A Long Weekend in St. Louis
When the wife insisted that we take the kids to St. Louis for Labor Day weekend, I had serious reservations whether we would find anything worthwhile to do there. I mean, we weren't talking about New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago. What's so special about St. Louis? However, since the vote was 1 to nothing in favor of St. Louis, we headed up there as soon as the kids’ schools dismissed for the weekend.
We agreed that we had to eat dinner at Lambert’s Café on the way up there. This place is not a stop, it’s a destination. It had been over a decade since we had been to their sister restaurant in Foley, Alabama and almost two decades since I had last been to this original location in Sikeston, Missouri. Although there doesn’t seem to be anything but small towns and farmland in the surrounding area, this place is always packed with at least 50 to 100 people waiting outside for a table. They serve standard country fare with oversized mugs of ice tea or sodas. So what’s the big appeal of the place? It’s the “home of the throwed rolls”. Instead of bringing bread to the table, the servers heave the rolls across the room to the diners. It’s a big dining area seating at least 150 people. That’s a lot of space and a lot of throws. Rotator cuff injury anyone? It’s not unusual to have an errant roll land on your table or smack you in the head. I was disappointed that the kids didn’t step up to catch a few of the flying yeastballs. They also have “pass-arounds” too. Servers walk around scooping fried potatoes, black-eyed peas, apple butter, and some of the best fried okra I have ever consumed onto your plate. Lots of people just box their orders to go and eat the extras in the restaurant. It’s hard not to leave this place without loosening your pant buttons.
We eventually made it to St. Louis and checked into the Four Seasons Hotel. Parking is a bit annoying since they share a garage with an adjoining casino. Our room had a great view of the Mississippi River, the St. Louis Arch, and a giant billboard with the schedule of upcoming rock bands. I was surprised some of those guys were still alive. The wife loved the bed and the pillows which were nice and soft. The kids were amazed at the LCD TV built into the bathroom mirror. I was annoyed that I had to go down 5 floors just to get to an ice machine. I guess most patrons are smart enough to call room service.
View from our hotel room.
The next morning, we started off with breakfast at Roosters which was a five minute drive from our hotel. Although we were still downtown, street parking was a cinch that early on the weekend. The place definitely catered to the more-upscale-than-IHOP crowd. The wife had Flemish pancakes which looked like an overcooked slice of pizza, but tasted like a delicious custard. The kids shared some cinnamon raisin French toast sticks and a lemon ricotta cheese crepe. I had the Rooster slinger which tasted as good as it looked disgusting. It was a piece of toast layered with andouille sausage, fried eggs, country fried potatoes, all slathered with white gravy. I wouldn’t be surprised if it looks better coming out than going in. We had perfect timing. The place got very busy when we left, probably because the food was really good.
Afterwards, we visited the Magic House. Yes, it used to be the 19th century mansion of a local family. No, there was nothing magic about it. No David Copperfield, Penn and Teller, or even Uri Geller. Instead it is just a children's Museum...that's been fed a cocktail of Red Bull, Viagra, and ecstasy. For only $35 for the four of us, we gained entrance to a children's museum 2-3 times the size of the one at home.
(left) Kids can climb between floors on the Jack's beanstalk. (Right) Many of the exhibits were fun and interactive, with expensive touch screen computers.
(left) Your handprints and faceprints will last all of a second at this popular exhibit. (right) Tunnel where kids can squirm like a worm.
There was just so much to do. They had mock creations of a supermarket, construction site, bank, a baby hospital, restaurant, etc. Sure the kids could dress up and role-play, but they also learned at the same time. The faux power plant taught kids about circuitry and electricity. The bank taught them about our currency. Hopefully, the baby hospital taught my girl not to get knocked up for at least another 20 more years.
(left) Preparing for a future in pizza delivery. (right) Preparing for a future with the Teamsters.
(left) What a Tease! Fake ice cream. (Right) They never did get the light bulb to turn on.
(left) I'm gonna use her to power my next electric car. (middle) I can't believe it's not butter! (right) Paging Doogie Howser?
There were also informative areas which educated kids on the basics of government and civics.
(right) First Asian- American president in 2040? (left) General, invade Disney World.
(left) When she is done with the Liberty bell, it will have more than just a small crack. (right) Hopefully, these fingerprints won't end up on a police blotter in the future.
There is an area dedicated to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Only kids five or older were allowed through the obstacle course.
(left) 19th century soldier uniform. (middle) She may look cute, but she will still scalp you. (right) Pulleys can teach children that they have no upper body strength.
On the lower level there was a craft area where kids could paint, cut out shapes from construction paper, or get Play-Doh under their fingernails.
(left) Kids can express their creativity (or lack of) with acrylic paints. (middle) Insects look extra scary under a microscope. (right) They even have a timer to race lego creations.
They also have a section dedicated to traveling exhibits. Currently, they have one based on the Alice in Wonderland theme. Some of the other exhibits were above the age of our illiterate kids, but they were appropriate for my immature brain. The Magic House was definitely one of the best children's museums that we have taken the kids too. But it could still use a magician who can bend spoons.
(left) Anti-gravity balls. (right) Bad hair day.
Despite being exhausted, sweaty, and ready to get back to the hotel, we took a slight detour to a place called Sweetie Pies. It's a cafeteria-style restaurant that gets very high reviews on tripadvisor. Guy Fieri has profiled it on the Food Network (that alone should be a red flag) and the place is going to have a reality show which will air on Oprah's network. "Oh look! Tina Turner's been here," said the wife as she pointed to her autographed photo on the wall. "That's nothing, he's been here too" I replied as I pointed to the picture of the African-American Jesus hanging behind her. We really couldn't figure out what the fuss was all about. The place is clean and well-kept, but the surrounding neighborhood is not. The food was fine. I had the fried chicken which is wings only. They are from bigger chickens, so you do get some meat. The wife had the fried catfish which was very good. Many places tend to overcook it so it gets dry and chewy. Theirs had a nice crunchy crust but was still moist on the inside. The sides were the same as what you get, well, from a cafeteria. Nothing special. The place wasn't pricey. But it also wasn't anything unique from the hundreds of other soul food cafes throughout the South.
After convalescing at the hotel, we decided to visit the Jefferson Expansion Memorial Monument, better known as the St. Louis Arch. Based upon my wife's visit there a dozen years ago, we thought it would be a quick visit that would take only an hour. Boy, were we wrong. The place was packed. It took 20 minutes alone just to get through the metal detector lines to get inside the complex. It looked like a refugee camp with some people queued up in long lines and others sitting on the hard floors slowly passing the time.
It was a long wait to get to the top of the Arch.
Trams to the top were by appointed time. The earliest tickets we could get were an hour and a half wait. We decided to watch the 45 minute Nat Geo film on Lewis and Clark instead of the flick about the construction of the Arch. The former was actually a very well produced picture which really conveyed the importance and hardship of their expedition over 200 years ago. They also had a museum on the expansion of the west. It probably would have been very interesting if I actually had time to appreciate it. Unfortunately, museums and little children don't mix well.
(left) Standing beneath the St. Louis Arch. (right) Memorial commemorating the construction. Never heard of any of these guys.
When the time came to take the tram ride up, we lined up...and waited some more. Eventually, we climbed into cramped little capsules for the four minute ride to the top. By then it was well into the night. I couldn't see anything worthwhile on the Eastern side of the river. Maybe the Griswalds if I looked really hard. The western view was much better with the Old Courthouse, Busch Stadium (sadly no game in progress), and other large downtown buildings all illuminated in lights. We ended up spending only 10 minutes at the top, but the whole process took us over 3 hours. We ended up eating room service because the wait time at the hotel's restaurant was too long. Sadly, the five-star hotel served up some two-star food.
View of Busch Stadium from the top of the St. Louis Arch.
The next morning started with breakfast at the hotel. They had a "special" Labor Day buffet for $22. There are very few culinary evils that can rival that of the buffet. It is rumored that the Devil himself invented the concept. Either that or a struggling Chinese restauranteur. On one hand, the restaurant charges more money since it is all-you-can-eat. On the other hand, the food's quality usually suffers as most items are bland-tasting to not offend the masses and overcooked as they sit under a heat source for too long. Mentally, it is hard to resist the temptation to gorge yourself just to meet the cost of the meal. After all, who wants to get ripped off when all you had to do is eat more. Altogether, buffet's are a fool's paradise. The younger me with the higher metabolism would have opted for the challenge. The older me who lives in one of the most obese areas of the country wisely backed away. Instead, we decided to order from the menu getting the waffles with espresso-marscapone whipped cream, the panetone French toast with Nutella, and chocolate pancakes for the kids. Quality over quantity was definitely the better choice.
If Tim Burton ever designed a museum, I bet it would look like the St. Louis City Museum. Hence, it is awesome. On the outside, there are slides and stairwells crisscrossing in every direction. People can climb into the gutted remains of two airplanes and one school bus suspended several stories in the air. There is even a small ferris wheel on the roof of the building. We made the horrible mistake of trying to climb through some of the mesh tunnels suspended three stories high. They are easy for a little kid to navigate, but hard for a full grown adult to crawl around in. I bruised my thigh badly when I exited the small door of one airplane, and fell and hurt both my wrists on some of the other obstacles. Suddenly, I feel very old. I think I may need to get a Life Alert bracelet.
(left) From afar, the City Museum looks like a junk yard. (right) Otto must have driven this bus.
(left) We had to wait about 45 minutes in the rain for a ride. (middle) Of course everybody throws the balls at the fat kid. (right) Probably the reason why this plane crashed here.
(left) This tunnel is not meant for adults, unfortunately there is no way to turn around. (right) These kids are like little bugs stuck in a ceiling light cover.
On the inside there is a hodgepodge of activities. The first floor has an elaborate system of tunnels and caves that are too narrow for a fat-ass like me to navigate. At one point I lost contact with the kids for 15 minutes when they disappeared into a tiny opening. I can see why it is so hard to track down the Taliban.
The decor is faaabuulous!
(left) The World Aquarium is located within the City Museum. Admission is extra. (right) I am not following her in there.
(left) This slide takes kids from the 3rd floor down to the museum entrance. (right) There's a large treehouse complex inside the museum.
The next floor up has a life-sized hamster wheel. I gotta give some serious props to those little rodents, because those things are not easy to move.
These wimpy little rugrats couldn't get the wheel to start.
They also have a room filled with skateboarding ramps. Despite the absence of wheels, kids were having a blast just running back and forth up and down the sides.
(left) Hanging on for dear life. (middle) It looks alot more scary at the top. (right) It's supposed to be sumo wrestling, not Greco-Roman wrestling.
The third floor has a potpourri of activities. There is an arts and crafts area with claymaking, face painting, acrylics, and even a gymnastics room.
"Steve the Clay Guy" shows kids how to make small figurines.
(left) Not-so-creative dumbells. (right) Probably the most important advice when handling clay.
Crammed in the back of the top floor is an eclectic collection of pop art and advertisements.
(left) Boy, he's big. (middle) Big Brother is a pervert. (right) Nothing like a good peep show to teach the kids about the birds and the bees.
My daughter rode the dinky-little children's train. Afterwards, she was so excited about seeing the "little boy with the mustache." Huh?!?. Sure enough the train "conductor" was a little person with a beard. Of all the staff members at the City Museum, how irreplaceable is he?
Is that Fidel Castro's Mini-me?
Since it was the Labor Day weekend, the place was packed with kids and exhausted adults trying to keep up with them. Sadly the only empty area in the building was their exhibits on taxidermy and architecture. I guess kids just don't get too excited about collections of decorative doorknobs.
The loneliest room in the museum.
We spent over five hours there, leaving when they closed at 5pm. We did take a small break to snack. Instead of eating the generic museum food, we headed out to the English Tea Room only two blocks away. They had a wide selection of exotic hot and cold teas as well as accompanying sweets and scones. A full, proper tea service could be had with reservations. The wife had considered doing this earlier, but the thought of a four year-old handling delicate china made us cringe. Our fears were justified when she ended up tipping over her paper cup of hot chocolate three times.
The remaining afternoon was spent by the hotel pool. Since it was overcast the entire day and the pool was not heated, most of the guests just crammed themselves into the hot tub. Later we walked around some of the adjacent areas downtown. There were some live bands playing outside the restaurants and bars. The atmosphere would have been pretty cool if we didn't have two little kids tagging along. We tried the family-friendly Italian restaurant, but the wait time was way too long. So we headed over to the Lumiere complex and faced my old nemesis, the casino buffet. The lady was nice enough to let my runty four year-old in for free, but the six year-old had to pay the full price. There was the usual--junk, junk, shrimp cocktail, junk, prime rib, and more junk. None of it was bad, but none of it was really good. Except for the desserts. It's impossible to mess up sugar. We left there with stomachs full of food and hearts full of regret. All those calories we burned off at the City Museum were gained back at the buffet.
After a failed attempt at going to the Uppity Mall the next morning (oops--Labor Day hours!), we drove back home that morning. We stopped off at Lambert's Cafe again at noon, but the wait time was over an hour. Since we were ready to get home soon, we headed to McDonald's instead for an unfulfilling lunch. Two hours later, my son threw it back up in the car. He missed the puke bag, too. Oh well, at least it's my wife' car. What an eventful ending to a surprisingly eventful weekend.