The Fabulous Fox Theatre

The very first time I went to see a Broadway show in New York City, I left disappointed. It was my sophomore year of college and I had gone to New York with a friend for a day-trip over Fall Break. We got last minute tickets to see Phantom of the Opera, which I had never seen before. The acting, the music, and the show as a whole were all great. But something didn’t feel right. The theater itself was small and plain. Everyone was wearing jeans or other casual clothes. It didn’t feel like a special occasion at all. There was nothing exciting about the room. It had almost no character.

I was used to a much different theatre experience, because I had the unique privilege of growing up with the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. From the outside, the Fox looks like any other theatre.

Outside of the Fox Theatre. Photo Courtesy of the Fox's Photo Gallery

But on the inside, it looks anything but ordinary. The theatre’s interior is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen. It is an architectural masterpiece that looks more like a palace than a theatre, filled with gold and red hues, brass, stained glass, pillars, and sculptures.

The Fox Theatre looks like a palace on the inside. Photo from http://dobywood.com/FoxTheatreAtlanta/SuperFoxes.html

The Fox’s elaborate decor sets the tone for an outing there. It has a much more formal feel to it than Broadway. It’s common to see heels, ties, nice dresses, and dress shirts. In my family we usually go for special occasions. But it’s the fun kind of formal. The kind that makes you feel like royalty and that makes you excited for an old-fashioned evening out on the town. Going to the Fox was always a treat.

Now home to concerts, musicals, plays, and special events, the Fox was originally built in 1929, by William Fox, to show Fox films. Architect C. Howard Crane designed the Fox, building it in a Siamese Byzantine style that contains elements of Asian and Indian architecture. Watch the video below to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the Fox operates:

Close-up of a sculpture inside the Fox. Photo Courtesy of the Fox's Photo Gallery.

I’ve seen Wicked there twice, in addition to Rent, Mama Mia, the Lion King, Riverdance, and Chicago. Each trip to the Fox is memorable. While the show is always the main event, just sitting in the seats and looking around at the walls and ceiling provides entertainment in itself. I remember my siblings and I used to play games while waiting for the shows to start, trying to see who could spot the most lions and gargoyles etched into pillars, walls, or windows.

View of the Fox from the stage. Photo from http://www.geoffrey-goldberg.com

You can see why I was disappointed by Broadway–I thought every theatre looked like the Fox. Now that I know this is not true, I feel even more lucky to have experienced the Fox. The theatre’s location on Grand Boulevard is certainly fitting. To me, the Fox is the essence of grand. It is one of St. Louis’s hidden gems, and I highly recommend it.

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Midwestern Hospitality

One of my favorite things about St. Louis, and about the Midwest in general, is how friendly people are there. The stereotype says that people in the Midwest are nicer than people on either coast. I never really believed this was in any way true until I lived out East and experienced it for myself. Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are from the East Coast, and are as nice as can be. I can only speak for the East Coast, since I’ve never lived out west, but I do think that overall, there is some truth to the stereotype. To be sure, there are definitely nice people here. But between rowdy Philadelphia sports fans and crazed Metro riders who stop at nothing to make their trains, I have found that many people out here are not always the most friendly. They seem to be impatient and in a rush all the time.

If you don’t know what I mean, pay attention next time you’re taking the Metro in DC. People push each other, yell at people when they stand in the walking lane of the escalator (I’ve learned the hard way not to stand on the left), and run as fast as they can, weaving in and out between elderly people and young children, to make the train as if their lives depended on it. Why is everyone in such a hurry? Waiting ten minutes for the next train is not the end of the world. I’ve literally seen people jump over the sides of escalators to make the train before the doors close. The morning commute in DC can be extremely stressful, and at times I’ve found myself wondering why I live here, after being shoved and packed into a train like sardines.

Photo by The Washington Examiner: Crowds pack Farragut North Metro station during the busy morning commute. Washington D.C., Tuesday, Nov 1, 2011

People’s impatience also manifests itself on the roads. I have never been behind the wheel out here, but I have been in the passenger’s seat many times, and each time my life flashes before my eyes. In St. Louis, when we make a left turn at an intersection, we wait patiently until there are no cars and then we turn. We do not pull completely into the middle of the intersection (I’ve been told I would never be able to turn left in Philadelphia). We also do not start to drive when the opposite light turns red. We wait until our light turns green. We slow down and almost come to a stop when going through yield lanes. And if someone ahead of us is turning right, we don’t go around them. We wait for them to turn, and then continue on our way. So you can imagine how shocked I was the first time I was in a car in suburban South Jersey or on 295. I’m pretty sure I’d get eaten alive on these roads, and I’m dreading the day when I have to venture out on them.

Life in St. Louis, on the other hand, is much slower and more relaxed. There is less traffic and no constant honking. The city itself is much less crowded. You can go to a grocery store without the line winding around the store and without having to fight your way through crowds to get what you need. It’s nice to be able to enjoy a leisurely trip up or down an escalator there. Instead of telling me to move out of the way, someone on an escalator in St. Louis might tell me that they like my Cardinals shirt.

A lot of families in St. Louis have been living there for generations. So when you meet people in St. Louis, the first question they ask you is “where did you go to high school?,” rather than the competitive “what do you do?” that is so common in DC.

The River Front Times just published an article about the high school question and included a flow chart that shows “where you should have gone to high school” based on certain demographics. The chart has gone viral among the St. Louis community and has been all over my Facebook and email inbox. I went to Parkway Central High School. You can actually find out a good deal about me from the chart just by knowing that.

I’ve lived away from St. Louis long enough that I’m not always used to how nice people are there. Last time I was home, I went to the bank to cash a check and was taken aback when the teller wanted to know all about why I’m living in DC, how I like it there, how it compares to St. Louis, and what I’m studying. Even our baseball fans are well-known for being nice and are often called the best fans in baseball. We rarely, if ever, boo our players.

Photo by The International Business Times: Cardinals fans gather outside of Busch Stadium to watch the 2011 World Series Victory Parade.

Even though I’m living on the East Coast right now, I’m determined not to become an impatient person and not to lose sight of my St. Louis roots. So come to St. Louis, and I guarantee people will treat you well. The city would love to have you.

 

 

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Gateway to the Best

What comes to mind when you hear the word “arch?” For some, it may be the Golden Arches of McDonald’s. For me, I think of the monument in St. Louis that we call “The Arch,” and that is also known as the “Gateway to the West.” It is our claim to fame, our symbol, and yet, it seems like so many people I meet on the East Coast don’t know what it is, or even that it’s in St. Louis.

Photo by Ben Spark

The Arch is iconic. Not only is it IN St. Louis, but it IS St. Louis. It’s the kind of thing that never gets old when you’re driving downtown and see it out your car window, right at the Missouri-Illinois border, when you’re at a baseball game and see its majestic silhouette projecting over Busch stadium, or when you’re flying into St. Louis and see it from 10,000 feet. I always catch myself saying “Look, there’s the Arch!” even though I’ve seen it hundreds of times. To me, the Arch means home.

So what is it exactly? The Arch is a monument designed to commemorate America’s westward expansion (west of the Mississippi River) that began with the Louisiana Purchase. The Arch is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (along with the Old Courthouse), which is considered to be one of America’s national parks. It is located near the banks of the Mississippi River, on the waterfront.

Slideshow courtesy of NPS.gov

The monument itself is an arch-shaped structure made of 17,246 tons of stainless steel. At 630 feet tall, the Arch stands as the tallest national  monument in the United States–even taller than the Washington Monument. Though it looks taller than it is wide, the Arch is actually also 630 feet wide, at its base. The Arch was designed by architect Eero Saarinen, (who coincidentally also designed the dorm I lived in my freshman year of college) and its construction took from February 12, 1963 until October 28, 1965. Watch the slideshow above (courtesy of the National Park Service) to see the unique construction method required to build the arch, from both sides up, until the two sides met in the middle.

If you visit the Arch, you can actually go inside it by taking the Journey to the Top tour. You ride a tram (which sounds nice, but it’s more of a small pod) up the arch and walk around at the top and look out the windows at St. Louis below. It’s the best view of the city. You can see for up to 30 miles on a clear day. It’s definitely a cool experience, but I don’t recommend it if you are in any way claustrophobic. If you do ever go to the Arch grounds, though, make sure to also visit the attached Museum of Westward Expansion, which features exhibits about pioneers and Native Americans, and the Old Courthouse (two blocks away), where Dred Scott sued for his freedom.  I always make sure to bring my out-of-town guests to the Arch, because it really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you can’t get anywhere else. Here’s the view from the top:

View from the top of the Arch. Photo by Dark146.

Today, my favorite view of the Arch is from sitting in the stands at Busch Stadium, the baseball stadium where the St. Louis Cardinals play (I will write about them in a future post). The Arch has become an unofficial symbol of the Cardinals as well. In 2009, when St. Louis hosted the MLB All-Star game, the stadium groundskeepers cut the Arch into the outfield grass. Fans liked it so much that the tradition has stuck to this day. Annoyingly, the Millennium Hotel now somewhat obstructs the view of the Arch, but I still enjoy the skyline of downtown St. Louis.

I took this picture when I was at a Cardinals game in 2009. You can see the Arch cut into the outfield grass, and also how the Millennium Hotel partially blocks the actual Arch.

The Arch is also a popular destination for watching fireworks on the Fourth of July. Each summer, celebrities like Sheryl Crow (a Missouri native) give free concerts around the 4th under the Arch.

Fireworks at the Arch. Photo by Sarah Milford.

My earliest memories of the Arch are from 1993, when the Mississippi River flooded. The water rose high enough to cover the steps leading up to the Arch. I remember my parents taking me downtown to watch people put sandbags by the River. I also remember taking a field-trip to the Arch with my second grade class. I  have grown up with the Arch in the background.

The Arch grounds will be renovated in the near future, as part of the St. Louis Riverfront Redevelopment Project. This will include making the grounds more pedestrian friendly, as well creating new exhibits and programming on the grounds.

If you ever visit St. Louis, the Arch is a must-see. More importantly, the next time someone talks about the Arch, you will know both where and what it is.

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(Pi)zza

I was planning on writing my next post about something more classically St. Louis, like the Arch, but then I ended up eating at District of Pi Pizzeria in Penn Quarter in DC–which believe it or not has very strong ties to St. Louis. The Arch will have to wait.

District of Pi started out as Pi Pizzeria in St. Louis, in the Delmar Loop, an area which I will definitely be writing about in a future post. The restaurant became so popular that it soon expanded to two other locations in St. Louis. It also has a food truck and a take-out only place. Click here for a review of the St. Louis restaurant.

Photo by prettywar-stl

How did Pi end up in DC? In October of 2008, then Senator Barack Obama gave a campaign speech at a rally in St. Louis at the Arch. During his brief stay in St. Louis, Obama tried pizza from Pi (he knew Pi’s owner, Chris Sommers, after meeting him a year earlier at a fundraiser), and loved it. In fact, he loved it so much that he later had Pi pizza delivered all the way to the White House after he took office. Sommers cooked the pizzas in the West Wing. In honor of Obama’s election, Pi served Broccoli Obama Pizza back in St. Louis. Obama has called Pi’s his favorite pizza. Perhaps due to this presidential connection, DC seemed like a perfect place for Pi to expand. District of Pi opened in Penn Quarter over the summer.

Pi’s pizza is amazing. I personally like the thin crust best (it’s crispy with a nice cornmeal flavor), but the deep dish is also good. You can mix and match to create your own pizzas or choose from a list of pre-designed pies, all named after various city neighborhoods–a lot of them in St. Louis. My favorite make-your-own-pizza is cheese with green peppers, onions, and sundried tomatoes. I would also recommend the bada bing salad (field greens, toasted almonds, gorgonzola cheese, dried bing cherries, with raspberry vinaigrette)–my Dad’s favorite.

Photo by sj_sanders

Photo by prettywar-stl

I felt totally at home at the DC restaurant (I love anything out here that reminds me of St. Louis), and the pizza tasted just at good as it does back in the 3-1-4 (314 is the main area code for St. Louis, which also happens to be the same as the first three digits of Pi. Coincidence?)

Next time you’re in Penn Quarter (DC), stop by District of Pi or track down their food truck to get a taste of St. Louis. Hopefully that will hold you over until you get the chance to try the real thing.

 

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Shh!…

I’m going to let you in on a little secret:

Contrary to popular belief, the city of St. Louis, Missouri, my hometown, is NOT in the South.

It is also not:

-Full of cornfields

-Boring

-Just a place in between where you are and where you’re trying to get to (though The Onion would disagree)

-Lacking in young professionals

I may be a little biased, but I am going to use this blog as an opportunity to showcase the best things about the city I love (the Arch, the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, and the Fox Theater, to name a few). I will be discussing people, places, and things to do in the city, as well differences between life here in D.C. and in the Midwest (I have spent the last six years in college and grad school in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.).

I am living proof that, sure enough, there is life between New York City and Los Angeles. St. Louis may not be the sexiest destination in the country, but it is definitely worth visiting. It is my hope that after you read this blog, you will at least give the city a second thought, instead of overlooking it. In the words of Aaron Perlut, a contributor to Forbes, “St. Louis doesn’t suck.” It’s actually a pretty cool place.

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