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The Top 100 Reasons to Come to DRSWCVI!

Suggested by Diane Nanney  ♦  After crossing the Clark (aka, Super) Bridge from Alton, Illinois, and touring the Great River Road, a stop at Fast Eddie's Bon-Air is a must to complete the visit to Illinois. The legend of Fast Eddie's is as colorful as the folks you will meet inside... In 1921, Anheuser Busch decided to open a drinking establishment in the picturesque river town of Alton, Illinois. A yellow brick building known as Bon-Air was constructed right on the corner of three streets: 4th, Pearl, and Broadway. Approximately ten years later, Busch had to sell the tavern due to a change in the statutes which prohibited breweries from owning drinking establishments. Sam Balaco, and later his son, opened and operated the Bon-Air for fifty years. then in 1981, in a move that would change history forever, Eddie Sholar (alias Fast Eddie) purchased Bon-Air and things began to change fast! In the more than fourteen years that Fast Eddie has owned Bon-Air, it has quadrupled in size. Despite this on the weekends, standing room becomes a premium commodity. There are quite a few things that make Fast Eddie's a draw for the area. One being the inexpensive menu. While visiting Bon-Air, one can sample peel and eat shrimp, half-pound burgers, homemade bratwurst, pork kabobs, chick on a stick, and fries. Prices range from $.25 to $1.99. Oh yes, the beer, lots of beer flows at Eddies! Rumor has it that over 4,000 barrels of beer and thousands of cases of can, bottles and liquor have quenched the thirst of the masses. The final thing that makes Fast Eddie's an enjoyable stop is the people. Patrons are as varied in age as they are in profession. Older and youngish mingle together in the eclectic mixture of furnishings that don Bon-Air. Everyone is always friendly and willing to let you pull up a chair to any free table space that happens to pop up. People come from the Missouri and Illinois to visit the notable Bon-Air. Bankers to bus drivers, prison guards to pig farmers, flock to enjoy the festive atmosphere. A must do on any trip to St. Louis. As one person is known to state, "We meet the most interesting people there!" ...and some of them might just be dead. :-)

Suggested by Joan Cook  ♦  The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is the second oldest symphony orchestra in the United States (the New York Philharmonic is the oldest). Powell Hall was bought for the orchestra when they got tired of sharing space with the hockey team: a curtain separated the auditorium from the hockey rink, and when both the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Blues were playing, you could hear them both. Powell had begun its existence in the 1920s as a vaudeville theater in Midtown and had been turned into a movie theater. But as the shopping-mall multiplexes became more popular, business dropped off and the owner put the hall up for sale. Only a few structural changes had to be made - for example, to improve the acoustics. The renovators also had the radical idea of installing lockers instead of a coat-check room so people wouldn't have to wait in line for their coats. Now the orchestra's only audible competition comes from the coughing in the audience. :-) Hans Vonk has been the orchestra's music director since last season; before then, Leonard Slatkin ran the show. Slatkin's now at the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., although he comes back to conduct a couple of concerts every year. Vonk grew up in a musical family in Amsterdam and was music director of the Dresden Staatskapelle and the Cologne Radio Symphony before he came here. The two conductors are quite different: Vonk wants to try to play the music the way the composer intended; Slatkin is constantly editing and revising. Slatkin is a great proponent of American music and new music; Vonk loves opera and Viennese classical music. In fact, Vonk's five-year plan revolves around music from Vienna: music by composers native to Vienna (Schubert, Schoenberg), music by composers who lived in Vienna (Beethoven, Bruckner, Mahler), music by composers who changed trains at the Vienna Westbahnhof... Unfortunately, the regular season ends the week before DRSWC6, and the summer season doesn't start until June. But you can hear the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra every week on NPR (check your local listings), and you can hear them play in their many recordings under Leonard Slatkin. They're now recording live under Hans Vonk. The first recording includes a performance of Beethoven's eighth symphony; we were at the performance where they recorded this, and it was pretty great.

Suggested by Joan Cook  ♦  Yes, Missouri has a wine-producing area - in two separate towns - west of St. Louis. Most of the vineyards are located either in Hermann (south of the Missouri and farther from St. Louis) or in Augusta (north of the Missouri and closer to St. Louis). They all have tasting rooms and offer tours of the facilities. You can buy wine by the bottle or by the case to take home. They can also ship your purchases for you, as long as the State you're shipping to allows it. One of the tastiest wines produced here is made from a native grape. I realize that sounds suspicious: oenophiles know that really good wine comes from vines native to France, and wine from vines native to other areas tends to be nasty, but in Missouri we have an exception. North of the Missouri river, this native grape is called Cynthiana; south of the river it's called Norton. It makes a dry red wine that tastes a little like a merlot, but the taste is unique and quite delicious. You can drive to Augusta in 20 to 30 minutes and to Hermann in 45 minutes to an hour. Most wineries are open every day from 10:00 to 5:00. Many also serve food in the Heuriger style: you buy your wine (by the glass or by the bottle) and then you take it to a table in the restaurant (outdoors in fine weather) and order a meal.

Suggested by Adrienne Forsythe  ♦  A night so black no light escapes... Humidity so high breathing is one breath at a time... Beads of sweat chase each other rapidly down your back... Silence broken only by the occasional croak of a bullfrog hiding in the rush and the circadia. It will be 110 °F tomorrow... A satin ribbon rushing silently by under a star spangled sky... A single sound, deep and very low... Rises and falls, hanging on the still night air... "Ole' man river"... Plaintive... A cappella... "That ole' man river"... A lifetime heard through the song of an elderly former slave... The notes float out, teasing the riverbank and crash headlong into the tinny soprano of a Dixieland band floating midstream... Lights blazing, reflecting off the dark river and shattering into a thousand points... The silence awash in gay laughter... Foam splashing from the stern wheeler's paddle... this night is forever disturbed. The "mighty Mississipi" has long been a highway for travelers. By the end of the Civil War, fur traders and riverboat gamblers had yielded to the pleasure cruises, lazy evenings aboard elegant stern wheelers, gentle people in their Sunday finest, a luxurious alternative to the usually primitive travelling conditions over land. The Natchez Queen is the sole remaining boat that cruises between the head waters of the Mississippi river around St. Paul, Minnesota to the river's end in New Orleans. If you time it right, you can board the Queen as she makes her stop in St. Louis. If your sense of timing is off and you miss the Natchez Queen, the paddle wheelers Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher ply the river for short cruises several times each day during the summer. Be a part of the history that has floated by the city.

Suggested by Adrienne Forsythe  ♦  Gambling is an activity for the ages. Think: artifacts found in an ancient Egyptian's tomb included inlaid ebony, ivory and marble in wooden gaming tables perfectly preserved; "The oldest established, permanent floating crap game in New York" - Nicely Nicely Johnson, "Guys and Dolls"; clubs in all the capitals in Europe - participants dressed in evening clothes bedecked with dazzling jewels and sipping champagne amid the hum of activity around each baize covered table; salons in all the transatlantic ships (Omar Sharif, "Funny Girl"); Bingo!!! - just about everywhere; the March Madness lottery at your office. Gambling events all. Gambling was originally restricted to the upper echelons of society - and to the dregs of that same society. Depending upon individual perspective, gambling was either good fun and the place to be or heinous sin. Gambling has always been a way to make a buck. Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada were among the first recognized and legalized cities where gambling was an overt operation. While this was largely controlled by organized crime at many times, it also catered to anyone with money to spend. I even had an uncle who was a croupier in Reno! Atlantic City jumped on the legalized gambling bandwagon and the Trump empire surely followed. Some native American Indian tribes have very profitable gambling establishments on their reservations. Gambling as always been a way to make a buck. About a decade or so ago, the ever practical State of Illinois recognized the tremendous potential presented by the gambling industry as an additional source of revenue for the State. Legislation legalizing gambling on riverboats made it past all the objections and into law. The first few boats were opened in Rockford, Illinois. Peoria followed. Soon, the Alton Belle appeared on the Illinois side of the Mississippi in the metropolitan St. Louis area. The State of Missouri, exhibiting its usual day late/dollar short mentality, steadfastly ignored the public requests and steadfastly refused to legalize riverboat gambling. Missouri is not in the Bible Belt for nothing! Untold thousands of Missouri dollars found their way to Illinois (guilty here - I won $152 on a $20 "investment" the only time I was ever on one of these boats). The people eventually prevailed upon the Missouri legislature. The are a number of gambling boats in the St. Louis area. The Casino Queen has "more winners than MetroLink has proposals" (hilariously funny if one stays abreast of the continuing light rail expansion proposals in the local area). The Station Casino has been voted the "best" by more than a few reader-generated polls locally. Harrah's and Player's Island are newer but also well known. Roulette, keno, blackjack, slots, craps - gambling has been raised to an alternate form of entertainment by the proliferation of gambling boats. They operate about 20 hours each day and are more than willing to try to separate anyone and everyone from their money whenever possible. Some of these boats are "boats in moats" - boats amid little islands of water fed by the river, but not actually floating "on" the river. These are currently being challenged in the Missouri court system as being in violation of the law permitting gambling on boats "on" the river. Stay tuned... So - is today your lucky day? Feel good about a roll of the dice or a deal from the shoe? Think those "one armed bandits" (slot machines) are friendly today? Lady luck may be just around the corner for you.

Suggested by MarkO  ♦  Engineer and businessman, James Buchanan Eads had a significant impact on Gilded Age St. Louis. Eads left school at the age of thirteen to work on Mississippi river steamboats. When he turned 22 he organized a company to salvage wrecked river vessels. Buchanan was a true student, and a genius of hydraulics and mechanics. While trying to work in the glass - manufacturing business, Eads suffered a large financial loss. During the Civil War, Eads designed gunboats for the Union. After the Civil War ended, Eads started building an enormous bridge that would link St. Louis to East St. Louis, over the Mississippi river. Begun in 1867 and completed in 1874, the Eads Bridge was named after its designer, James Buchanan Eads. It was the first bridge to span the Mississippi at St. Louis, the first bridge to make significant of steel, and one of the first bridges in the U.S. to make use of pneumatic caissons (the caissons sunk for the bridge are still among the deepest ever). It was also the first bridge to be built entirely using cantilever construction methods, avoiding the need for falsework, and the first bridge designed so that any part could be removed for repair or replacement. The bridge is now a National Historic Landmark. Over 100 people died building the Eads Bridge. The Eads Bridge is quite the sight when it is lit up at night with lights spanning the width of the river. Besides car traffic, it also handles the MetroLink (earlier Reason) and foot traffic. So when/if driving into St. Louis from Illinois, take the Eads Bridge and drive on a piece of history. (When I was 3, I met the great grandson of James Eads. It seems I had put my arm through a glass door severing a few tendons and an artery, and the great grandson of Eads was/is a skilled surgeon. 'Cause of this man, I am not only alive today, but I am able to type this message using both hands.)

Suggested by MarkO  ♦  With the old Lemp Brewery (mentioned in previous Reason) on one end, and Jefferson on the other, Antique Row runs for several blocks along Cherokee Street. Once a thriving shopping district at the turn of the century, shoppers once hopped aboard streetcars to reach the bakeries, butchers, hardware stores, drug stores, shoe stores, doctors, dentists and midwives located in the district. Now the street is lined with 55 antique stores - everything from lighting fixtures, to toys, to books, to knick-knacks, to junk (though most shop owners will refer to those items as "collectables"). All of the stores are privately owned, and many of the owners live in the apartments above their stores. It is quite common to see a family pet wandering the stores. During Christmas time, there is a cookie walk, and all the stores set out trays of cookies, candy, cider... so you can carbo-load while perusing the selections. So when in St. Louis, if you wish to take a little walk, through a quaint neighborhood filled with history, and maybe pick up that Laverne & Shirley board game that you just had to have as a kid but never did, then take a walk along Cherokee. (For those who have run the St. Louis marathon, you have run down Antique Row, but being that it's somewhere in the last few miles, you may have not noticed/cared at the time.)

Suggested by Tracey G.  ♦  A trip back in time to the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, better known as the 1904 World's Fair. If you have a few minutes of free time during the weekend, wander into Forest Park and stand beneath the bronze Statue of St. Louis (honoring Louis IX of France), in front of the Art Museum. Now, close your eyes... take a deep breath... imagine yourself drifting back in time, to 1904... Back then, St. Louis was the fourth largest city in the United States. Its central location on two great rivers made it the hub of both rail and river traffic. The idea of the fair was conceived as a 100-year celebration of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Unfortunately, the "Fair Fathers" dream of what the exhibition should be greatly outgrew the time available to make it happen (despite the first ground-breaking ceremony in December 1901) and instead of opening the fair in 1903, they held a "Dedication Ceremony." In hindsight, this proved to be fortunate indeed... for the well-attended dedication, including President Teddy Roosevelt, revealed many weaknesses in the planning process. The Fair Fathers had a full year to fix the shortcomings, including better transportation and more hotel space, before the fair officially opened on April 30, 1904. The scale of the fair would be astonishing even by today's standards. The budget was $15 million at a time when a shave cost a nickel, and a rare bath in a porcelain tub cost 15 cents. One generally entered the fair at the Plaza of St. Louis, greeted by a statue of St. Louis, at the time made of plaster and "staff," but today cast in bronze and standing at the top of Art Hill, in front of the Art Museum. The Plaza was the Fair's main avenue, and was 600 feet wide. There were four "palaces" on either side of the Plaza - Mines and Metallurgy, Education and Social Economy, Liberal Arts, and Manufactures to the left; Electricity, Machinery, Varied Industries, and Transportation to the right. These palaces were just that... huge. The Palace of Varied Industries covered 14 acres; the Palace of Education and Social Ecology housed schools of every kind (from kindergarten to the highest university levels; agricultural, commercial, and polytechnical schools; as well as special schools for the deaf, mute and blind). To help get an idea of the size of the palaces, consider that it took an average of 18 trains of 40 cars each (or 720 box cars) to carry the materials - wood, plaster, sand, fiber, glass, nails and paint - to build just one palace. Festival Hall was the main focus of the fair, the center point from which the main Plaza, and two others, radiated. It stood immediately in front of the Palace of Fine Arts (now the Art Museum, one of the few remaining structures from the fair), and had a beautiful, cascading waterfall down a series of steps into the Grand Basin. (The pond at the bottom of Art Hill is a remnant of that vast lagoon.) It was lit with hundreds of lights at night, and was an awesome sight. All told, the fair covered 1,240 acres in and around present-day Forest Park, still one of the largest acreages of any World's Fair. In addition to the Palaces and Plazas, was the Pike. The Pike was the "entertainment" plaza of the Fair. It had concession buildings, architecture, and scenery from around the world, from Japan to the Tyrolean Alps, from Siberia to the Cliff Dwellers. There was a sculpture of Teddy Roosevelt made of butter, and a bear made of prunes. The Irish Theater, Hagenbeck's Circus, ice-skating in mid-summer... the wonders never ceased. A curious thing about the Fair was its exhibits of people. There were several tribes that were moved from their native homes, lock, stock and barrel, into environments built to look like their homelands. There were more than 50 tribes represented, entire villages, including the Igorots (headhunters from the Phillippines), the Samal Moros (who lived in stilt houses), and American Indians in tepees. Many of the tribes were dependent on water, and the Fair Fathers had a huge lake built, Lake Arrowhead. (It was on what is now Wydown Avenue, roughly where Wydown School is today; the football team is still called the Igorots.) The Fair was only open for seven months, from April 30 to December 1, 1904. Then, in six months, workers dismantled and demolished what took three years to build. The fair buildings were never meant to last forever - they were plywood, covered with a plaster-like substance called staff, that was cheap but highly durable for short-term use. In the end, only a few things remained - the Art Museum, the Bird House (now part of the St. Louis Zoo), and many lagoons and channels still in Forest Park today. But you can still stand at the top of Art Hill, close your eyes, and imagine what it had been like, 94 years ago, when hundreds of thousands of people came to St. Louis for the Fair. They all came here... You should, too. ;-)

Suggested by Tracey G.  ♦  The ice cream cone, hot dog, and iced tea were introduced to the world at the 1904 World's Fair. Make sure you visit Ted Drewe's (earlier Reason!) for some frozen custard, and enjoy the picnic (most likely to include hot dogs and iced tea) at the Laumeier Sculpture Park. The third World Olympics were held in St. Louis in conjunction with the Fair. (See the previous marathon Reason!) The first Olympics was held in Athens; the second, in Paris. On Sunday morning, you'll be able to run on the track in your own personal quest for glory. ;-) The mystery of the missing Ferris Wheel axle. Think you've got the knack to wield a diving rod? One that looks for metal? Try your luck in Forest Park. When the Fair closed, the Ferris Wheel, all 264 feet of it, weighing 4200 tons, carrying 36 cars that each seated 60 people for a total capacity of 2,160 people, was dynamited. It all came crashing down, and somewhere, under the paths or fairways or trees of Forest Park, the axle remains. In fact, there are three secret "dumping" grounds in the Park. They contain all sorts of Fair trash and memorabilia, but no one is willing to divulge the locations, for fear of looters. The aisles in all the eight main palaces totaled 142 miles... quite the ultra distance. ;-) In the center of the Palace of Mines and Metallurgy stood a huge statue of Vulcan, sent by Alabama. Made of iron, the statue was 56 feet high and weighted 100,000 pounds. After the Fair, the statue was moved back to Alabama on seven freight cars. Today, it overlooks the city of Birmingham from Red Mountain. In Vulcan's hand is a huge light, which at one time glowed for 24 hours after each fatal accident... and may still do so, today. The Floral Clock, at 112 feet in diameter, it was huge. The hands were moved by compressed air, but it was all controlled by a delicate master clock, which was visible under glass. Close to the clock was a terrestrial globe that revolved once every 24 hours, on which you could read the time of day at any place on Earth. Total attendance at the fair was 19,695,855. (Turnstiles at the entrance accurately recorded the attendance, daily! Who needs a chip on a shoelace, anyway?) Average daily attendance was 100,000 people. Now, that's a party. The official Fair flag consisted of a fleur-de-lis (more on that, later) surrounded by 14 stars on a field of blue, with three strips (red, white and yellow) of equal width going to the right.

Suggested by Diane Nanney  ♦  Each spring the upper parking lot at the Muny Opera in Forest Park is a circus, literally, Circus Flora comes to town and sets up the big top in Forest Park. This is nothing like the three-ring Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Circus Flora is a small classic Victorian one-ring interactive circus that boasts ring-side seats for virtually everyone, audience participation, and a tale masterfully interwoven into the array of performances that keep the entire audience staring wide-eyed. The performers are of all ages from toddler on up. The Flying Wallendas (quite possibly the most well known of Circus Flora's performers), tumblers, jugglers, elephants, horses, goats, clowns, mimes, stunt riders, and other performers from times past. There is definitely some truth to the phrase, "Bigger is not necessarily better." The performance begins with the preface to the tale of the evening. Then as the story unfolds, the action of the circus begins. The performers blend their craft into the story so that the entire performance becomes one story with many characters that often interact with the audience. There are also times during the performance where the participation of groups of children is necessary (a must for the little ones to be a part of). The children are obviously delighted to be in the circus and to be cheered by the crowd. As the story brought to a close, the performers all reappear for one last appearance in the finale, and once again intermingle with audience to thank them for coming. Circus Flora is definitely time well spent.

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