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Welcome to St. Louis

Local ASECS members put together the following list of recommendations for activities and restaurants in the St. Louis region. What follows are their personal, somewhat idiosyncratic favorites; for reviews of all the restaurants listed below (plus many more!) by an actual restaurant critic, click here

A geographical note to begin: the conference hotel is located in the heart of the city of St. Louis. The greater St. Louis metropolitan area, however, extends 50 miles to the west and 40 miles to the east and includes over 90 municipalities in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and Illinois. One result of this sprawl is that many cultural institutions, universities, and restaurants are located slightly to the west, within a 20-minute drive of the conference hotel.  
Sadly, very few eighteenth-century buildings still remain in downtown St. Louis. This fact can be partially explained by patterns of settlement and partially by the destruction wrought in this area by twentieth-century urban renewals campaigns. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the land on which the conference hotel sits, we’d suggest starting with this article. And if you’re in search of surviving eighteenth-century structures in the region, there’s no better place to visit than Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, about 1 hour south of St. Louis by car. 

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Walking Distance from the Hotel 
Museums and Architectural Landmarks 

Museum at the Gateway Arch: free admission; open daily, 9:00–6:00pm; an excellent museum that presents the history of 18th-century St. Louis as well as the history of the Gateway Arch (1963–65). Best of all, the museum includes a replica of the space at the top of the Arch, with a live-feed of the view, meaning that you don’t have to purchase a ticket for $15–$19 and ride the (claustrophobia-inducing) tram to the top, if you’d rather not. 

The Old Cathedral (Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France) (1831–34): as the first cathedral west of the Mississippi River, its roots date back to 1764. It is open for visits: Wednesday–Friday, 6:30am–2:00pm; Saturday, 6:30am–6:00pm; Sunday, 7:30am–6:00pm. 

National Blues Museum: admission: $15; open daily, 10am–4pm; an engaging museum celebrating the history of the blues musical genre and St. Louis’s role in its development. 

Field House Museum: admission: $10; Wednesday–Saturday, 10–4; Sunday, 12–4; a small historic house museum, the home of Roswell Field, the key attorney in the Dred & Harriet Scott Freedom Suit, and the poet Eugene Field. The house dates to 1845. 

Old Courthouse (1816–64): the site of the Dred Scott trials in 1847 and 1850, as well as many other freedom suits. It is currently closed for renovations. 

Old Courthouse (1816–64): the site of the Dred Scott trials in 1847 and 1850, as well as many other freedom suits. It is currently closed for renovations. 

 Wainwright Building (1891): one of the first skyscrapers is located just a few blocks from the conference hotel. Its interiors are not open for tours, but it is well worth a stroll by for any fans of Art Nouveau design and modern architecture. 

Restaurants 

Downtown St. Louis Restaurants:

A food lover’s guide to Downtown St. Louis (feastmagazine.com)

Dining Guide: Downtown & Midtown (stlmag.com) 

Restaurants within walking distance of  the hotel 

Some personal favorites (but there are many more):  

Salt & Smoke, Ballpark Village: $, casual. A singular focus on “barbecue, bourbon, and beer” translates to loads of meat, craft and barrel-aged cocktails, and more than 40 bourbons. The burnt-end “T-ravs” (toasted ravioli, a St. Louis specialty) are a must, as is the brisket. 

360 St. Louis: $$. Famous for its wraparound vistas, Three Sixty has fire pits and cocktails that make for convivial gatherings. The menu’s a modern take on tapas, with fish tacos and individual pizzas.

Baileys' Range: $, casual. Local beers and great burgers in a comfortable setting. 

Rooster: $, casual. A go-to spot for breakfast and brunch. It can get very busy on the weekends (and they don’t take reservations). 

5-10 Minutes from the Hotel  

Museums and Architectural Landmarks 

City Museum: admission: $20; W, Th, Sun., 10am–6pm; Fri. and Sat., 10am–10pm; this museum is a one-of-a-kind place – a hundred-year-old warehouse in downtown St. Louis in which artists have repurposed the pieces of the old city to build miles of tunnels, slides, bridges, and castles. While the children running through the museum can sometimes try one’s patience, it’s worth putting up with them to experience the wild, otherworldly vision of its founder. 

Campbell House Museum: admission: $10; W-Sat., 10am–4pm; Sun., 12–4pm; step back to the 1850s in this small historic home museum. The first house built in the elegant Lucas Place neighborhood, the Campbell House was the home of fur trader and entrepreneur Robert Campbell and his family from 1854 until 1938.  

Pulitzer Arts Foundation: free admission; Th., Sat., Sun., 10am–5pm; Friday, 10am–8pm; a small jewel of a museum that presents contemporary and historic art in dialogue with its celebrated Tadao Ando building. In the evening of March 10, artist Faye HeavyShield, a member of the Kainai (Blood) Nation, part of the Blackfoot Confederacy, will present a lecture to open an exhibition of her work

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis: free admission; Th., Sat., Sun., 10am–5pm; Friday, 10am–8pm; shares a courtyard with the Pulitzer 

Restaurants 

Bulrush: Midtown, $$$$. One of St. Louis’ most distinctive restaurants offers a multi-course tasting. The food and drink menus are rooted in early 19th-century Ozark cuisine, derived from research into the foodways of indigenous peoples (particularly the Osage Nation), enslaved residents, and Euro-Appalachian immigrants to Missouri. Reservations required. 

City Foundry STL’s Food Hall: Midtown, $. Located in a former machine shop, the city’s first food hall hosts 20 restaurant kitchens.  

Small Batch: Midtown, $$$. A vegetarian menu is paired with an extensive spirits menu inside a former Ford Model T showroom. House-made pastas and smoked brie stand up well to 60-plus whiskeys, served neat or mixed with bitters, tonics, and tinctures. 

Crown Candy Kitchen: North St. Louis, $; open for lunch only, M–Sat. Open since 1913, Crown Candy Kitchen is St. Louis’s oldest soda fountain, serving huge sandwiches as well as delicious desserts and homemade candy. 

Polite Society: Lafayette Square, $$$. Lovely, warm neighborhood restaurant in the heart of Lafayette Square, an area that dates to the 1860s; reservations recommended 

Planter’s House: Lafayette Square, $$. The most interesting cocktails around, along with comfort food. 

Station 3 Gastropub: Cherokee Street, $$. Casual, cozy vegan restaurant, with pub favorites. Cherokee Street also offers many other restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries, and more. 

The Lucky Accomplice: Fox Park, $$$. Unusual, delicious small plates; reservations recommended 

Little Fox: Fox Park, $$$. Warm, modest, and cozy neighborhood restaurant with seasonal and broadly Italian fare (it doesn’t hurt, too, that its chef was a 2022 James Beard Award semifinalist). Reservations recommended 

Tree House: South Grand, $$. Strictly a vegan and vegetarian restaurant, with an extensive and inventive menu designed to be accommodating of a wide range of allergies and sensitivities.  

Terror Tacos: South Grand, $. A one-of-a-kind vegan restaurant, designed to “conjure up the dark side of plant-based cuisine and branding.” 

Olio: Botanical Heights, $$. Located in a converted 1930s gas station, with a great patio. Mostly small plates, Mediterranean/Israeli cuisine. 

Nixta: Botanical Heights, $$. Owned by the same chef/group as Olio, with the same relaxed, unpretentious approach to food – but Mexican.  

15-20 Minutes from the Hotel  

Museums and Architectural Landmarks 

Saint Louis Art Museum: free admission to permanent collection (special exhibitions are ticketed); W, Th., Sat., Sun., 10–5; Friday, 10am–9pm; St. Louis’s largest art museum, with a global collection of 37,000 works of art spanning six continents and sixty centuries. The Museum has a small but strong 18th-century collection; a map of these highlights will be posted on the ASECS website in February 2023. Amy Torbert, SLAM’s assistant curator of American art and an ASECS member, would also be delighted to help arrange viewing of any works that are not currently on view; feel free to write her, at least three weeks in advance, at amy.torbert@slam.org to inquire about how your interests might intersect with the collection (much of which is not yet available through the online database). 

Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, at Washington University in St. Louis: free admission; W–Sun., 11 am–5 pm; small but strong museum located on the campus of Washington University. 

Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis: free admission; open daily, 7am–5pm; this large church is itself a work of art, with nearly all available surfaces on its walls and ceilings covered with mosaics designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and others – reportedly one of the largest such installations worldwide. 

Restaurants 

Vicia: Central West End, $$$$. If eating at one of the city’s most highly acclaimed restaurant (James Beard Award finalist, etc, etc) is your thing, one would be remiss not to mention Vicia. Reservations required. 

Louie: Demun/Clayton, $$$. Warm neighborhood restaurant with an Italian menu. A fiery pizza oven, comfy bar, and cozy seating combine to make Louie a classic bistro. Reservations are a must. 

Seedz: Demun/Clayton, $. Casual atmosphere with a 100% plant-based, vegan menu. Open for dinner on Friday and Saturday. 

Farther afield 

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (Monks Mound Trail, Collinsville, IL 62234): Between c.700 and 1350, the Mississippian peoples built a complex urban center that came to be known as Cahokia, located in a fertile floodplain in present-day Illinois. Cahokia reached an estimated peak population of 10,000–20,000 inhabitants, the largest cosmopolitan center in North America. Today, many earthworks still stand on the site, including Monks Mound, the largest human-made mound on the North American continent.  

The site is located about 15 minutes east of the hotel by car or Uber (NB: the State Historic Site is in Collinsville, IL, and should not be confused with Cahokia, IL, which is a different place altogether). A visit consists of a self-guided walk around 70 extant mounds. Begin by parking in the lot adjacent to Monks Mound and climbing up its staircase to take in the view from its top, looking back at downtown St. Louis. Then cross Collinsville Road and follow the paved paths that wind among the other mounds on the site. The interpretative center is closed for renovations (though it doesn’t have significant collections of artifacts or objects to begin with; those are held in Springfield, IL, by the Illinois State Archaeological Survey).

Ste. Geneviève, Missouri: Located about 60 miles south of St. Louis, Ste. Geneviève was the first permanent European settlement in Missouri. The town holds the greatest number of surviving 18th-century buildings in the region. Some have been designated as a National Park; others are maintained by the Centre for French Colonial Life.  

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