St. Louis: Theatre, Cathedrals and Neighborhood Finds
A macabre spectacle takes place under a glaring spotlight as a barber prepares to shave the face of his unsuspecting customer. The barber's steely eyes show no pity when he takes the straight-edged razor and quickly draws it across his victim's neck. The audience gasps in horror as the barber sings loudly and prepares to dispose of the body in the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis's production, Sweeney Todd!
St. Louis, Missouri, offers a plethora of cultural and performance venues. The spectacular Opera Theatre and Fox Theatre, to the extraordinary mosaic Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, the city is a haven of opportunities to explore. And, scattered throughout the city, are a fabulous array of incredible restaurants, dining destinations and unique neighborhoods.
Opera Theatre of Saint LouisThe Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, located on Webster University in the Webster Groves neighborhood, is one of the leading American opera companies. This intimate 987-seat theatre presents fabulous world premieres and outstanding artists with opera sung in English. The seats are close to the stage and have an excellent view of performances. The theatre features brilliant American singers that are accompanied by members of the St. Louis Symphony in performances, such as Sweeney Todd to Alice In Wonderland. For visitors or patrons who enjoy meeting the singers, the theatre hosts an after performance après opera cocktail party, located under a chic picnic tent on the lovely grounds. If you have time before a performance, take a stroll through the Webster Groves neighborhood. The area is filled with enticing shops and restaurants.
Fox Theatre in St. LouisSt. Louis's iconic Fox Theatre, located on Grand Boulevard, was built by William G. Fox as a grand movie palace in 1929 and was the second largest theatre in the country (with 5,060 seats). Today, this gorgeous 4000-seat plus theatre is breath taking to behold with its Siamese Byzantine design that incorporates Moorish, far Eastern, Egyptian, Babylonian and Indian themes. As visitors enter the grand lobby, they are stunned at the sight of reddish- umber marbled columns with incredibly high ornate ceilings and gilt adornment that wraps around balconies, statues and light fixtures. Literally, every square inch of this palace is enrobed in rich detail that would take a week just to explore. Moreover, the exotic carpeted grand staircase takes dominance in the lobby and is guarded on both sides by golden lions with glowing eyes. After years as a grand movie palace, the Fox would later host vaudeville acts and then, in the late 70s, Kung Fu movies, until its close in 1978 in a run-down condition. In 1982, Fox Associates and partners reopened the theatre after restoring it to its original splendor, as a performing arts center. Since the 80s, almost every musician you can think of has performed at this beautiful theatre with their signatures emblazoned on the back walls off-stage; such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Police, Jeff Beck, Stephen Stills, Pink Floyd and walls signed floor to ceiling. In addition, Broadway performances are also a large draw to the Fox, such as The Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked and Beauty and the Beast. Theatregoers love watching their favorite performances amid the red velvet and opulence of this magnificent and historical performance center. If you do visit the Fox, make sure to take one of their guided tours. The docents will amaze you with the building's history and take you to multiple floors, back stage and to areas rarely seen. The tour also includes special rooms and artifacts (large East Indian Elephant statues of cloisonné) that still exist in the building and that are equally remarkable. Check with the Fox Theatre for performances and tour schedules and take a step back in time, when opulence and the cinema were truly a magical empire.
Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis: Mosaic MasterpieceThe Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, located on Lindell Boulevard, is one of the most amazing mosaic churches in America. In 1907, ground was broken for the cathedral and it would take 80 years to fully complete. With more than 41 million pieces of tesserae, the tiny mosaics fill over 83,000 square feet inside the cathedral. Even the works of Tiffany and Company are seen in the west chapel of this ornate and magnificent church. Moreover, the Cathedral Basilica is on the grandeur and architectural design of some of the loveliest European cathedrals. The stories depicted in several of the mosaic scenes are indeed of St. Louis and America in this Byzantine and Romanesque style masterpiece. The detail in the mosaic scenery is astonishing as it flows around the curved ceilings and walls. The scale of the cathedral is impressive as well, with soaring ceilings and exquisite alter that appears under a structure that reflects a partial exterior design. In addition, the public are welcome to tour the Basilica and it is a must-visit while in St. Louis; however, make sure to check the Basilica schedule and services for times that are appropriate to tour.
Neighborhood Finds: The LoopOne of the best parts of visiting St. Louis is the uniquely individual neighborhoods. The Loop, located along Delmare Boulevard, is definitely a great place for music, eclectic shops, nightlife, fun and great food. In fact, visitors can go and listen to Chuck Berry play live once a month at the legendry Blueberry Hill. Do you remember those hot summer days when you would mow down on a burger and a frosty glass of real root beer or better, a root beer float?! Those days aren't lost when it comes to awesome root beer and grilled fare. Fitz's American Grill and Bottling Works is one of the few microbreweries for premium root beer and soda beverages in the U.S. This family-owned business is a destination in itself and locals flock to Fitz's throughout the year to get their ice cream Cherry Bomb Floats and draft root beer. Not to mention, Fitz's amazing root Beer cupcakes that won the Cupcake Wars on Food Network. If savory is your craving, try deep-fried pickles, juicy hamburger or toasted ravioli; they're delicious. Fitz's uses only the best ingredients and won't use cheaper substitutes; nor, will they be bought out by big corporate chains. For simply the best soda, draft root beer, grilled fare and atmosphere that will put a smile on your face, visit Fitz's in the Loop.
Lafayette Square and Rue Lafayette CafeFor a tour of an elegant neighborhood with French flare, visit Lafayette Square. The area is adorned with homes of Victorian architecture from 1870-1880 (some older as well). Several of the homes have been dubbed "The Painted Ladies" and are considered the largest collection of Victorian era architecture in the nation. The square also features a lovely park, surrounded with wrought-iron fencing that adds to the general ambience of this beautiful commons with adjacent period homes. While in Lafayette Square, you may wish to visit the Rue Lafayette Café for delectable coffee drinks and tea, as well as croissants, sandwiches and quiches. Proprietor Araceli Kopiloff-Zimmer has created a unique environment that is the soul of the neighborhood. Kopiloff-Zimmer with her adorable sidekick Bella, the Chanel couture-clad Boston terrier (that sings), makes an enchanting duo in this French style café. Bella, in her Chanel and faux diamonds is so popular, she sports some of her own merchandise, including post and greeting cards. Locals and visitors come from across the country to order cappuccino, dine, shop, and listen to fantastic live music, while they generally hangout in this comfortable and charming café. Make sure to bring your camera and get a photograph of Bella; yeah, she's that famous!
Boutique Lodging: The CheshireWhile exploring a town, the style of accommodations you choose can set the tone of your visit; for those who seek unique boutique hotels, St. Louis has an abundance to offer. The Cheshire, located on Clayton road, was originally built in the 1960s as a Tudor-architected English country manor. In 2011, the Cheshire was reopened after key renovations that blended British charm with modern conveniences, but without losing the quintessential atmosphere and structure of the hotel. As you enter the Cheshire, you feel as if you have walked straight into England and one of it's fine British country inns. The lobby boasts a dark wood motif with period furniture and oriental rugs. The breakfast nook, to the right of the entrance, is ornamented with antique silver teapots and serving trays; it is also stocked with excellent coffee and teas with proper tea pots, cups and saucers as well. As you move toward the interior of the hotel, the aroma of deeply polished wood subtly lingers in the air. A large fireplace, gorgeous paintings, period vases, ornate bookcases and comfortable English-style furniture await the weary traveler. This room is an excellent place to sit down with your favorite novel and just relax. Or, pop into the Fox and Hounds Tavern for a pint or cocktail in a sublime country setting; you can almost see Sherlock Holmes reading a book in a high-back chair and smoking his pipe. Each floor features different decor and the hallways are lined with period prints and photographs that are worthy of a gallery. The 108 guest rooms are themed after a famous British author or poet, such as George Lord Byron, Jane Austen, Author Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes suite and Beatrix Potter to name a few. Each room is detailed and lovely in its decor of paintings and photographs of the author and their books laid out for guests to read. The bathrooms are sumptuous-chic but fit in with the theme of the rooms. And, one of the wonderful aspects of the rooms are the stained glass, diamond-paned windows that open and some with a view of the pool and outdoor cabana-style lounge area. The Cheshire is a remarkable boutique hotel and if you appreciate fabulous English decor, excellent service and a room that Jane Austen herself would approve, you have only to book your stay. For additional information on St. Louis and attractions, visit ExploreStLouis.com
Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel and is a regular guest on Travel radio talk shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her photographs and articles have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.
Photo of Sweeney Todd courtesy of The Opera Theatre Of Saint Louis. All other photos courtesy of Patrice Raplee.