St. Louis Neighborhood Spotlight: Delmar Loop

Tuesday December 5, 2017

Located just minutes from downtown, this exhilarating six blocks of adventure got its name more than a century ago from the streetcars that came west and  “looped around” before connecting elsewhere. And speaking of trolleys, opening in 2018, is a vintage Delmar Loop trolley that will take riders on a 2.2-mile ride from one end of the district to the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park, with 10 stops in between.

From downtown, take the MetroLink to the Delmar Loop Station, or drive and park along the street, in one of several lots, or in the parking garage. The Loop is also within walking distance to Forest Park. For more information, please visit www.visittheloop.com.

The Loop has been recognized nationally for every one of its offerings: the actual street, its food, music, neon signs, and even its 3,000-pound moon. Yes, a moon, but more on this later. The Loop was one of the first streets to be recognized by the American Planning Association as  “One of the 10 Great Streets in America (2007),” the inaugural year of the award. And that was before the influx of some pretty cool Loop additions including the Moonrise Hotel, Pin-Up Bowl, the Delmar Hall concert venue, and some other one-of-kind establishments. It’s now home to 140 specialty shops, 60 multi-national restaurants, 10 galleries, 40 boutiques/gift shops, and 12 entertainment venues. And guess what? In 2017, The Loop was selected for the “Best Cool Street” (Thrillist).

 

When it comes to The Loop, one must think beyond quirky unthinkable — for example, the annual three-day Ice Carnival Festival (January) features a Frozen Bun 5- and 10-K run, 10,000 one-dollar coins — real and chocolate — in frozen ice cubes, human snowball races, chainsaw carving ice demonstrations, including ice sculptures, a Ferris Wheel, the world’s largest portable zip line ride, a temporary tattoo scavenger hunt, and a putt-putt pub crawl. If you need directions, just be sure to ask one of the tour ambassadors, who are all dressed like penguins. Yes, for real.

Under Cover Weekend (August), one of St. Louis’ most coveted annual music events, allows area bands to assume the persona of a national band. Past performers have impersonated everyone from Chaka Kahn and Stevie Nicks to Third Eye Blind, Outkast, Death Cab for Cutie, and Erykah Badu. Get your cellphone flashlights ready for this hysterically fun festival. Additional offbeat weekly events include Trivia with Geeks Who Drink at Blueberry Hill, Stag Thursday at Pin-Up Bowl; and Saint Louis Story Stitchers, urban storytelling events that feature live hip hop and spoken word.

The Loop and music are inextricably tied together — one could say The Loop is the city’s best playlist. Voted the city’s best live music street in 2017, the area features three live performance spaces for up and coming, regular and national touring groups including the Blueberry Hill Duck room (340 capacity), Delmar Hall (800 capacity) and the Pageant Concert Hall (2000+ capacity).  Cape Cod-based band Highly Suspect, sold out all three places within months this year as it climbed the charts with its wildly popular rock tunes.

Perhaps the crown jewel anchoring the musicality of the street is the iconic Blueberry Hill restaurant and music venue, which opened its doors in1972. It’s a legendary venue with too-many-to-count awards for “Favorite fors….,” “Best Ofs,” and oft-written kudos for its pop culture collections — USA Today, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Zagat, and Southern Living Magazine have all weighed in, among many others. Walk by its nationally recognized outside corner window display that showcases off-the-wall humor with artsy installations titled “Rosemary’s Baby Shower,” “The Dentist” and “The Bachelor Pad of Paddy O’Furniture,” to name a few.

Cross the threshold into this hipster-rocker- rhythm-and-blues, and dart-throwing landmark — just to drink the fabulous oddball beers, munch on the city’s best hot dogs and burgers, gaze at the eye-popping wall-to-wall celebrity photos, or quiz one another on the pop culture keepsakes in the every-where-you-look display cases. The restaurant’s former tune-spinning Seeburg jukebox was recognized as the “Best Jukebox in the Country” by the BBC, Esquire Magazine and Billboard in the days before digital selections became the rage.

Come for the music, stay for the darts. Blueberry Hill’s National Dart Competition is the largest and oldest pub dart tournament in North America. In fact, top ranked player Brenda Roush can occasionally be seen here throwing a few. A former St. Louisan, she started in the restaurant’s Wednesday night dart tournament and eventually darted to the elite international rankings.

Prior to their fame, other local celebrities frequented the venue, including a young John Goodman, who played air guitar and jukebox tunes with his friends.

Same with Cornell Haynes. As a St. Louis kid from the Delmar neighborhood, he often needed a chair just to reach the controls on the vintage pinball machines. Now a photo of grown-up Nelly hangs on the wall not far from the pinball machine. It was taken one month before the young hip hop artist’s first album hit No. 1 in the world.

And speaking of the photo wall, just name a celebrity musician or actor and he or she is probably on it — Bob Dylan, Beyonce, Orlando Pace, T Bone Burnett, Kanye West, Frosty the Snowman, President Bill Clinton, Jon Hamm, Pharrell, Lorde and Taylor Swift; and, of course, Chuck Berry, legendary pioneer of rock and roll, who called Blueberry Hill home and performed on its stages more than 200 consecutive months up until his death in 2017.

The offbeat music-related and vintage pop culture paraphernalia showcased in more than 100 display cases throughout the venue is mind-boggling. Collections include everything from — you name it — Howdy Doody dolls, Wurlitzer jukeboxes, memorabilia and figurines from South Park, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Big Lebowski, Beavis & Butt-Head, Seinfeld, Hopalong Cassidy, 90210, Jimi Hendrix, the Family Guy, to name a few. There’s even a baseball bat that belonged to St. Louisan Cool Papa Bell.

Just a few doors down from Blueberry Hill, is the Tivoli Theatre, which opened in 1924 and became famous for its nightly sold-out midnight viewings of Tim Curry in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show, during the ’70 and ‘80s. Today, the interactive movie is shown two consecutive weekends every October, and Brad and Janet look-alikes can be seen traipsing through the lobby. The theater is also one of the home bases for the 48-Hour Film Project (June), the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase (July) and the St. Louis International Film Festival (November). Avant-garde, art-house movies show daily throughout the year. Make sure to arrive early to view the vintage movie posters that deck the walls.

Across the street and one block down, you’ll be over the moon when you enter the atrium of the Moonrise Hotel. Its rooftop bar features the world’s largest revolving man-made moon with painted craters, all 3,000 pounds of it. Measuring 10 feet in diameter, the moon can be viewed up close while sipping cocktails in the sprawling lounge, complete with chaise lounge chairs and couches. Make sure to check out the hotel lobby on your way down. Nine glass-paneled display cases hold a bevy of real moon treasures, including a patch taken to the moon by astronaut Neil Armstrong. Photos of every moonwalker are also on display.

Walk outside and start your three-billion mile Planet Walk Tour. A Sun plaque embedded in the sidewalk outside the hotel marks the beginning. Proceed west to begin your planetary tour of plaques from Mercury through Neptune. A few fun space facts appear next to each. When you get to Uranus, look up – and marvel at the larger than life “in-motion” eight-foot bronze sculpture of Chuck Berry. Balanced on the tip of one toe, Berry is poised to begin his famous Duck Walk strut, guitar in hand.

Another not-to-miss self-guided walking tour is the St. Louis Walk of Fame, which honors 150 — and still counting — St. Louisans with a brass star. Information about each celebrity notes their connection to St. Louis, as well as their global contribution. Some of the most notorious include Maya Angelou, Jack Buck, Miles Davis, Harry Caray, Scott Joplin, Masters & Johnson, Stan Musial,  Nelly, Harold Ramis, Ozzie Smith, Vincent Price, Ike and Tina Turner, Tennessee Williams, and Shelley Winters, to name a few.

Walk The Loop at dusk and take in the unique neon signs that light up the district: a vintage neon man and woman appear as if they’re bowling on the roof of Pin-Up Bowl – check out the world’s oldest bowling balls while you’re there, too; The Pageant and Tivoli’s vertical neon signs provide a warm glow to the street below; the fluttering neon feathers above the Peacock Loop Diner recently won top honors as “Best Neon Sign” in the world by Sign of the Times (2015).

Make sure to sample the global cuisine along the way – 46 multinational restaurants all within six blocks, and more than any other neighborhood in St. Louis. Filipino, Ethiopian and Lebanese eateries will soon add to the mix of other restaurants: four Mexican, two Indian, four Italian, one Japanese, two Korean, three Middle Eastern, one Syrian, five Thai, four Chinese, and one Vietnamese. That’s in addition to 13 American restaurants, in addition to barbecue, burger and brunch eateries. Another 11 serve coffee and desserts. And don’t forget Fitz’s lively root beer factory and restaurant. Watch the bottles go by as you eat. Or go to Vapor Exchange for a hookah experience.

The shopping is just as eclectic — anything from artisan gifts and boutique clothing to tobacco, tattoos and tarot readings. Vinyl records anyone? Stop by the 7,000-square-foot, independent record store, Vintage Vinyl, which sells everything from the most obscure to mainstream selections of artists from all genres.

DO. NOT. MISS. this one-stop immersive funk-experience that is the Delmar Loop.

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