Every neighborhood needs a place. One that is a representation or embodiment of the neighborhood itself. When I think about Fox Park, our neighborhood of the last seven or so years, I think we have just such a place.
First, a little about Fox Park the neighborhood and why we've enjoyed living here.
Fox Park is unbeatable for location, architecture and has a great mix of people. But we're still evolving as a place. Meaning, we need more decent people and places that pull the curtain back on why we think this is one of the better places to live in St. Louis.
Living here seems like a fair representation of what true St. Louis living is like.
Again, it is nearly unbeatable. You can get anywhere in St. Louis in 10 or 15 minutes depending on time of day. Further, I go to Illinois a lot. I go to the many cities in the suburbs west and south of St. Louis even more. I have to. Someday my life may be more centered on the places I love, but for now, I'm running around all the time.
But, I can get to those further reaching places via easy access to I-44, I-55, I-64 and I-70 just as conveniently.
All the shopping and day to day stuff you need to raise a family is close. And, you can follow your Bohemian/St. Louis-centric pursuits close to here as well.
I've met some of the kindest souls, most level-headed urbanists and genuine city lovers in this exact place. People seem to be less idealistic here and more real. A good mix of newcomers and people who've been here for years.
Some folks we've met here have become friends, some merely acquaintances, some neighbors. It's a rapidly evolving place, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. It'll keep you on your toes. But we're happy with this spot in the city and if you are looking for the realest of real slices of life in modern day St. Louis, I recommend Fox Park and McKinley Heights as some of the best neighborhoods around here.
When you think about a city that is made up of ~311,000 people, mainly split 50/50 white and black (I'm not discounting the very real presence that Hispanic/Latino and Asian people bring to this city, or the positive contributions new white and black immigrants from Eastern Europe and Africa continue to bring), it's good to live in a neighborhood that is somewhat integrated and close to the overall demographics of the entire city. The 2010 Census data had Fox Park at 61% black, 32% white, 5% Hispanic/Latino (source). Fox Park is balanced, and will likely continue to be, for the foreseeable future.
There's enough opinion there for another blog post for sure.
This is a varied place. Some of renowned architect and designer of some of our most beautiful schools, William B. Ittner's first brickwork was completed here (source). The potential for industrial, warehouse and residential originally intended for the wealthy and workers (living together) is on your doorstep. The mix of multi-family, single family and larger buildings from a time when people worked here is still there for creative reuse. This neighborhood is built for varied use, an urban planner's dream.
A five minute walk and you are in the swanky Lafayette Square and Compton Heights neighborhoods. Cross Gravois to Benton Park and Benton Park West and you get you are in a whole other world, similar in style, but unique. The Gate District just to the north is an evolving experiment in what the future can hold for a city that so many have left, with new comers who want to see what they can do with either a blank or tarnished canvas of neglect.
Neighborhoods like McKinley Heights and Fox Park are vastly underrated for the brick building stock. It's less planned and more a display of what was an explosion of needs and form and function from a time when St. Louis was on the forefront of the Industrial Era.
This place needs a place
Sure, we're happy here; but, an honest assessment of how we ended up here reveals that this neighborhood wasn't necessarily our first choice seven years ago when we sold our home in Boulevard Heights, but the house was. It was kind of a mixture of desperation and kismet.
I'd be lying if I didn't say we had to learn how to live here. We had to learn compromise and slow steps toward decent living. We had to learn how to calibrate communication and relationships with neighbors toward a common understanding. So many suburban slum lords and tenants can make St. Louis a tough place to live.
We're better people, parents and citizens as a result of our ending up here and staying here though. We've been challenged for sure, but cutting bait to the burbs was never an option for us.
Last year we lived through a storm that tore off the last third of our roof during the rainiest season we've seen in a long time. Our house was pretty much destroyed. We had to live in a hotel at Jefferson and I-64 for 99 days with half of our house being completely stripped and rebuilt.
More than the house, we lost our neighborhood for an entire summer. When you're thrown curve balls as a parent you have other people at top of mind, you bury your selfish needs. But in retrospect, this time away from our chosen place hurt. We lost a year of gardening and raising kids in our house. We lost our sense of place for awhile and learned that we need our neighborhood more than we knew for our happiness and souls.
We missed this place.
But, I'd be lying if I didn't state that this part of the city needs more places. Places of business that are open. Places where you can go and simply be and do the bare essentials: eat, drink, shop...assemble in harmony with people who live here and share the experiences of the here and now.
This place needs more places that feed you the bread when you're hungry and the bourbon when you're dry. Simple places. Real places.
One such place that Fox Park has is a business, a neighborhood establishment, a goddamn joy to behold.
That place is Lona's Lil Eats at the corner of California and Accomac.
I'm going to share a few things about this place because it is, well exactly such a place. A place that I cherish for solitude, comfort and food that is like no other I've experienced in St. Louis or other cities or other parts of the world my job has taken me to.
And, it's three doors down from us.
My intent is not to promote this place or make a sales pitch or endorsement or to get all Ian Froeb up in here, it's beyond that (I love that local writer by the way...I think he might just live in St. Louis vs the burbs...but I don't know for sure).
Good food is down there at Lona's, and I don't mean good like a Starbucks coffee or a big ass hamburger good, I mean world-class good, healthy-leaning, fresh food.
Whenever we visit other cities, we are looking for places that are exactly like Lona's. Sometimes you find them, sometime you don't and sometimes you just weren't lucky/connected enough to have the right joints on your radar.
We have indeed found such places in Kansas City and Chicago, two cities close to our hearts. But Lona's is right next door and has become such an asset to our home and family that we are just so thankful to have them right here.
A place if there ever was one.
Simple, tasteful ambiance, food, smoked meat aromas wafting through the gangways and alleys, unforced acquaintance with ownership and staff...overall, and most: kindness and neighborly-ness is what makes this place a place.
When a particular soup is so part of your cold-fighting, comfort-needing regimen...you know it's more than just a restaurant.
Hill Tribe Soup is the menu item I'm referring to, with spicy tofu...the respectful employee always asking "you know it's not vegetarian right?" Yes sir, I do, and that's alright for this omnivore.
When my pre-teen and teenage kids walk home from school and have a place to spend their allowance on a Breeze, Illinois-based soda or a hot plate of dumplings and are welcomed by first name by themselves with no adult supervision, you know you have trust and kindness.
When the owners are raising a family in the same neighborhood and raising ingredients and tending to a bed in our community garden to supplement their offerings, you know things are right and real.
If we are together we are stronger. We, meaning business owners, residents and citizens...then and only then do you have community.
Very few places meet my ideals/desires on this kind of level.
Fox Park is blessed to have such a place. A place that makes us proud! And not in the annoying ways that pride can bring, in the way it does your heart good to be proud.
I can go to this place often (or not) and not have to say a goddamn word...it is known we're welcome.
You are respected here, they are respected here, we are respected here.
If every neighborhood in St. Louis had this kind, soulful and unassuming kind of place, we'd be a city like no other. And we don't even need places (plural), if we just had just 79 places in each neighborhood, we'd be more whole. Maybe we do and these places exist, but I can't find them or an not privy to them, in all neighborhoods.
I know what this place has brought to my neighborhood and I'm grateful to share this part of our lives and this time in St. Louis together.
I haven't popped a zinc tablet or Airborne Beta-immune seltzer, or had to get amoxicillin in awhile. It's hill tribe soup that brings my body and spirits up to the challenge of fighting the changing temps and cold seasons. And if a meal can bring non-scientifically-backed health benefits, count me in on the vibes.
Comfort. Kindness. Realness.
A true neighborhood place.