St. Louis: Great beer town, uninspiring wine situation, odd but friendly airport

The big city, St. Louis is not. That is, at least when compared to my usual suspects. I respect the city and its people, though, because they love their baseball team more than most any other place I've visited. Sadly my travels last week had me staying somewhat suburban, rather than checking out downtown where most cities get interesting. I've yet to uncover a particular cultural affinity for wine there: it's definitely more of a beer town. Here's what I learned.

Purple Planes

You're probably going to get there on a purple airplane. Indeed, I believe that Southwest accounts for just over half of the traffic at Lambert St. Louis International Airport (STL), so my "probably" statement is apt. Look at the satellite view of the airport, and you you'll be struck by how bizarrely shaped it is. The two terminals are far apart, and it is not possible to walk from one to the other because Concourse D, the link between, was closed in 2008. A tornado destroyed Concourse C in 2012, but it has since been reopened and features shiny blue signage that makes you feel like you're inside a jetBlue fantasy world despite the fact that jetBlue flies exactly zero planes here. The Admirals Club is small yet functional with a more modern feel than some of its wood-paneled cousins elsewhere. I've yet to encounter an unfriendly person at STL, but unfortunately with less than 13 million passengers the airport sometimes feels like it just hasn't fully recovered from the loss of its American Airlines hub last decade. I am optimistic that the $150 million Lambert Experience effort will change this. Strange but true, Cape Air of Cape Cod and Islands / Caribbean / Micronesia (yes) fame operates a large Cessna presence here as well. One of these places is not like the other.

Light at the end of the wine cellar

St. Louis is a beer town. In fact, I can't remember having a worse wine experience than I did on several successive nights in the restaurants around the Westport Plaza area where I stayed. That said, though too mass market to serve at home, the MacMurray Ranch pinot noir on offer at the Sheraton Westport Chalet was  a strong showing and reasonable $8 glass / $34 bottle by hotel standards. I preferred the pricier reserve, though. My most exciting wine discovery here will have to be followed up on another trip, for a bit more than an hour's drive away is the town of Hermann, MO, home of (I have now learned) what appears to be at least ten wineries and a microbrewery for good measure. This could either be really exciting, or really disappointing. Time and another trip will tell, though the town looked rather quaint from my vantage point passing through on Amtrak.

On (not) getting around

Getting around is a bit of a mess, if for no other reason than that the taxi cab cartel seems to have made Uber quite less the experience it is in other cities. Cars seemed to be in short supply (there were none available when I landed at 6pm on a Tuesday), and in the one Uber X I did find I had to listen the driver complain to me about how awful Uber is. One very sincerely friendly taxi driver did crack me up telling a story about how on returning to St. Louis from Ethiopia last week he was unable to connect in Washington due to the blizzard, so was re-routed to Toronto instead. Seemed odd to hear of a fellow going to Canada to escape the snow in the middle of January. The high point of the "getting around" experience, though, was the Metrolink train that conveniently whisked me from the airport to downtown. With only two lines (red and blue) that are in fact joined for most of their east-west transit through the city, it certainly is no big city subway, but it gets the job done. Of note, taking Metrolink to "Union Station" is not how you get to Amtrak; go to the "Civic Center" station instead.

Final Verdict

Dodgy wine, with some promise an hour outside of town. Clean though somewhat odd airport is served primarily by one of the nation's friendliest airlines. Uber is not to be trusted to get you around, though I don't suspect for any fault of its own. Baseball season when the legendary Cardinals are in town is likely a great improvement on January. Really nice people.