Gay Travel: St. Louis, the LGBT Capital of the Mid-West

by Joey Amato

South Florida Gay News

Monday June 18, 2012

St. Louis, commonly referred to as "The Gateway to the West" is home to some of the country's most recognizable corporations including Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Edward Jones Investments Energizer, and of course, the city's most popular company, Anheuser-Busch. The city is also home to three professional sports teams: The St. Louis Cardinals, Blues and Rams and is one of the LGBT capitals of the mid-west.

Visitors arriving to St. Louis should take note of the MetroLink. The train system has two routes, is easy to navigate and is an inexpensive way to travel throughout the city. MetroLink connects Lambert-St. Louis International Airport to downtown as well as a host of other neighborhoods worth visiting including my personal favorite, Forest Park.

Forest Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. At 1,371 acres, it is approximately 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York City. Forest Park is home to the Art Museum, Science Center, Zoo, Jewel Box Greenhouse and History Museum, as well as a 7.5-mile biking, jogging and skating path. Most of these attractions are free of charge.

The St. Louis Zoo is home to 655 species of animals, many of them rare and endangered. Catch a glimpse of the cheetah, African black elephant, lion and penguin habitats while enjoying a leisurely day with friends and family. Later this year the zoo will open Sea Lion Sound, combining a spacious new sea lion habitat with the zoo's popular Sea Lion Show.

A brisk walk through Forest Park will lead you to another great attraction, the St. Louis Art Museum. The museum is among the nation's leading comprehensive art museums with collections that include works of art throughout history. Most notable are the Chinese, pre-Columbian and 19th & 20th Century Masters galleries. The museum building itself is an architectural masterpiece and a highlight of the park.

St. Louis' most recognizable icon is without a doubt, The Gateway Arch, the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in downtown St. Louis. The arch was completed in 1965 and at 630 feet, the stainless steel structure is the tallest man-made monument in the country. The view from the top is a site that should not be missed. Don't forget to bring your camera!

After a day of history and culture, head to the Central West End neighborhood, a gay-friendly destination, with numerous sidewalk cafes, small boutiques, and antique stores. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis is also located in this neighborhood and houses the world's largest collection of mosaic art. The cathedral, designated a basilica in 1997, was built between 1907 and 1909 and is one of St. Louis' main attractions.

Those looking to stay close to LGBT nightlife should check in at The Cheshire, a boutique hotel reminiscent of a traditional British inn. The hotel contains beautifully appointed rooms with luxury linens, deep soaking whirlpool tubs and complimentary tea service. The Cheshire truly transports visitors to the English countryside and for a while, you forget you are in St. Louis. For a quick snack, stop by Fox & Hounds Tavern and sample traditional British fare.

Most of St. Louis' LGBT culture is centered around The Grove, a growing business and entertainment district along Manchester Avenue about a five minute taxi ride from the hotel. The Grove is home to a variety of independently-owned restaurants, nightlife options, and retail shops.

Stop by Atomic Cowboy for some Mexican cuisine such as shredded pork tacos, fish tacos, or buffalo chicken sliders or head to The Bad Dog Bar & Grill to mingle with the leather and bear crowd and enjoy happy hour cocktails and traditional American fare. Ladies should make an effort to go to Novak's, regularly voted one of the top lesbian bars in St. Louis. The vibrant bar and grill features weekly karaoke nights and a regular lineup of live entertainment.

Gays looking to party St. Louis-style should head to Just John Nightclub located in the heart of Manchester Avenue. Just John offers an upscale environment with high tech lighting, premium sound, flat screen TV's, private tables and the friendliest staff in town. The focal point of Just John is The Florida Room, an indoor/outdoor area that is climate controlled and features a fireplace, tropical plants and lots of windows overlooking the patio area. While at Just John, find Andy and ask him to pour you his signature Pineapple Upside-down Cake.

One of the "coolest spots" to visit in The Grove is Erney's 32 Degrees. The bar features a large, walk-in Vodka Box - a glass-enclosed freezer, which people can gather in to sample dozens of vodkas from around the world. It gets quite cold inside the box, so dress appropriately.

St. Louis is also proud to host one of the largest pride festivals in the region. The two-day event held in Tower Grove Park is expected to attract over 60,000 visitors this year and will feature headlining entertainment from Deborah Cox, Christine W and Pandora Boxx. St. Louis Pride will also include an Athlete's Village and a non-denominational prayer service. Also part of this year's festivities will be a special performance by Margaret Cho at Lumiere Place.

A highlight of St. Louis's LGBT scene is the Gateway Men's Chorus. The GMC was formed in 1988 with 22 singers and has since grown to encompass approximately 80 talented men, making them one of the most successful male choral arts organizations in the country. St. Louis is also home to numerous gay sports leagues, non-profit organizations and cultural groups, making the city a must-see "out destination."

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