The Ten Best Neighborhood Bars in St. Louis
Selecting Riverfront Times' Best of St. Louis 2011 was no picnic. Choosing the winner meant several worthy candidates would go unmentioned -- until now. In this RFT Music series, we're beeboping and scattin' our way through notable runners up in a number of categories.
Whether for a quick unwind on the way home from work or a long-haul with friends, the neighborhood bar is the backbone of many a social circle. But how to pick among the hundreds peppering every nook and cranny of our fair city? We've narrowed it down to ten. Note that this is just within the city limits -- we'll weigh in on the surrounding areas soon.
Diana Benanti The Royale
See also: the Ten Best 3 a.m. bars in St. Louis.
Tower Grove East is practically a no-fly zone for bars, but nestled on the corner of Arsenal Street and Arkansas Avenue is this 'hood's saving grace -- and we reckon one of the best little Irish bars this side of the Emerald Isle. Riley's only has one flat-screen, which is positively Paleolithic by today's standards, and good golly do we appreciate that. The high-backed booths are perfect for a private conversations with a handful of pals or penning a novel, should you be afflicted with that Joyce-ian curse. This bar's carefully curated jukebox (Peggy Lee to Tom Waits) is highly decorated -- it won honors as this paper's Best Jukebox in 2006 and 2011.
The Silverleaf Lounge
Only in St. Louis can you walk into a teeny corner bar and find out two drinks in that the bartender went to high school with your dad -- in another state. You'll drive by this place more times that you'll find it -- it's just that inconspicuous - but once inside, you'll curse yourself for all those nights you spent cheating on your new love with those other bars. With a handful of barstools and even fewer tables, this Southwest Garden gem is strewn with pro-America memorabilia yellowed by the smoke of a million cigarettes. This place is untouched by time, from the ashtrays lining the bar to the golden soul and and oldies tunes oozing from the jukebox.
How can you not love a bar named Babe's? Whether you're nostalgic for the 1995 cinematic masterpiece starring a plucky young pig, or just have girls on the brain, Babe's is just one of the cutest darn bars we've ever set foot in. It is teensy-tiny, full of lively chatter from the folks holding down the barstools, and it even comes with its own resident crazy person! (Just ask the bartender.) Same goes for most neighborhood bars in St. Louis, but come early or not at all on Friday and Saturdays, or else be prepared to throw elbows for a seat.
Friendly's Sports Bar and Grill
Oh, Friendly's. How many nights your free popcorn and huge well drinks have acted as a balm to our weary souls. In your hallowed games of Skee-Ball, pool and Big Buck Hunter, the cares of the world seem to melt away, even more so after a few of those well drinks. We can't say it enough: You won't get a dinky plastic cup of tonic with a thimble measure of gin. They serve pint glasses of your particular poison, and then ask for a paltry $2 in return. This Tower Grove South sports bar is the place to be for Cardinals games, but whether it's Game 6 or just on a plain ol' Saturday night, it's damn near impossible not to have a great time at Friendly's.
Slo Tom's Lounge
If we got paid to speculate on the next hip 'hood, all of our money would be on South Broadway. The industrial stretch between Jefferson Avenue and Interstate 55 makes us feel like we're in a movie, and when David Lynch calls looking for a place to shoot a cerebral, gritty thriller where things are too real to be believed, this is where we're sending him. Slo Tom's Lounge was immortalized by local legends the Bottle Rockets, and the group wasn't wrong when they said it's where you go when you've got nothing -- or no one -- to do. It's one of the oldest bars in this historic area, and you'll make fast friends with the folks who've been regulars for decades.