A St. Louis Welcome
Discover the open-minded, LGBT-friendly side of St. Louis
By Josh Johnson The Kentucky Gent
Growing up in the Midwest, I found myself in St. Louis quite often. From trips to the iconic Gateway Arch to watching the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales at Grant’s Farm, there was always plenty to do when I was younger. Over the years, my tastes have obviously changed and St. Louis has grown right along with me.
In the last few years, my work has brought me back to St. Louis several times. And I find myself falling more and more in love with the city with every visit. While my job takes me many places, it doesn’t always bring me to a city that I find myself wanting to visit again for leisure.
Welcome to the city
As a member of the LGBT community, I’m hyperaware of my surroundings—especially on the road—and some cities make me feel more comfortable than others. St. Louis is one of those cities. Each and every restaurant, bar or shop I found myself wandering into was full of friendly faces, good vibes and wide-open arms. So much so that I found myself talking to shop owners for hours on end and hitting up two restaurants to reconnect with a bartender I met at lunch one day. Signs and rainbow flags flank most establishments proudly proclaiming everyone is welcome.
For someone who spends days, weeks and sometimes months on the road, seeing signs like that make me feel right at home. They mean that I’m able to enjoy myself—whether for work or leisure—fully and completely. I was even more thankful for them on this trip, as every single meal I had the pleasure of eating made both my heart and belly happy.
That feeling carried over throughout my entire time in St. Louis. From the incredibly welcoming folks at the Four Seasons, to each face that welcomed me into their charming corners of this one-of-a-kind town. I spent most of my days exploring neighborhoods like The Grove, wandering up and down the streets, and making my way through every open door that piqued my interest. It’s not often that I feel comfortable enough to do that. But there’s something special about the people who call St. Louis home and the community that they’re helping to foster.
The list of restaurants I wanted to visit while in town was practically a mile long. Before I hit the road, I spent hours scouring Instagram and running Google searches to find the best of the best. I’m happy to report: I found a lot of them. Including at least a dozen near the fun and funky South Grand Boulevard neighborhood.
I’ll preface these all by saying that if you’re looking for the best restaurants to take photos for Instagram, then you’re in the right place. Sorry/not sorry, but I almost exclusively pick restaurants on trips based on what their tagged photos look like. Lucky for y’all—and myself—all of the food I had tastes even better than it looks.
There was not a meal in St. Louis that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, but it’s safe to say that a few stood out above the rest. Olio had the best hummus I’ve ever had the privilege of enjoying. Somehow, I ended up spending more than $100 by myself at Nixta because the food is just that good—and I wasn’t even mad about it. When I tell you that you really, really need Nixta’s white chocolate mole in your life, I’m not exaggerating at all. Grace Meat + Three is the kind of neighborhood spot that you could find me bellying up to weekly if I lived in St. Louis.
Sure, we all know the staples in St. Louis, such as the Saint Louis Zoo and Gateway Arch, but what about the locals? What do they do on the weekends? Where do they find themselves on a sunny afternoon? Those are the kind of spots that I’m always on the hunt for—and exactly what I found on this trip to St. Louis.
From my youngest years, I can remember planting a garden with my mom, dad and grandma. Which is probably the reason why, to this day, I have a somewhat weird obsession with plants—even have the #PlantDaddy shirt to prove it. So it’s no surprise that the first place I found myself visiting was the Missouri Botanical Garden.
It’s no exaggeration that I could’ve spent hours walking through the garden and seeing all the different exhibits. It’s a massive spread of land that is home to every kind of plant that you can imagine and even some you couldn’t. It’s truly a must-visit spot, and it makes me even more excited for ours to open in Louisville.
I oftentimes find myself drawn to neighborhoods that remind me of my stomping grounds back home—and for good reason. They’re usually the spots with a thriving and growing community full of folks like me. Without realizing it, I found myself sticking primarily to the Tower Grove area, which also happens to be home to one of STL’s gayborhoods and vibrant nightlife. And walkable neighborhoods such as Tower Grove make exploring so much easier. After grabbing lunch at Olio on my first day in town, I found myself walking down the strip and into shops including Union Studio, where everything is made by artists in the St. Louis region.
Enjoy it all
I left St. Louis this time with a newfound appreciation for the city. The city is working day in and day out to foster the kind of growth that makes it a welcoming and accepting home for those from all walks of life. It’s safe to say that I’ll be back—sooner rather than later—because I still have a few miles left of restaurants and bars that I need to try.