St. Louis Trip – Day 1

The wife and I headed out on our only real “vacation” of the summer, opting to take a 4 day weekend trip to St. Louis, Missouri. Both of us grew up in northern Illinois, and as a result had been to St. Louis as kids, but never adults. We spent a lot of time planning the trip and were hoping to cram a pretty solid amount of activities, including a St. Louis Cardinals game, but not including the Gateway Arch, which just isn’t my thing.

We departed the Chicagoland area Thursday morning and headed toward our state’s capital, Springfield. There isn’t much to describe about the drive. It’s exactly as one would imagine: four-lane highway, very flat, lots of farms. We arrived in Springfield in the middle part of the day, and only planned to spend a few hours there. Our main destination there was the Abraham Lincoln Museum.

The museum is relatively new and was $12 per adult. We aren’t the kind of people who read every plaque, and we opted not to watch either of the theater “shows” that were included in the admission price, so we made it through the museum in about one hour and fifteen minutes.

The museum includes exhibit rooms dedicated to the Civil War, Lincoln’s pre-Presidential years, and his time in the White House. Although there is a lot about the Emancipation Proclamation and his fight against slavery, there aren’t a ton of political parts to soak up, except for cartoons and posters. The assassination is also breezed over with just one plaque really. The bulk of the artifacts are personal effects of Lincoln and there is a clear emphasis on this part of his life. Overall, it was enjoyable and probably worth $12. I feel like I got as much out of is as I would have from seeing a movie in the theater, so that seems to make it worthy. I would not recommend going to Springfield just for this, but it’s definitely worth it if you are in the area.

On our way out of Springfield, we hit up our first eating establishment, Route 66 landmark Cozy Drive-In. Their speciality is hot dogs on a stick, more commonly referred to as corn dogs. Neither of us decided to try one, instead ordering a cheeseburger, chili cheese dog and an order of fries. The burger was small, but pretty tasty. It comes plain, with condiments/toppings (onions, pickles, relish, peppers, ketchup, mustard, seasoning salt, hot sauce) available for adding on your own after the fact. The large fry was enormous and more than enough for sharing. The fries themselves were thin and floppy with skins intact. There were merely OK though. The above items and two large soft drinks cost us $15, perhaps a bit pricey, but the drive-in had character and clearly had been there for decades.

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After arriving in St. Louis we headed for the Lumiere Casino, but not for the reason you would think. The trolley tour we signed up for, St. Louis Fun Trolley departs from there. The trolley felt a little bit like Vince Vaughn’s tour service in The Break Up if you fast forwarded Vaughn’s character about 30 years. Our driver/guide Barry was knowledgeable and fun, and could have a side job as a Harry Caray impersonator. He had a game where he would slip in fake facts and if you called him out and were successful he gave you a prize, which is a nice print of the Gateway Arch at night. The tour was advertised as 75 minutes, but Barry was pretty clear up front that it would last at least 90, and he was right.

The weather in St. Louis was unruly, with temperatures approaching 110º, and the air conditioning on the window filled trolley was not keeping up. It wasn’t unbearable but it was definitely warm. Thankfully, because it was the last ride on a Thursday afternoon, the trolley was only about half full. As I said earlier, Barry knew his stuff, and make the ride interesting. The trolley was kind of pitched as a discovery tool for finding out where you else you might want to visit in the city, and it excels at this.

Since it was the first thing we did when we arrived it was super helpful in finding other places to visit, or hear about things we overlooked. There was a decent amount of history sprinkled in, but that’s clearly not the focus, and if it’s something you do at the end of your trip it probably wouldn’t be as useful/interesting. At $20 per person, it’s not cheap either. The irony is that Barry repeatedly pointed out how many free things there are to do in St. Louis. If you are looking for a good way to find out about the things to see in St. Louis, this is a good interactive experience. If you are looking for a in-depth history lesson, you might need to look elsewhere.

After checking into our hotel, the Drury Inn (which I will cover at the end), we headed to dinner at the Schafly Tap Room. This was recommended by a friend, and is known mostly for their microbrews. The menu has a dozen or so sandwiches and maybe a dozen or so entrees but it’s not super deep. We ordered the Beer Bread appetizer, which is 6-8 slices of heavy pale ale bread server with cheddar butter and bleu cream cheese. It was pretty good, and the the bleu cream cheese was really interesting. For entrees, we both ordered specials. My wife had the Reuben pizzeta, which was basically a reuben sandwich turned into a flatbread pizza. It had jalapeño peppers on it, which was different, and made it a little spicier than she liked, but overall she was satisfied. I ordered the steak linguine with gorgonzola cream sauce, red onions and green pablano peppers cut julienne style. The peppers were a little to dominating and I started avoiding them after a while.

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My wife also tried two their beers. The Belgian Singel and the Summer Lager. My wife isn’t a beer connoisseur and tends to like Belgian-style beers, so she liked the first one and thought the second was just “OK”. Two beers, two entrees and an appetizer ran us $45 with tax. Not too shabby for being in downtown St. Louis.

After a long day of driving, we decided to call it a night after dinner.