Can St. Louis hold a candle to Chicago?
October 28, 2007 12:09 PM   Subscribe

Can St. Louis hold a candle to Chicago? I love Chicago. Half my family is from there, I went to school there; it's one of the few places in the world I've been to that felt like 'home' in my heart. I don't currently live there--I moved away for a job after school--but am trying to get back.

I have an interesting and very lucrative (especially considering cost of living) opportunity in St. Louis that has presented itself, but I'd never really considered St. Louis as one of my "top 5 cities to settle down/live in for a while." I am open to finding new, cool places though. But I spent they past 5 years moving around working my way up 'the career ladder' and I'm tired of moving. For my next move I want to be settled for 4+ years.

I've visited St. Louis briefly, driving through on a road trip and cruising around with friends for half a day (this was almost a decade ago). I don't remember much except for tourist stuff. Beyond that and The Simpsons repeatedly jabbing East St. Louis as the worst city in the United States, I don't know much about the city. I have been combing my homies for everything they know about St. Louis, as well as the web (but that search turns up a lot of tourist stuff) but haven't been satisfied with the results.

I know there's a huge Chicago contingent on this site (not sure about St. Louis folks) and in general, there are many well-traveled, like-minded folks here on MeFi, so I'm turning to you my hive-mind homies, for your advice.

- What rocks about St. Louis?
- Perhaps more important, what sucks?
- Will I always be restless there thinking, "man, I wish I was in Chicago right now"?

My profile: - Mid-20's, single, semi-hipster douchebag (Hey, at least I'm a self-deprecating douchebag!)
- Tech / design business.
- Love late nights.
- Love the Midwestern / nice people.
- Love young people and college towns
- Love seasons.
- Foodie. (Esp. eclectic)
- Love arts, music, diversity, culture, festivals, libraries and unique things going on.
- Love parks.
- Love bike-friendly culture
- Love traveling and day/weekend trips
- Love local community vibe and culture (I'm not sure how to explain it, but Chicago's many different neighborhoods definitely have this)
- Hate Florida -- Where I'm at now ;)
- Hate crazy traffic
- Hate chains and stripmalls (Dam you, Florida!)
- Hate mean, evil, close-minded, greedy, miserable people (F Florida)

Thanks so much for your help!
posted by jkl345 to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You and half of St. Louis would rather either actually be Chicago or live in Chicago. And as much as STL would hate to hear this, it is not Chicago.

I know people who love STL and speak praises of it, and who fit your profile, so you should do fine. It is sort of like the little engine that could, it wants to be a big city so bad that it actually kind of comes off as that. It is still the Midwest, and it never lets you forget that.

Of course Missouri is sort of a backwards state and has a large backwards contingent, which shows on any drive on I-70 or state elections. The Ozarks and the rest of Missouri are undoubtedly beautiful, but be prepared to deal with the baggage a conservative, religious state comes with. People are going to be more open minded than small towns, but much like the beer STL produces, everything is light. You'll get hipster, but it'll be hipster light. You'll get diversity, but it'll be diversity light.

Luckily for STL there's enough colleges that you'll have the constant influx of new people and new ideas so the city won't get stale and set in their ways. There's also enough old and new money that you'll get concerts, big art exhibitions and the like. It may not be the first pass around, but you'll get them.

So if you don't have to be the bleeding edge of cool, don't need to see the next hit band before they become a cliche and like the midwest, I think STL would be a good fit for you. I know a lot of people who didn't like the being on the coasts for a variety of reasons, and STL worked out well for them.
posted by geoff. at 12:28 PM on October 28, 2007

I grew up in St. Louis and now live in Chicago. The two cities are very very different from one another, and if you have your heart set on a place like Chicago you are not likely to find what you are looking for in St. Louis. That being said, if you are selective about where you live in St. Louis it is a very livable place.

I won't try to hit all of your points, but there are late nights along Washington Street downtown or in the U. City loop. There are a growing number of well-regarded restaurants scattered throughout the city (though some of my non-St. Louis friends might quibble with that). There are a number of nice parks, including the giant, beautiful, and very accessible Forest Park (which has a pretty good art and history museum and an outstanding zoo, all of which are free). Summer is awfully hot and humid, but fall, winter, and spring are excellent. It's not the best place for a bike commuter, but there are a number of trails in the area and some major roads are adding bike lanes. For weekend trips, Kansas City, Columbia, Memphis, and Chicago are all 6 hours away or less. Traffic - especially compared with Chicago - is a piece of cake, and if you live along the Metrolink route(s) mass transit is possible for the commute to work, assuming you will work downtown.

All those things being said, there is a decent bit not to like about St. Louis. It is pretty segregated. The good parts of St. Louis seem to be sprinkled all over the city with a lot of blah stuff in between. The suburbs are what you would expect, with lots of strip malls and a car culture. The summer humidity can really be awful. The city has a chip on its shoulder about how it once was great and the center of all things and now it is a little rusty and shrinking. There are nowhere near the amount of young people in the city as there are in Chicago. Neighborhoods can be charming, but not like Chicago. You need your car a lot.

Overall, I think St. Louis would be a very viable option, and it is just down the road (I-55) from Chicago. Good luck. Feel free to MeFi mail me if you have any specific questions.
posted by AgentRocket at 12:48 PM on October 28, 2007

things that sucks about st. louis:
-there are parts that are absolute shitholes. ESTL is awful, but avoidable. my two years living in STL were in a very pretty space in an awful area (the SLU campus) and i was scared out of my wits to walk two blocks off of campus at night. where you live matters a LOT.
-public transportation is just not good enough by itself. you NEED a car to get around STL. the metrolink is ok for a planned commute, but it will only get you so far. there are pockets that are bike-friendly, but it will not work as your primary transportation, either.
-your favorite bands will only come through about 1/3 of the time on "nationwide" tours
-it's in an uncomfortable place between a college town and a big metropolitan area. you seem to get the worst of both worlds--it's not big enough for REAL diversity and interesting weirdness, but it's too big to feel like you're part of a community.
-missouri humidity
-lots of local sports-culture, seemingly moreso than other cities i've visited. this could be a good or bad thing, but it doesn't really sound like your cup of tea.

that said, STL sounds like an alright place to you, if none of those are dealbreakers. it's a very cheap place to live. the museums, parks, local music scene, etc are fairly well developed. summers in missouri are awful and sweaty, but the winters are perfect. nice and brisk, with a manageable amount of snow. it's definitely not chicago, but it's close enough for weekend trips.

on preview, i'll second what geoff said about missouri conservatives. you'll encounter gigantic pockets of homophobic, slyly racist, christ-loving america if you stray outside the bounds of STL, KC, or Columbia. they feed on the blood of hipster douchebags.
posted by almostmanda at 12:56 PM on October 28, 2007

- I grew up in STL but am now living in Houston. I agree with AgentRocket's post - I think he hit a lot of the major points.

- St. Louis is a classic 'white flight' kind of city, where downtown and the northern suburbs are pretty empty and bleak. Scattered throughout the suburbs, you'll find little enclaves of culture. From your description, you'd probably want to live in or near the U-city loop. It's got the hip restaurants, live music, and college-town influences that you seem to be looking for. (Wash U is right next door) Forest park is just down the street as well, and it's the best urban park I've ever been in, hands down.

- Around these little enclaves of cool, there is a great deal of the suburban, strip mall culture that you hate so much. Given that 80% of St. Louis lives in a suburb, it really is the dominant paradigm in the area.

- It's not a crime-ridden place, as long as you aren't on the wrong side of the river. Unless you're into strip clubs, there isn't much reason to ever go to the east side, so you'll be fine.

- The public transportation in St. Louis sucks, but they're working on building more of it. If you're a hates-to-drive kind of person, you won't do well in STL, since everything is so scattered around the city.

- Most of the restaurants you'll find are going to be of the strip-mall, chain variety. Again, there are a few little enclaves of eclectic and foreign food, but on the whole, you're not going to find a diverse array of choices.

- In general, St. Louis is not a hip city or a trendsetter, but it's a nice enough town. If you move there, pick up a Riverfront times, and seek out the little gems scattered throughout the city, and I'm sure you'll do fine.
posted by chrisamiller at 1:11 PM on October 28, 2007

I live about 30 miles from St. Louis and work in East St. Louis. I spend a lot of time in the city and my wife is currently planning a move there. I think that St. Louis is a nice place to live and certainly affordable. That said, it is not a substitute for Chicago.

St. Louis has a lot of good points. I will try and address the points I can:

- Love late nights.

In my experience, most of the city is deserted after about 9PM. This excludes the trendier neighborhoods like the growing "loft district" along Washington Ave. and some places in the U City Loop. We are simple mid-Western folks and most of us go to bed with the chickens.

- Love the Midwestern / nice people.

St. Louisans, Missourians, and the Illinoisians across the river are friendly beyond belief. If you move here, you will never hunger for conversation as most anyone you sit next to will talk to you about anything (whether you want them to or not).

- Love young people and college towns

St. Louis has several really, really good universities and quite a few lesser known schools as well. Again, it depends on the neighborhood you are looking to hang out in but there are a LOT of students around.

- Love seasons.

Well...we definitely have winter, a good week or two of spring and then spend most the rest of the year in stifling heat and humidity. Okay, most years we have autumn, but not all.

- Foodie. (Esp. eclectic)

I love to eat. St. Louis has a lot of immigrants. South Grand is full of really good, relatively cheap ethic rxestuarants that range from a wide variety of South East Asian to African food. I have never eaten at a restaurant there and been disappointed. The Hill is a great Italian neighborhood that probably averages about 3-4 restaurants, bars and groceries a block. That said, there are really quite a few really good restaurants scattered throughout the city and the surrounding 'burbs. I don't think you will be disappointed on the food side of things.

- Love arts, music, diversity, culture, festivals, libraries and unique things going on.

St. Louis City and County both have a great network of libraries. Also, as a previous poster pointed out, Forest Park is really a special place and is full of museums and outdoor activities. We have the MUNY, which, I believe, is the largest outdoor theatre in the nation, that gives performances every summer. There are plenty of smaller galleries as well as lots of various festivals in St. Louis and the surrounding area, ranging from country (Garlic Festivals, Strawberry Festivals) to more interesting (Pride Fest, Pagan Festival). We also have a great Science Center and Botanical Gardens.

- Love parks.

See above. Besides Forest Park, the city is liberally sprinkled with parks of all sizes and amenities.

- Love bike-friendly culture

Madison County, Illinois, directly across the river from St. Louis is one of the most bike friendly places in the county. There are hundreds of miles of trials in Illinois and Missouri within a 45 minute drive or less. You will NOT be disappointed. Also, all metro buses as well as the light-rail trains are required to have the capability to move bikes.

- Love traveling and day/weekend trips

In the surrounding area, you have beautiful parks, caves and national forests in both Missouri and Illinois. I don't think a lot of people who live here full time realize the treasures that we have. I am thinking of the Ozarks, the Shawnee National Forest, Onadaga Caves, Giant City...all beautiful and relatively easy to get to. Also, this being a river boat culture, there are plenty of smaller towns that capitalize on that with bed and breakfasts, antique shops, town squares and all the other accoutrement most people look for. Buy a book on day trips in the area. You will have to get into your car and explore but it will be a worthwhile experience.

- Love local community vibe and culture (I'm not sure how to explain it, but Chicago's many different neighborhoods definitely have this)

One thing that is vital to remember about St. Louis is that it is not really a city in the traditional sense. When you ask someone where they live, they never say, "St. Louis." Instead, they will give you the neighborhood (i.e. Dogtown, The Hill, Soulard, Benton Park, Flourissant, etc.). At last count, St. Louis and the County consisted of 91 different municipalities all fighting over their own little fiefdoms and refusing to get along with one another. While this is bad in a lot off ways, each neighborhood often has its own little flare, neighborhood paper, culture, etc. You will have plenty of exploring to find the one you like the most.

- Hate crazy traffic

I commute into the city everyday and rarely face major traffic. This January, however, one of the 3 major interstates that transverses the city is going to be shut down. This will be for the next three years. I am sure it is going to be a nightmare. If you move here, do NOT move anywhere that requires you to travel along 64/40. The closer you can stay to the city core or your workplace, the better you will be.

- Hate chains and stripmalls (Dam you, Florida!)

The 'burbs and the Illinois side is chock-full of these. They are unavoidable.

- Hate mean, evil, close-minded, greedy, miserable people (F Florida)

While I am evil, most people you encounter here don't fit this profile.

In sum, St. Louis is a nice place. It has its negatives of course, among them, racial tension, crime, collapsing infrastructure (see interstate rebuilding above), and a horrible public school system, but overall, I am happy here and I think most people would be.

Come and explore and don't be afraid of crossing the river into Illinois. Most people think we are only East St. Louis (a post-apocalyptic hell-hole, to be sure) but there is a whole lot more to the metro-east than that.
posted by delosic at 1:20 PM on October 28, 2007

I love St. Louis. But it is certainly not Chicago and there are a lot of not so great things about it. If you venture into the suburbs at all it is the land of strip malls and misery. You will have to use your car a lot, but traffic is not bad.

I will now try to address some of your concerns:

I think there is some very good food to be found in St. Louis. It helps if by you likes eclectic food you mean you are into things like the world's best frozen custard, your very own local soft pretzel store, etc. There are great breakfast restaurants. The Soulard Farmers Market is a good thing to check out.

There are lots of day/weekend trip opportunities, from the real cities AgentRocket listed to ridiculous restaurants with "throwed" rolls and the world's largest catsup bottle.

There are great parks and the 2nd largest mardi gras festival in the country. It is probably not as bike friendly as you are hoping for, but if you live in a good location you can bike most places.

I have never lived in Chicago, but there are some great neighborhoods in St. Louis.

Summer is miserable, the electric company sucks, and if you venture too far outside St. Louis people say "warsh" instead of "wash." Never eat Imo's pizza, no matter how curious you become about provel. But, on the whole, I think it's a pretty great place.
posted by gembackwards at 1:27 PM on October 28, 2007

I know that I'm in the minority here, but I lived in St. Louis for a few years and liked it a lot, and I wouldn't move to Chicago on a bet. For one thing, the weather is so much better. People are pretty nice. Cheap apartment prices. Pretty good food.

The concert scene is a little sad, as COlumbia and even Lawerence KS takes a lot of the shows. The indie rock scene is a little weak.

The really sad people in St. Louis are the ones who wish they were in Chicago -- accept it for what it is and it's great.
posted by Bookhouse at 1:31 PM on October 28, 2007

No. I lived in St. Louis for twelve years and moved to Chicago in 1997. The two cities are completely different. St. Louis has a provincial, backwoods feel to it. Very few people bike there, and of the ones who do, maybe one in ten uses her bike for transportation, and that's being generous. Also, it's very difficult to live in St. Louis without a car (not sure if that's a deal-breaker for you).

As mentioned above, it's much more segregated than Chicago and a pretty conservative town overall (tho there are pockets of it that aren't).

The pluses of St. Louis: you can find really nice housing there for cheap. South City is a pretty cool part of the city, especially the South Grand area, which has some decent restaurants. Those are the only pluses I can think of, unfortunately.
posted by smich at 1:33 PM on October 28, 2007

Folks have posted lots of great advice here -- and I agree, St. Louis and Chicago are very different cities. To be honest, I live in New York City now, and still have days where I wish I was back in Chicago...

I do have family in St. Louis, so I visit several times a year, especially around holidays. Some of the cons from those experiences:
  • I'm less into the late-night scene than you are, but I was in St. Louis a few weeks ago and closed down the bars on hip(ish?) Delmar Blvd. But for full disclosure: The bars all closed at 11:30 on that Sunday night. Granted, it was a Sunday, but I was surprised. And the street literally cleared out by midnight -- as my friend and I were standing outside finishing up our conversation. Along those lines, it's also been to find a place to meet up with friends on Thanksgiving / Christmas night [though I'm not a real local, so maybe I'm missing some key places].
  • I might not be going to the "right" suburbs, but I've been struck by the relative lack of diversity in public places in some of those suburbs. Granted, there's only so much you can expect from the Macaroni Grill... But when my friends and I played "spot the brown person" in a fairly crowded restaurant one night in September, I was the only one (including staff, from what we could see). [I fully realize that New Yorkers scoff -- rightfully so -- at Chicago for its relative lack of integration and diversity, but I've found St. Louis even one step less so.]
  • Finally, the driving thing would get old. I haven't tried biking around -- maybe if you pick your house/apartment well, you can pull it off. Just consider whether easy-access real estate would add to the cost of living enough to balance out the lucrative pay. [no idea myself]
That all said, if you don't compare it to Chicago, there are some nice things about St. Louis:
  • People do seem to be pretty friendly. My mom knows everyone at the grocery store -- other shoppers, the staff [who give my nephew cookies], etc. It reminds me of the small town where I grew up.
  • St. Louis might be a better sports town than Chicago (not that you mentioned that as an interest). As a Cubs fan, it's my job to hate the Cardinals. But it's pretty fascinating to see how engaged St. Louis (as a whole) seems to be in terms of sports. While Chicago seems more sports-centric than New York, St. Louis seems more so than Chicago. [I've always wondered whether such engagement is inversely proportional to other stuff/cultural events available, but that might be selling the city short...] Anyway, if you like sports, St. Louis seems to be a great place to watch them.
  • I've definitely been to some fabulous [and surprisingly cheap] restaurants. I have no idea if they're representative. But if you get there, check out King and I for Thai and Lu Lu for Dim Sum. [Lu Lu is open on Christmas, FWIW.]
Good luck with your decision!
posted by rdn at 2:08 PM on October 28, 2007

St. Louis isn't Chicago. I say that having lived in St. Louis my whole life and just having been to Chicago for a short weekend trip. Not even close. That said, there's plenty of creative freaks, tons of immigrant restaurants (largest bosnian population outside of Bosnia itself), and is nowhere near as sprawly as CHicago (though as mentioned above, one of the interstates is gonna be shut down for a year to completely rebuild). We have a much lower cost of living, though you have to plan on buying a car unless you're really hard-core about mass transit and/or bicycling.

Two of the best things the 'Lou has going for it, though, are KDHX and the City Museum (and what it represents). KDHX is the most eclectic radio station with more than 50 watts you'll ever hear - think of a college station mixed with a 50's country station mixed with a 60's pop station with all the DJs are volunteers, and that puts on farmers' markets and free shows all year round. THe city Museum represents the arts- in a town of St. Louis's size, the sheer force of will of one man can actually shine and bring something to fruition - a giant used-parts jungle gym for adults, put together by a guy who also put up a ton of giant concrete turtles in a strip by the interstate.

If you decide to come here, and you're working downtown or in Clayton, I'd recomend living here in South City. You can get on a quiet street and be blocks from all kinds of weirdness, and you can get a two-bedroom gingerbread house for a mortgage that's a large car payment, not the GNP of a small third-world nation.

One of the better MeFi ambassadors for St. Screwy is out of town this weekend, but watch this space adn I'll have him write in.
posted by notsnot at 2:16 PM on October 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

My husband and I are both originally from St. Lous, but have lived in a few different areas of the country. I've also lived in STL several different times in my 20's and 30's (my job moves us around a lot). We are currently not living there.

Having said all that, I agree with almost everything said above, including the vote against Imo's. South City is a great place to live. I recently worked with a lot of younger, single people in St. Louis and most lived in Soulard or Washington Square in converted lofts. Both of those scenes are about as hip as you get in STL.

STL gets more and more bike friendly by the year. They have a grand plan to connect all the parks via bike paths. I think they are actually making significant headway. I was a road biker myself and used to drive about 20 minutes to Columbia, IL for the open farm roads. Plenty of bikers did as well.

No one has mentioned this, I don't think. There is a 1% CITY EARNINGS TAX. If you live or work in the city they take 1% OF YOUR CHECK. THAT SUCKS. IT REALLY, REALLY SUCKS. I AM STILL BITTER.

I feel like I should put some big closing statement on this, but I can't think of one. It's a nice place. It shops bigger than it is. The people are nice. The traffic isn't bad (as long as you don't live in St. Charles and work in the city). It's not Chicago, however and never will be.

posted by beachhead2 at 2:19 PM on October 28, 2007

Oh, and if you're even *kinda* into baseball, St. Louis is where it's at. Even this rant-against-the-corporations liberal bought weekend season tickets for the Cards. There have been any number of players that have passed on more lucrative contracts to stay her and feel appreciated.
posted by notsnot at 2:20 PM on October 28, 2007

I'll note that St. Louis has improved a bit since 1997 - the 2000s have been relatively good to the city, and the '90s were basically the last step of the deterioration of the '70s and '80s. There's new development now in lots of areas that were suffering in the '90s, and while everything is still pretty car-oriented, there have been some bike trails implemented here and there. Still, it's the exception to the rule.

As far as college town-y stuff, the Loop is indeed pretty thriving right now - loads of independent restaurants and businesses that stretch on for blocks and blocks. It's to the point where national chains are wanting to move in and capitalize on the neighborhood, but the independent business owners are vocally against it.

- What rocks about St. Louis?
Fantastic grassroots cultural things occurring.

- Perhaps more important, what sucks?
The distance between all of the good things, the majority of the populace not paying attention to the fantastic grassroots cultural things occurring.

- Will I always be restless there thinking, "man, I wish I was in Chicago right now"?
Depends on what you like Chicago for, and what you can live with.

My profile: - Mid-20's, single, semi-hipster douchebag (Hey, at least I'm a self-deprecating douchebag!)
Hipster-wise, look into South City in general, especially South Grand and the burgeoning art scene on Cherokee (where there's also plenty of tasty taqueria food to be had)

- Love late nights.
Look into South Grand/the Way Out Club/the Loop

- Love the Midwestern / nice people.
We've got that in spades (I'm told), though as the revitalization of the city progresses, I'm finding there's a slick, rude contingent popping up.

- Love young people and college towns
Again, the Loop might be what you're looking for.

- Love seasons.
Springs and falls are lovely here. The summer humidity kills. The winters seem to vary, though the most vivid recent winter memories involve the electric company being flaky again and having no power during freezing weather for a week. Since then, they've been chopping tree branches around town to prevent it from happening again. In college, most of my classmates found the weather bizarrely inconsistent (rain, then very cold one day, then very hot).

- Foodie. (Esp. eclectic)
My STL-native friend who lives in Boston misses the variety of St. Louis. Go figure. When I visited Boston, I found myself wishing we had a lot of the things they had there. Again, we've got lots of immigration, so lots of variety. Turkish, lots of Vietnamese restaurants, one of the highest concentrations of Bosnian immigration in the country and restaurants and groceries to match, Nepali, Indian, Korean, Spanish, Ethiopian, Senegalese. All of these are spread across a wide geographical area, though.

- Love arts, music, diversity, culture, festivals, libraries and unique things going on.
Lots of good festivals and libraries. Arts and music, just check the right e-mail lists and websites, and you'll know what's going on every week/weekend.

- Love parks.
Lots of 'em. Forest Park, Laumeier Sculpture park, a few nature reserves, parks all over both the city and county.

- Love bike-friendly culture
See above...

- Love traveling and day/weekend trips
Lots of interesting small towns all over the place. Some get kind of "country," though.

- Love local community vibe and culture (I'm not sure how to explain it, but Chicago's many different neighborhoods definitely have this)
Sounds familiar, I think?

- Hate Florida -- Where I'm at now ;)
Depends on what you hate about it...

- Hate crazy traffic
Yeah, you'd hate what's about to happen with our most major highway about to have large chunks of it completely shut down at a time.

- Hate chains and stripmalls (Dam you, Florida!)
Avoid the county...

- Hate mean, evil, close-minded, greedy, miserable people (F Florida)
Would I be out of line to say "avoid the county" again?

Most of what everyone else has said already is correct. You may want to check out some local websites to get a feel for the city:
The Circuit

And... the major newspaper:
posted by stleric at 2:27 PM on October 28, 2007

Oh, also, I third the avoiding Imo's and provel in general. Soulard's very, very good for nightlife too. Large concentration of late-night bars.
posted by stleric at 2:32 PM on October 28, 2007

i went to college in st. louis and would probably never feel compelled to go back. it's a perfectly fine city--you will find bars and restaurants that you like and people you will enjoy spending time with and places you will enjoy spending time with those people in--but it's no chicago.

in general, i found it to be a little provincial and pretty racist. i often characterized it as having all the problems of a southern city and none of the charm. (okay, it does have some charm.)

but basically, there would be no choice for me. chicago all the way.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:41 PM on October 28, 2007

If you come to St. Louis expecting it to be anything like Chicago, you will be very disappointed.

However, St. Louis does have its jewels - The City Museum, The Missouri Botanical Gardens, The St. Louis Art Museum, Laumeier Scultpure Park, Ted Drewe's, etc. I think it's worth experiencing for a few years. I recently moved away from St. Louis and I miss it.
posted by Ostara at 2:51 PM on October 28, 2007

I think you should either choose to move to St. Louis and take the great new job, or move to Chicago and take your chances. Florida is one big sucking soul crushing dead suburban sprawl wasteland and it I was in my 20's I would not spend another moment in Florida. Move and enjoy your youth! There is plenty of opportunity to enjoy Florida when you are half senile and wearing adult is not that time in your life. Godspeed, young'un! Get packing!
posted by 45moore45 at 2:54 PM on October 28, 2007

I've been living in south st. louis city for about 3 years. There are a lot of good things going on in the city, and many neighborhoods are really improving.

That said, if you live in the city (which it sounds like you'd want to) and end up working or interacting with people from the county, be prepared to deal with county residents who feel that the city is utter crap and anyone who lives there is an idiot. The truth is that a lot of the residents outside the city limits feel that the city has little redeeming value and never will. Even though improvements are clearly being made, I work with people who say quite bluntly that a fair chunk of the city should just be razed.

I feel that my neighborhood in the city is nice, I am not afraid to walk there at night. I know several county residents who say that they're very frightened to come into my area.

One unique and strange situation in St. Louis is that it is not incorporated into a county. Back when St. Louis was thriving and awesome city, the city government decided they didn't want to have to pay for the infrastructure going on in the county, so they seceded from it. 125 years later, the city is suffering. For decades people have moved to the county in droves, leaving the city with a very limited tax base with which to improve anything.

So anyways, there's that. It's really the most frustrating part of living here to me. If you lived *and* worked in the city, you probably wouldn't have to deal with it as much.

(And I like chicago better, only visited though.)
posted by FortyT-wo at 2:58 PM on October 28, 2007

St. Louis is super cool but you have to be able to love it for what it is. We don't support pretension. There is so much good cheap food here it is ridiculous. I don't have a car and don't feel like I need one. Tons of cool bars, many of which stay open til 3 am. The lack of hipster douche bags will force you to find your own cool stuff to like. I ate brunch in a giant windmill this morning, bought a really cheap bike from an organization thats helps kids learn to work on bikes, and bought a ticket to see Ian Mackaye at an awesome art gallery. Countless neighborhoods, each with their own distinct identities. There is no American Apparel store and you can't really hop on a train with ease. So, no, its not Chicago, and it never will be, but its a great Midwestern city.
posted by modavis at 4:52 PM on October 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Can St. Louis hold a candle to Chicago?

Good God, no!

Folks have listed several bright spots about STL and the surrounding area, but they'll only hold your interest so long.

I lasted 2.5 years in STL, the first 18 months happily...I predict your numbers will be similar or less.

Saint Louis: Gateway to Elsewhere.

Good Luck!

(BTW, for me, the concert scene was surprisingly strong. In my 2.5 years in STL , I saw: Jerry Seinfeld, Brad Mehldau Liz Phair, Muse, Paul Oakenfold, Weezer, Ben Folds, Nine Inch Nails, The Hives, Black Crowes, The Strokes, Wilco, REM, Peal Jam, Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick, White Stripes, Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal, Dios Malos, Black Eyed Peas, Interpol, Aimee Mann, Fiery Furnaces, Joan Jett, Pretty Girls Make Graves, and Franz Ferdinand. I still had to go to Chicago to see David Gilmour and the Raconteurs, though)
posted by Exchequer at 5:41 PM on October 28, 2007

I live about 4 blocks from notsnot. email in profile, but I'll pretty much tell you the same things he has. I like it here.
posted by pieoverdone at 6:19 PM on October 28, 2007

Chicago doesn't have City Museum or Bailey's Chocolate Bar.

Of course, Chicago has many things that St. Louis lacks. But those are the two places I love most in St. Louis.
posted by iwhitney at 7:34 PM on October 28, 2007

Grew up in St. Louis, but called the Burnham hotel home for quite a while and consider Chicago more than an acquaintance.

You'll enjoy St. Louis, but as noted above, it does not have the pedigree of Chicago; then again, while St. Louis folks would like to be considered more cosmopolitan than they are, they like their town-- and rightly so.

Forest Park and the St. Louis Art Museum are fantastic, and would be the jewel in the crown for a city three times the size. For kitsch, we used to visit the national bowling museum and the monster truck hall of fame. Cardinals games and well-attended and players love being a part of that team, and Saveur (who just featured Chicago again) spent a whole issue on the Hill, the Italian neighborhood.

On a weekend, get the Amighetti's Special sandwich for lunch, and then head go get a Concrete at the Grand location of Ted Drewes. After that, head to the Botanical Garden to tour the very well done indoor rainforest and feed the koi in the Japanese gardens. A lovely day, and one of several days you can enjoy in St. Louis.
posted by Arch1 at 7:49 AM on October 29, 2007

Oh, and the St. Louis Zoo. I like the Minnesota Zoo, but the St. Louis Zoo is FANTASTIC. FANTASTIC, FANTASTIC.
posted by Arch1 at 7:51 AM on October 29, 2007

Many people who have responded have noted specific things to do, places to go here in STL. Culturally, the city has some good choices and wonderful restaurants. However, STL has a small town feel because of the people. As noted above, the overall feel is hardly progressive. If you can handle that context, you should be fine. You won't find too many impassionated liberals loudly championing their causes on the streets of Chesterfield. You may find a few in the city, but, generally, STL is more sedate than anything else. It's warmer and greener than Chicago which could definitely impact your choice. Good luck!
posted by rglass at 8:56 AM on October 29, 2007

As has been cited before, St. Louis is going to be traffic hell for about two years. After that a lot of issues should be resolved, but there you go. But it can't be that much worse than almost every time I've ever driven in Chicago.

Using a bike for transportation is a hit and miss thing. There is a pretty vibrant cycling community but a lot of places are not really bicycle compatible. We have a bunch of bikes only trails though, including one end of the KATY in case you're ever in the mood for a 250 mile jaunt.

There are a lot of nice little independent restaurants in University City (NW of the West edge of Forrest Park) and Maplewood (SW of the West edge of Forrest Park).

Where, exactly, would your job be? That may change things.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:44 AM on October 29, 2007

Saint Louis is definitely no Chicago. I’ve live in St. Louis all my life. I used to commute to Chicago for a job and was sure I’d eventually live there one day. Now, I can hardly imagine living outside of Saint Louis.

Some of this might have already been covered but here’s my take.

I have few complaints about St. Louis. Here are my top negatives about St. Louis:
-Not bike friendly enough. For the general population there’s a lot more to be done to make it truly bike friendly. Slowly and surely it’s coming around. I notice more and more bike racks where there weren’t any just a short time ago.
-St. Louis lacks a bit in the area of public transit. In the city itself it’s pretty good. Going to and from surrounding counties is another story altogether. Again, slowly but surely it’s getting better.
-As mentioned before, the roads will be a mess for the next two years. The biggest problem I see here is that MODOT really does a poor job of planning major projects. However, once the work is complete we should see some great improvements.

On to the good stuff:
-Great places to ride, run, or exercise in general. Both in and around the city. Forest Park is an amazing park. There are good places to rock climb indoors as well as outdoors. There’s a great deal of community spirit behind these exercise/athletic opportunities. Katy trail is near by and is an excellent place to ride and see small towns along the way.
-Easy access to the country and rural areas. 40-60 minutes seems to put you out in the sticks. That’s great for a daytrip (or overnights in B&Bs.)
-Good nightlife. Sure, Frederick’s music lounge is gone but there are other great places to eat, listen to music or just plain get out. Highlights include Off Broadway, Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room, The Loop, the Central West End. Most of the big (but not giant arena acts) play at The Pageant.
-Good eating. Not just a great number of places but a diverse choice of ethnic foods at every turn. Really, the wide range is just a reflection of the population itself.
-Community. At first, people often say it’s hard to make friends. But, if you’re willing to get out and do things you’ll fast make friends and you’ll find that they are all quite passionate about something. From there you’ll find loads of community. KDHX radio, as mentioned by notsnot, is a huge driving force behind this sense of community and the grass roots efforts mentioned earlier.
-I’m not really into it all but it’s also a great place for pro and semi-pro sports.
-A great place to be with and have family. I have a 13 year-old daughter and it seems we are seldom at a loss for things to do and see.

If you are considering buying a house in South City I’d recommend living between Hampton and Kings Highway (close to notsnot and pieoverdone), if at all possible. I live about 3 miles east of that area now and am eager to live there again. Also, that 1% tax isn’t so bad if you own a house in the city since property taxes are very low and sales tax is reasonable. The people getting the shaft are those that work in the city but live in the county. Overall, it’s a very affordable place to live.

Whereas Chicago presents itself with all manner of things to see and do, you sometimes have to get creative and dig in St. Louis to find its jewels. But in the end I promise you that it’s worth every moment.
posted by horseblind at 12:43 PM on October 29, 2007

You know, I lived in St. Louis for two years, and recently moved to Dayton OH, and I actually miss it a lot more than I thought I would.

Things I miss, most of which have been covered, include: City Museum (one of the coolest places in the whole world), the St. Louis Art Museum, the St, Louis Zoo (both of which are in Forest Park, which is awesome as a whole actually), Coffee Cartel (a coffeeshop in the Central West End), and ohmygoodness the Botanical Gardens, which to this day remains my favorite place in the ENTIRE WORLD and I really miss it a lot. When I would get stressed I would drive down there, fork over all of like $4 for admission, and just unwind for a few hours. Man do I miss the Botanical Gardens.

In my opinion, the suckiest thing, as stated above, is the traffic. And St. Louis drivers in general I found to be just more prone to be crazy/dangerous than the rest of the country.

I mean, I don't know how helpful this is since I've only been to Chicago once for 3 days, but I really do miss St. Louis. I was a fan of it. I still am, I guess.
posted by Quidam at 8:16 PM on October 29, 2007

I went to college in St. Louis, then (a few years later) moved to Chicago for about 6 years. I moved to L.A. 7 years ago, and I can tell you I still miss Chicago on a near-daily basis, but there are precisely two things I miss about St. Louis: one is a good friend of mine, and the other is Ted Drewe's frozen custard.

To be sure, St. Louis is a perfectly nice second-tier city -- it was a great place to go to school, Forest Park is gorgeous, and there are some lovely neighborhoods. But in no way does it hold a candle to the literally world-class social and cultural goings-on in Chicago. The breadth and quality of music, art, architecture, food, history, festivals, etc. in Chicago simply do not exist in any comparable way in St. Louis -- and based on your description, these are all things that would be pretty vital to your quality of life.

Put it this way: given the choice between the two, it wouldn't even really be a choice.
posted by scody at 2:36 PM on October 30, 2007

I lived in Chicago for the first 30 years of my life, then moved to the DC area. My husband is born and bred in St. Louis and owns a house there (South City Gingerbread Cottage for the locals). We spend a *lot* of time in St. Louis for people who don't live there. (3-4 mos. a year).

I did love Chicago and I still do, but after spending so much time in St. Louis, I'd never be willing to part with the money to live in Chicago when St. Louis has so much more to offer on a per-dollar basis.

The hipsters here are well aware that they live in St. Louis, not Chicago. The seem to have learned to squeeze every bit of joy St. Louis has to offer, preferably as close to FREE as possible. You need to meet and connect with natives if you do move to STL -- you'll have a lot more fun. They are very friendly, so that should be easy if you like beer.

Oh, and I like Schlafly beer a lot better than Goose Island!

For a huge city, Chicago is very friendly, but ice cold compared to St. Louis. Oh, and some times it's just ice cold. Personally, I'd rather have the very cold winter in Chicago than the brutal summer heat in St. Louis, but you can't have everything.

St. Louis has very little traffic compared to Chicago (or some parts of Florida for that matter). I'm not sure how Hwy 40 being closed is going to work, but it's not the only game in town, in terms of routing. People do own cars here though, all of them as far as I can tell. Everything has some parking, so car owning is well-supported. I do see more bikes and bike racks every time I come here though.

And you know, if it comes to that, Chicago is just not that far for a weekend trip. The cost of living difference is very big indeed.
posted by astrogirl at 10:30 AM on October 31, 2007

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