St Louis was founded by New Orleans fur trader Pierre Laclede and his teenage stepson Auguste Chouteau in 1764. Just as France was giving up their American territories they provided a settlement for French families at a point where British, (soon American), French, Indian and Spanish interests converged. Drawing from its unique geographic location on the Mississippi River, bordering the Midwest to the east and the Ozarks to the west, the city soon became a jumping-off point for people headed in every direction, but especially to points west. Today, St Louis is a magnet for young and ambitious folks from vast areas of surrounding farmland and small towns of the region. The Gateway City is a also a gay-friendly destination marked by diverse neighborhoods, eye-catching architecture and local charm.
Though the city has fallen from its glory days -- the fourth-largest US city at the time St Louis hosted the World's Fair and Olympic Games in 1904 -- it is in the midst of a massive makeover, particularly in its downtown area, complementing an already expansive list of entertainment, dining and nightlife attractions sure to entice the most cosmopolitan of travelers. Beyond the iconic Gateway Arch, whose observation area offers views of up to 30 miles on a clear day, the Clydesdale horses of the Anheuser-Busch brewery and the city's many parks, St Louis' gay centers are also vibrant and diverse.
Gay people have been important players in the restoration of many elegant old neighborhoods. As the Central West End, (once the center of gay life), became gentrified, gays moved to the cobblestone streets of the Soulard, the Victorian architecture and parks of Grand South Grand, and other neighborhoods. Recently the Grove area on Manchester became the most bustling district with the most gay bars. The gayborhoods are incredibly multi-faceted, offering something for art lovers, beer drinkers and theater queens alike. Other lively areas include Laclade's Landing, a vibrant riverfront district of shops, pubs and restaurants, hosting events such as the Big Muddy Blues Festival on Labor Day Weekend - and there's a statue of Pierre Laclade and Auguste Chouteau getting off their boat at river's edge.
Lambert-St Louis Airport, located approximately 13 miles from the heart of downtown, is the city's main gateway. The Airport Express shuttle vans head directly to many downtown hotels, or hop on the MetroLink Light Rail. The trip into the city will take just over half an hour and gets you downtown for $4. Ticket vending machines and validators are located on the platforms. Purchase the ticket and validate it prior to boarding the train.
The city's Metro light rail line opened in 1993, and bus lines connect many of the popular places you'll want to see, but a car might be worth it for convenient travel between the somewhat scattered gayborhoods. While the city does have taxis, you'll want to call ahead as drivers won't be seeking your street-side hail.
What to see
Staying downtown, you will have easy access to many of the city's more traditional tourist haunts and some of its best shopping, dining and wandering. Be sure to hit the Citygarden, a large urban oasis completed last year and loaded with paintings, sculptures and flora. It feels straight out of the pages of a Lewis Carroll story. And, if you like drinking under the stars, visit the rooftop terrace of the Moonrise Hotel for a cocktail.
If you're chasing historical flavor, visit the Soulard district, where the neighborhood's farmer's market, in operation since 1779, is a locals' favorite, as is the annual Mardi Gras celebration, one of the most rambunctious in the country.
The Grove, where you'll find the largest concentration of gay nightspots and rainbow flags, is where you'll get much of your cruise on.
And then there is Central West End, which playwright Tennessee Williams called home. While not as gay as the Grove, this neighborhood has a lot to offer the artistically inclined, with its location near St Louis University and has a number of prominent gay-friendly festivals and house tours.
The nearby U City Loop area also has an artistic feel and it's full of sidewalk cafes, galleries, boutiques and coffee spots. While not as gay as the Grove, these neighborhoods have a lot to offer the artistically inclined. As you venture out of the Loop, there are some of the Midwest's best museums and more outdoor space. The St Louis Art Museum is in Forest Park, one of the nation's largest urban parks in the Central West End. The City Museum is closer to downtown. For "the bad boy in musical theatre" see New Line Theater's provocative productions on politics, religion, race, sexuality, drugs, art, obscenity, violence, and other contemporary issues at Washington University St Louis.
The Grand South Grand is home to a number of ethnically diverse restaurants and beautiful Victorian-style homes. Gay coffeehouses and bars and the Cheap TRX gay store are here. South Grand and Tower Grove Park are where Pride is celebrated each year too.
Media & Resources
Riverfront Times is the gay-friendly local alternative weekly.
The Grove website covers the scene in this, the gayest neighborhood in town.
The Shameless Grounds cafe human sexuality lending library titles range from biology to history, classical literature to raunchy pulp fiction - on loan for two weeks, at no charge.
For a city map and website links to businesses, museums, and entertainment venues, see our gay St Louis listings pages. For some photos from around town, see our gallery pages. We also list some upcoming local events and activities.
Take a break from cookie-cutter hotels at two guesthouses in the Soulard area, both owned by gay couples who live on site, know the history of the city, and can fill you in on gay life. Book early, as they both fill quickly. A third gay-friendly Lafayette Square Inn offers another option, and there are plenty of hotels in every part of the city. See our map listings for a dozen more suggestions.
Brewers House B&B (1829 Lami; 314-771-1542) Civil War-era home in Soulard, fireplace, WiFi, cable TV, common/ breakfast room and kitchen, sunny garden with hot tub, gay couple hosts.
Napoleon's Retreat Inn (1815 Lafayette Ave; 314-772-6979), five rooms in historic district, private baths, TV/DVD, refrigerators, WiFi, full breakfast.
Bars & Clubs
The gay scene isn't centered in one neighborhood in St Louis. There are several clusters of gay life, each with it's own character.
Bars & Clubs: South Midtown and the Grove
The district blossomed in recent years to become the heart of the gay scene in town.
Atomic Cowboy (4140 Manchester), mixed crowd party bar, Tex-Mex breakfast, snacks, entrees; WiFi, live music, art and theater events.
Erney's 32 Degree Vodka Bar (4200 Manchester) huge vodka cooler, sipping station, comfortable lounge.
Just John (4112 Manchester Ave), video bar, dance floor, open-air patio bar, mixed but mostly male crowd, bingo, TJ's Pizza, nightly specials, smokers' area, special holiday events.
JJ's Clubhouse (3858 Market) time- honored institution, bears, denim and leather bar, shop, games tournaments and competitions, softball team sponsor. Big Independence Day cookout, plus other holiday special parties.
The Monocle & Emerald Room (4510 Manchester), speakeasy-style cabaret, comedy, drag, variety and burlesque shows.
Rehab Bar & Grill (4054 Chouteau Ave) daytime and early hotspot, patio, karaoke, drag shows, theme parties, cheap drinks, darts tournaments and pool games; bar food sandwiches, wraps, burgers, wings and salads.
Siam (4121 Manchester Ave), mixed dance club, talented DJs, live music, special events, TV sports; Goku Sushi Asian and American fusion food.
Bars & Clubs: Soulard to Fox Park
Bastille Bar & Cobalt Grill (1027 Russell), Mardi Gras atmosphere, locals' hangout bar and grill, games room, friendly vibe, occasional shows.
Keypers (2280 S Jefferson Ave), LGBT piano/ martini bar, easy conversation.
Bars & Clubs: South Grand to South Broadway
Grey Fox (3503 South Spring) neighborhood bar, beer blasts, weekend La Cage aux Fox drag shows, and variety performances.
Hummel's Pub (7101 South Broadway), neighborhood bar with big back patio men/women, drag shows and entertainment.
Across the river in Illinois
Bubby & Sissy's (602 Belle St, Alton, IL) near Argosy Casino, two levels, dance floor, female impersonators, huge patio.
Boxers 'n Briefs, (55 Four Corners Ln, Centreville, IL), hot totally naked strippers, non-stop shows, on stage and bar or private VIP sessions; 18- plus admission, first Sundays drag shows.
Club Escapade (133 W Main St, Belleville IL), gay party bar, men/women mix, karaoke, snack foods, live music entertainment; darts, billiards and video gaming machines.
CLOSED: Absolutli Goosed (3196 South Grand); Attitudes (4100 Manchester); Hamburger Mary's (3037 Olive St); Bombers Hideaway (3960 Chouteau Ave); Clementines (2001 Menard); Honey (4170 Manchester Ave).
South Grand's dining options include Vietnamese, Thai, Latin American, and Chinese. Soulard, the Central West End, and the Grove area on Manchester, have many options as well.
Atlas (5513 Pershing Ave, West End), classic French and Italian cuisines, three-course prix fix dining, fine wines/ cocktails.
Avenue (12 North Meramec, UC/Clayton), hearty breakfasts, lunch soups, sandwiches, pasta, and dinner entrées everyday; Saturday/Sunday brunch omelets, huevos rancheros, quiche, pancakes. Also bar burgers and small plates.
Bastille Cobalt Grill (1027 Russell, Soulard) hearty fare, nothing-fancy menu, booths and sidewalk tables.
Chava's Mexican Restaurant (925 Geyer, Soulard) local favorite, satisfying servings, traditional fare and local recipes.
Coffee Cartel (2 Maryland Plaza, Central West End) open 24 hours, big variety of coffees and ice cream, youthful crowd.
MokaBe's (3606 Arsenal, Tower Grove Park) gay cafe, email, coffee, sandwiches and baked goodies.
Pho Grand (3195 South Grand), authentic and inexpensive Vietnamese food, gracious service, lunch and dinner menus, vegetarian options.
Soulard Coffee Garden Cafe (910 Geyer), big and hearty breakfasts, lunch sandwiches and salads; pastries, good coffee, inside or garden seating, relaxed vibe.
Soulard Farmer's Market (Lafayette at Seventh), Wednesday through Saturday market stalls, open since 1838; fresh and organic produce, cheese, baked goods, flowers, meat and fish, famous donuts and snack foods.
St Louis Bread (3114 S Grand) a St Louis original, known elsewhere as Panera Bread; soups, sandwiches, baked goods, internet access.
Ted Drewes (4224 S Grand), unforgettable old-fashioned St Louis-style frozen custard treats with toppings, for hot summer's day relief.
Wild Flower (4590 Laclede, Central West End) Greenwich Village-style bistro, creative and innovative cuisine, open for lunch and dinner, plus Saturday and Sunday brunch with specialty cocktails
Club St. Louis (2625 Samuel Shepard Dr), complete sauna facilities, private sling room, full-size outdoor swimming pool, Sunday buffets.
Cheap Trx (3211 South Grand), curios, rainbow items, adult basement leather store, toys, novelties, and DVD videos; safe piercing and tattooing, friendly and helpful staff.
Left Bank Bookstore (399 North Euclid), independent bookseller in the Grove; alternative and gay titles, magazines, author events, radio tapings.
The Saint Louis Galleria (1155 St Louis Galleria), shopping mall has shops including Apple, Macys, and Nordstom, plus restaurants, and a cinema complex.
The West County Center Shopping Mall (80 W County Center, Des Peres), is another large shopping mall, with stores from Apple to Macy's, restaurants, and a cinema cinema complex.