Monday, September 28, 2009

Route 66 Festival on Saturday, Oct. 3

There are two things I LOVE: Autumn and roadside America. Toss these two together and add in a great bike ride, and it's pretty much my idea of a perfect weekend. This Saturday, Oct. 3 is the Route 66 Festival on the Chain of Rocks bridge. The festival has events happening on both sides of the bridge, with music going on all day in Missouri, and a beer garden in Illinois. In between, on the Chain of Rocks bridge, there will be a classic car showcase.

I don't know what it is about the roadside, but I feel very much like I grew up in a car, stopping at roadside fish shacks and custard stands. Many of my earliest memories were gathered while looking through a car window, watching the highway lines zip by. And it's still in me. I love the wanderlust, the joy and sense of fun and abandon with which we take to the road. And i've always love Route 66. It's a unifying facet of America, quite literally. The imagery harkens back to a quieter time-- when it was all about using the road to connect us to each other, instead of escaping.

I think that's why this festival sounds so fun. Music, food, classic cars and beer. The mother road, the river, families, and stories. And it all happens where a great bike path happens to intersect the whole thing. There is limited parking if you want to be one of those people and drive. But why not hop on your bike downtown at the Arch and ride up the Riverfront Trail to the Chain of Rocks. Or start on the North side and ride a little ways down to the bridge. You'll get scenery and exercise, and it'll give you license to drink all that beer.

Route 66 Festival- Saturday Oct. 3, 11 AM- 6 PM
at the Chain of Rocks Bridge (FREE)

Chain of Rocks Bridge Historical Info.

Riverfront Trail info (with links to maps, parking, etc.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mamacita's Music Fest

Just got this in my inbox and thought I'd pass it on.
For more info on the tasty vittles at Mamacita's, check out this St Louis Magazine article.

Local Chefs + Creativity + Competition = South City Iron Chef

If you want to check out some of the more interesting characters in the STL culinary arts scene, go to the South City Iron Chef event this weekend. In its third installment, wunderkind chef Clara Moore (formerly of Mangia Italiano, now of Local Harvest) has helped organize a killer event, with a slightly different take on the original South City battles.

This year, chefs will compete with layman partners in teams of two, battling it out round after round. Included in the line-up are chef Chris Bork and local rocker Sunyatta Marshall for the laymen.

The event is for charity, with all proceeds going to local bi-state small farms, including Prairie Grass Farms and Biver Farms. The event goes from Noon-6pm on Sunday, Sept. 27 with three rounds of slicing, dicing, and cooking going on in Dick Pointer's backyard at 3333 Demenil (directly across the street from the historic and haunted Lemp Mansion).

VIP tickets are available ranging from $30-$50, allowing you to sit front and center at the judge's table and eat what the judge's eat (yum!). Rounds include everything from canned food to local and mystery ingredient challenges. DJ's will be on the scene to keep the atmosphere hoppin' and local food and drinks will be on sale. There's also a homebrew competition where you can sample local homebrews and vote for your favorite.

I went to the first South City Iron Chef a couple years back and it was one of the more interesting and fun days I've spent on the South side. This one is sure to deliver with its line-up of pros and amateurs, music and food-- and there's always an interesting crowd gathered to support the local food movement and celebrate the artistry of the South side. Come with an empty stomach and a willingness to try great local food.

For more info, email

Sunday, Sept. 27 from Noon-6PM (3 rounds with DJ's, food, and drink; all proceeds go to charity)
3333 DeMenil (in the backyard; directly across from historic Lemp Mansion)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

FREE screening of Daniel Bowers' film GUS at the History Museum Thursday Night

Nothing to do tonight? Check out Gus, filmmaker Dan Bowers 2003 documentary about Gus Torresgrossa, a local business owner in Washington Avenue's Garment District. Gus is a character in every way, and Bowers' film serves not only to illuminate its characters, but to tell the story of St Louis as Washington Street changed from a business district to a neighborhood of upscale lofts and clubs.

You might know Dan Bowers' other film, A. (Anonymous), a pretty hilarious mockumentary about an addict support group. Gus shares that same love of individual quirks and an eye for the everyday turned into a story.

This is what the RFT had to say about the film when it first premiered in 2003,
"Take one ageless, earthy, generous-to-a-fault Italian-American owner; one diminutive, chain-smoking, costume-wearing roughneck employee (that would be Jimmy Doyle); and the neighborhood kids and young rappers who buy their gear (and occasionally perform) at Gus's Washington Avenue location, and you get a unique subject."

The film runs 23 minutes and admission is free. Stop by the History Museum and learn a little something about your city.

FREE Gus screening at the Missouri History Museum
7pm Thurs, Sept 24, Lee Auditorium

McKee Plans for the Northside Explained

No doubt you've heard talk of the McKee development plans for North Saint Louis. Last night, the St Louis TIF Committee voted unanimously to approve McKee's TIF request and send the plan to the Board of Aldermen for negotiation. There's a lot at stake in this deal. On the one side, there's McKee promising jobs, housing, and a revitalization of the North Side. On there other side, there is doubt that McKee will deliver on promises, concerns over eminent domain, and questions about how McKee's plans will affect the almost 9000 residents who currently live in the proposed area of the North Side.

To learn more about McKee's proposal and hear concerns of the neighborhood, check out St Louis Public Radio's coverage. They explain what a TIF is, how it works in this deal, give a history of the neighborhood, and speak to several area residents and business owners about how this plan might affect the North Side. There's audio, video, and photos as well.

To get a more historical and architectural perspective on how this will affect the city, check out local preservationist Michael Allen's blog the Ecology of Absence. Michael's also got an Op-Ed in the Saint Louis American, critiquing McKee's development plan.

What do you think? Is this going to help Saint Louis or sink us further?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Never Be Mean

On a blue sky day, the first of autumn, I’ve just returned from a funeral honoring a man I did not know. The funeral was for my friend’s father. And despite my never having met the deceased, I feel like I learned a lot about him today. It seems he had a lot to teach.

Richard Miller, a police officer who served the City for 30 years and was a decorated war veteran, died at 81 with his family by his side. Listening to the stories that his son, Tony, told-- Richard Miller was definitely a man with a lot of wisdom, a lot of experience, and a lot of lessons to share-- assuming we’re all smart enough to listen.

As Tony eulogized his father, he spoke of certain tattoos that his dad had-- one with his own name, Richard, on his arm; another of a skull and crossbones on his hand. The latter tattoo was one he and his buddy got together when they were teenagers, 15 or 16, just before going off to fight in the war. Tony spoke of his father’s service-- as a veteran, as a police officer. And when Tony followed in his footsteps and decided to become an officer himself, he told us he asked his dad for advice. Richard Miller’s answer was simply, “Never be mean to people.”

When you think of a lifetime of public service, of having seen war abroad and hard times at home, of living through hate and change, and a million different forces colliding together, you expect that advice might be about how to be safe, how to stay safe. But Richard Miller’s advice was not about safety, it was about how to keep peace. And it was about how to help build a better world, one where ultimately we don’t have some of the dangers, the hatred, and the violence we now see so regularly.

Today I sat there in that funeral parlor, listening as Tony spoke about his father, and I kept thinking about that simple sentence of advice, “Never be mean to people.”

Judging by the stories today and the outpouring of love, I assume Richard Miller was a man who followed his own advice and was never mean to people. It was clear that he had a rich life filled with the admiration and respect of those who knew him.

But this is what I do know: so often the true mark of a man is not what he does, but what he encourages others to do. I did not know Richard Miller personally, but I do know his son, Tony. Whenever I think about all the terrible things that happen in this city-- about crime and violence and murders-- I think of Tony. I picture him working the case and it makes me feel better. I’ve never seen him lose his cool or change his voice, or be anything less than attentive. There’s a sense that he really cares, not because it’s his job, but because people matter to him. It seems to me that’s what a life of service really means-- not just fixing the problems, but listening to how they started, and helping the people involved. So while I don’t know the effect of Richard Miller’s actions on the rest of the world, I certainly see them in his son, and as a city, we’re lucky to have benefitted from their service.

Such a simple idea, Never be mean. But what a difference it could make. And as I sat there, I thought of all the other people who serve us daily, whom we also never get to meet. I might not get the chance to thank them all in person, but I can try to heed Richard Miller’s advice to his son all those years ago. Despite not knowing Richard Miller when I walked in today, I left feeling the loss of this man, and felt privileged to have experienced his impact.

Rest in peace.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Saint Louis, why are we hiding?

What does it take to retain and attract creative individuals in our fair city?

This is the topic of a panel discussion Wednesday 9/23 at Left Bank Books (downtown location, 7pm). The discussion, moderated by the Saint Louis American’s Chris King, includes panelists from Trailnet, Metropolis, and Wash U, as well as local community organizer Galen Gandolfi and STL alderman Antonio French. That’s a pretty decent place to start for a question that keeps plaguing our city.

This is not a new discussion thread. Cities all over the country have been discussing this heavily in the past decade, especially since Richard Florida’s ideas of the creative class began to spread when his book was published in 2002. In many ways, the idea of retaining and attracting creatives is a city’s recipe for success, just as failure to do so seems to result in a city’s demise.

I wonder if it’s truly that simple. I love that we’re talking about it, and that we keep talking about it. I hear variations on this theme discussed in conference rooms at non-profits, in schools, in coffeeshops, and in bars late at night. How can we innovate, change, and provide inspiration for ourselves and others? How can we lead the way? These are wonderful questions, and they are questions we should keep examining.

As a Big Question though, does this miss the mark? It seems to me before we can retain or attract other creative individuals to STL, we need to better identify the creative individuals we already have.

Years ago, I remember having this conversation with several people late at night sitting around a table full of Guinness at Mangia. There were artists, musicians, writers, a police officer, and myself. We examined it the creative question from every angle. How do we compete with other cities? How do we demonstrate the value of we have to offer (and I don’t mean just financially)? How do we get others to recognize all the great things we have going on in Saint Louis? Around and around, we all spoke, citing examples of other cities we’d lived in, places we traveled, things we read. That night, and in many other night’s conversations since, it always seems to circle back to the same conclusion: we do awesome things in Saint Louis; we just don’t talk about it.

Whether it’s modesty or lack of self-confidence, a who-gives-a-shit attitude or just a superior work ethic, we all keep plugging away with seemingly little need to discuss our work and our ideas. Maybe it’s because everything happens in bars that we think it doesn’t deserve credit. (And, at times it’s because everything happens in bars and we forget it even happened.) Sometimes I think we are just all so used to the conversation that we forget that something special is happening.

Ask any creative type in Saint Louis to name a few players, say 5 people they think contribute to the creative landscape of this city. Regardless of age, occupation, race, class, or neighborhood, I guarantee you there will be a lot of overlap. Now, take those names you heard mentioned and go ask a policy maker, a newscaster, or a business person if they know the creatives mentioned. You might get a couple, but most likely, never the twain shall meet. Or, try the experiment a different way-- Google the names of the individuals who keep coming up. You might find reference to them here and there, but it’s unlikely that you’ll get a true sense of them, unless perhaps someone has a great website to promote professional endeavors.

My point is, we all know who the creatives are-- we know where to find them and how to use them, but no one else does. We all live somewhat underground, conducting our lives in similar circles and not really worrying too much about the outside world. It appears as if nothing worthy is occurring or as if we claim no room to initiate others into our ranks. And with that attitude, it might be tough to retain other creatives who’ve not yet found the circle, and equally tough to attract people from other cities who don’t even know Saint Louis has anything more than an arch and a now foreign-owned brewery.

So, I love that we’re asking this question, but I wish we’d also talk more about how to identify the wealth we already have.

And hey, Next American City, thanks for hosting the event, but I wish it was a bit cheaper. You’re shutting out some of the very people you want in this conversation. Times are hard; $15 is a lot, even for great ideas. Still, I’ve no doubt it’ll be a great conversation. (see post script at bottom)

WHAT: St. Louis Livable City: What it takes to retain and attract creative individuals
(a panel discussion moderated by Chris King)
WHEN: Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 7:00 PM
WHERE: DOWNTOWN Left Bank Books (301 N. 10th; at 10th/Locust)
PRICE: $15** (includes subscription to Next American City and food); free to Next American City subscribers

For more info:

**Post Script: Just saw a post from Chris King stating that no one would be turned away from the event for not having the $15. (Awesome and thank you.) Now, you have no excuse; go to the discussion.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thanks, Schlafly

Beer + Community = Schlafly (FUN!)
I'm fortunate enough to travel a lot. And I like beer. Every time I go somewhere, I'm struck by how fortunate we are in Saint Louis. Not only do we have a thriving beer culture and many small breweries, but we have one bigger brewery that also helps take care of its own. Nope, I'm not talking about AB. Thanks, Schlafly.

For years, I've worked in the bar industry and in local arts education. Seemingly, these seem like two different things entirely, yet every successful business knows that everything is connected more intimately than it might first appear. For years working in the bar business, I've seen Schlafly support all kinds of events-- from kicking in a case of beer for a small private fundraiser to providing sponsorship for events at local restaurants. Unlike many other craft breweries, Schlafly has always been larger than its walls. We find it not just in taverns and bars, but anywhere something important is happening in the community. The next time you're at a non-profit fundraiser, look around. You'll likely see some Schlafly banners. Or watch the Schlafly bike team zoom by and join as they promote healthier lifestyles, alternative commuting, and just plain fun. You'll catch Schlafly beer at Mad Art events, at other local galleries, and at trivia nights around the city. Hell, I'm surprised they don't sponsor garage sales. (--They don't, do they?) We even have Schlafly in our biggest pass time, baseball-- and I love drinking big, tall glasses of Pale Ale instead of a light carbonated lager.

It's not just outside events that Schlafly supports-- they consistently give their own space to the community. When I worked at KDHX, Schlafly helped us out a lot by providing sponsorship and support, but also by providing space for events like the 48 Hour Film Project and other educational series. At the Bottleworks, they show free movies and have awesome lecture series. There's even a Farmer's Market every Wednesday, another testament to their commitment to sustainable food (as if their B'worx garden wasn't cool enough). Lone ranger, Brett Underwood, arranges the best music acts locally and regionally to perform weekends at the Tap Room-- most of which are free (with the others maxing out at a few bucks). This past weekend the Bottleworks hosted Art Outside, a gorgeous little air fair with jewelry, textiles, artwork, and music.

Point is, in other cities, breweries are not doing this. Sure, you'd be hard-pressed to go into any sporting arena and not find some local brewery signage. Maybe some other microbreweries are supporting an odd event here or there (and for that, I applaud them and encourage them to continue), but I have yet to see another brewery the size of Schlafly support their home town on the scale that we experience.

Like New Belgium Brewery before them, Schlafly takes their core values of community, appreciation for the arts, education, and environmentalism and uses them to the advantage of our whole city. When I think back over the past decade, every cool event I've been at, Schlafly was there as a sponsor. And the great thing is, you don't always know it. It's not always about the banner and making themselves known-- they just do what they think is right. And thankfully, they make great beer in the process.

So, on the eve of Hop in the City, thanks Schlafly. And thanks also to all your great employees who help you make it possible.

HOP in the CITY, Saturday, Sept. 19
Noon-5 PM @ the Tap Room
Tickets $35 at the door
(entry entitles you to taste the over 40 varieties of Schlafly brewed in the past year, plus entertainment)