What attracts you to an area or place when it comes to spending your personal time in St. Louis? Are you more drawn to the mainstream activities/places in St. Louis such as professional sporting events, parades, charity runs, zoo, CWE, South Grand, East Loop? Or, do have more of a taste for the off the beaten path, only-the-locals-know type of spots?
I like both; yet in my opinion St. Louis is definitely an underground city. The places that make the tourist map or the regional radar are few and far between. The vast majority of suburbanites I talk to have no idea what's going on, or what is truly unique and defining to St. Louis. I'll use Cherokee street between Jefferson and Gravois as an example. I could also use Gravois between Holly Hills and Meramec as another example. But, I'll stick with Cherokee as my example for this post. These are both really cool places that are non pretentious, non tourist destinations; not a place where you'll even see lots of non-neighborhood people.
When I first moved to St. Louis in the early 90's, I wanted to go to the Record Exchange (and a few other unmentionable places) on Cherokee (that no longer exist). I remember parking near the antique row part of Cherokee by the Lemp Brewery. I recall walking toward Jefferson, then crossing Jefferson thinking I had walked into a whole other city. Jefferson was like a dividing line for the safe touristy confines vs. the true grit of the city. It was the first day/place I had witnessed open gunfire in my life. It made quite an impression on me. I don't remember being particularly scared, just on guard. I made a mental note of this part of the city.
However, things change. In this case for the better; but to what extent?
This particular stretch of Cherokee has indeed changed since the early 90s, and maybe too has my perspective on city life. It's a great street. Maybe one of my favorites in the city. It's a great mix of stores and people, it has a good feel. It's not as gentrified like South Grand/Tower Grove South. Yet, it's also not completely the opposite. It's somewhere in between. It's got a nice mix of bohemian, Latino, black and old school southside cultures. I like it a lot. It seems like a nice urban American melting pot right here in south STL. Cinco De Mayo was a blast this year!
I'm sure there is a balance, a tipping point where a neighborhood or street transitions from raw and gritty to a more established, gentrified, mainstream-friendly urban street. Cherokee seems to be nearing that median point between the underground and the mainstream. Several street improvements have been proposed. I hope they don't drop a Qdoba or Chipotle in the middle of that mofo! Moreover, I hope this street remains as cool as it is today, and that it can keep some urban grit to it.
I'm sure there are other parts of the city that are near the tipping point. Wash. Ave. in the late 80s/early 90s could have fit the bill; although I think most would agree it's almost completely gentrified today. What other parts of the city are undergoing this kind of transition?