By Trish Muyco-Tobin
Hailed as one of the greatest streets in America, Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis has been described as an “urban canyon” that withstood decades of decline to become one of the city’s most visited corridors. When the American Planning Association singled out Washington Avenue in 2011, it cited the district’s “impressive architecture and scale…(that) reflects the rich history of St. Louis—which it most certainly does.
Once the center of a thriving garment district—second only to New York—between the late 19th century and the end of World War II, Washington Avenue has reincarnated itself as the pulse of the city’s nightlife. For 15 blocks between the Eads Bridge and 18th Street, you’ll find grandiose structures such as the former Peters Shoe Company, Statler Hotel and Fashion Square buildings residing among the district’s tour de force, earning two stretches of Washington Avenue on the National Register of Historic Places. Nowadays, trendy eateries, swanky boutique stores and ultra-modern lofts co-mingle with law offices, museums and galleries, and even a movie theater.
A relative newcomer to the scene is the National Blues Museum, which set up shop at the old Stix, Baer & Fuller department store building at 6th Street and Washington in 2016. Establishing the museum in St. Louis honors the city’s place in the heart of the “Blues Belt” and its central role in blues history. After all, it’s been said that in 1914, W.C. Handy wrote “St. Louis Blues,” arguably the best-known song in the genre’s history, along the cobblestones of the St. Louis riverfront.
The museum covers a lot of ground throughout its 23,000 square feet of exhibit space: from the genre’s beginnings in the South in the late 1800s to present time. As musicians headed north in the early 20th century, St. Louis became a hub and a springboard for widening the music’s reach to other parts of the country. Among the artifacts, photographs and other memorabilia, there are some interactive exhibits that allow visitors to compose their own blues music and album—and even a recording of their creation that they can take home. There’s also a room where one can try their skill at time-honored blues instruments like the washboard, shaker and spoons.
Of course, the National Blues Museum has “standard” museum hours, but its after-hours lineup is drawing quite the crowd. Local marquee musicians like Marquise Knox, Jeremiah Johnson and Big George Brock perform live in a performance space that’s big enough to accommodate about 100 people, yet intimate enough that there is no bad seat in the house.
NATIONAL BLUES MUSEUM
10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday
12 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday and Monday
615 Washington Avenue
“See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” exhibition
Through May 19
A personal collection of etchings from gravestones of blues musicians by artist John Wegrzyn, who transforms the images onto paper and into art. The gravestones of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Stevie Ray Vaughn are among those featured.
$45 (reserved seating), $30 (general admission)
Fridays, 7 to 10 p.m.
Sundays, 4 to 7 p.m.
ALONG AND AROUND WASHINGTON AVENUE
The only authentic Peruvian restaurant in town, Mango doesn’t disappoint. What to drink? Well, there’s the traditional Caipirinha with Cachaça, lime and turbinado sugar. Feeling more aventurero? Try La Seductora (bourbon, Luxardo, crème de coco, lemon and Trentadue Chocolate Amore) or the Chilcano of the Day. Start with the Ceviche de Pescado and make it a “Mixto” with shrimp, octopus and mussels; and you can’t miss with the Lomo Saltado (beef tenderloin), Seco de Carne (beef stew) or Pescado a la Chorrillana (fish of the day). mangoperu.com
This café, wine bar and wine shop is known for its plates that are perfect for sharing. In addition to cheese and charcuterie plates (must-haves for any wine occasion), there’s a nicely curated selection of soups, salads, flatbreads, starters and entrees designed to complement every varietal. Then, there’s the wine—with enough vintages to make any oenophile’s heart sing and “The Robust Factor” to guide those who had to look up “oenophile.” robustwinebar.com
Schlafly Tap Room
Just a few blocks off Washington Avenue, the Tap Room is our choice for a more laid-back destination. You’ll be happy with the beer and snack offerings, as well as the “Pub Plates” of Fish & Fries, Lamb & Beef Shepherd’s Pie and Jagerschnitzel. Try the Tap Room Burger—you won’t be disappointed. But the star of the menu, in our humble opinion, is the Sticky Toffee Pudding: cake, caramel sauce and whipped cream—enough said.
Taking place on March 23 and 24 is Schlafly’s Stout & Oyster Festival, during which Schlafly flies in some 80,000 oysters (as well as 20 shuckers) from both coasts. Fifteen stouts, some of them exclusive to the event, will also be featured. Live music will play all festival long. A complete lineup is available on Schlafly’s website. schlafly.com/tap-room