

Catalyst Coffee Bar
This extension of nonprofit Art St. Louis donates back to the arts community via drip, cold brew and pour-over coffees.

1223 Pine St.

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Photo courtesy of Attilio D’Agostino.

Saint Louis Fashion Fund, 1533 Washington Ave.
The Saint Louis Fashion Fund is rooted in the belief that fashion is woven into the “fabric of our city.” SLFF works to bring fashion design and manufacturing back to Washington Avenue, a place that was once known nationwide among fashion-industry professionals and shoppers alike. The Fashion Fund’s biggest leap forward came in 2017, when it launched its Fashion Incubator program. The inaugural class has six designers from across the nation, who have come here to build their respective brands.

The two-year incubator program supports the designers with workspaces and a network of supporters including Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin School of Business, Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts and Launch Collective in New York City, the latter of which focuses on business development for emerging designers. Perhaps most important are the incubator program mentors, including internationally renowned fashion experts who share strategies about entrepreneurship and strengthening a brand in the competitive design world.

While You’re In The Neighborhood …
Art St. Louis
“The transcendent nature of art” sounds like a lofty idea, but the organizers here have spent more than 35 years showcasing the ways art enriches life.

1223 Pine St.

10th Street Gallery
A Downtown gallery dedicated to community programs and well-rounded exhibitions.

419 N. 10th St.

DNA Boutique
This small retail space has huge clout thanks to its owners’ savviness and skill at choosing exclusive brands and unique looks.

1311 Washington Ave.

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Gateway Arch: Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, 1 N. Leonor K. Sullivan Blvd
This year marks the competition of a $380-million renovation-and-construction project throughout the Arch grounds, called the City Arch River project. Nearly every aspect of the visitor experience was scrutinized, from the museum to parking lots and walkways. The project serves to connect the Arch to the river on its east side and also to Downtown on its west.

Accessibility improvements include a more user-friendly access pathway from Kiener Plaza and the Old Courthouse. There’s also a new outdoor amphitheater on the north end of the park.

But some aspects of the experience remain almost unchanged from when the Arch was completed in 1965. The biggest—or, rather, smallest—example is the tram “pods” that carry visitors 630 feet into the air to admire the view from the top of the giant stainless-steel structure. St. Louisians will be able to return to some of their favorite activities on the Arch grounds, including Fair St. Louis over the weekend of July 4. The celebration also marks the unveiling of The Museum at the Gateway Arch, one of the final steps of the renovation project.

While You’re In The Neighborhood …
City Museum
Children and adults alike love the eclectic experience of exploring this multi-floor gallery-meets-playground combination.

750 N. 16th St.

Union Station
As its retail area undergoes a huge renovation, this historic hall and hotel remains open for business. Don’t miss the mesmerizing light show.

1820 Market St.

National Blues Museum
One of Downtown’s newest attractions, this museum features artifacts and exhibits revolving around the rich music history in St. Louis.

615 Washington Ave.

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BB’s Jazz, Blues And Soups, 700 S. Broadway
There’s a whole lot of joy and vibrancy in St. Louis’ local music scene—and BB’s has been at its epicenter since 1976. The club welcomes both newcomers and legends like Bobby Rush, Marquise Knox and Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne in its nightly sets. Thanks to the caliber of the performers, BB’s is also a hangout for musicians—you might even occasionally catch an impromptu jam session after the night’s sets—but novices will find their groove, too.

The menu features a medley of St. Louis classics and Cajun favorites, including Louisiana gumbo with house-made cornbread and St. Louis’ most authentic German brats from G&W. You can go the healthier route with pita chips and hummus, but sometimes the blues call for a little decadence, like deep-friend cheese grits or a monster Muffaletta.

When Mark O’Shaughnessy founded the club in 1976, some of today’s biggest names were playing in obscurity. His 2017 death sparked reflection about how individuals like him and clubs like BB’s have grown the St. Louis arts community.

While You’re In The Neighborhood …
Schlafly Tap Room
This pioneer on the local microbrew scene produces dozens of beers each year with its farm-fresh pub fare.

2100 Locust St.

The Eatery
A recently opened food hall in Downtown’s bustling business district.

1 Metropolitan Square

Thaxton Speakeasy
Craft cocktails here are among the best in the city—but you have to be in the know to find the entrance and get the password.

1009 Olive St.

Photography by Carmen Troesser unless otherwise noted.

For more St. Louis day trip ideas, visit our friends at Explore St. Louis. See all of these beautiful locations profiled in our recent print edition of GUIDED: Saint Louis.

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