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 Travel Article Travel Article Archive  
June 2010 Email this to a friend

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By Joseph Erbentraut

Cactus Canyon, St. Louis Area

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NOTE: This is an archive article. For an updated and expanded St Louis article click DailyXtraTravel

St Louis has come a long way since its founding by the French in 1764 as a fur-trading junction. Today, the Gateway City is a gay-friendly destination marked by its diverse neighborhoods, eye-catching architecture and local charm, drawing from its unique geographic location bordering the Midwest to the east and the Ozarks to the west.
And though the city has fallen from its glory days -- as 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 to its downtown area, complementing an already expansive list of entertainment, dining and nightlife attractions sure to entice the most cosmopolitan of travelers.
Beyond its 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's gay centers are also vibrant and diverse. The gayborhoods are incredibly multi-faceted, offering something for art lovers, beer drinkers and theater queens alike. From the bustling Manchester Road bar strip in the Grove to the Victorian architecture and parks of Grand South Central; the urban, artist-friendly Central West End 'hood to the cobblestone streets of the Soulard historic district, there will always be something for you in the Lou.

Getting here
Lambert-St Louis Airport, located approximately 13 miles from the heart of downtown, is the city's main gateway. Set aside $30 for one-way cab fare or hop on the Metrolink light rail. The trip into the city will take just over half an hour. Alternatively, the Airport Express shuttle vans head directly to many downtown hotels.

Getting around
The city's 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. And, 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.
As you venture out of the Loop, head due south for some of the Midwest's best museums and more outdoor space. Both the St Louis Area Museum and City Museum are in Forest Park, one of the nation's largest urban parks.
If you're chasing historical flavor,
visit the Soulard district. It is home to Clementine's, which claims to be the first gay bar established west of the Mississippi River. The neighborhood's farmer's market, which has been in operation since 1779, is a favorite among locals, as is the annual Mardi Gras celebration, one of the most rambunctious in the country.
And then there is Central West End, which playwright Tennessee Williams called home. The 'hood, owing to its location near St Louis University, has an artistic feel and is full of sidewalk cafes, galleries, boutiques and coffee spots. Both this neighborhood and the Grove are where you'll get much of your cruise on.

The Grove.The hub of the city's gay community, the Grove is where you'll find the largest concentration of gay nightspots and rainbow flags.
Central West End. While not as gay as the Grove, this neighborhood has a lot to offer the artistically inclined. The 'hood also plays host to a number of prominent gay-friendly festivals and house tours.
Grand South Grand. The host 'hood to the city's annual PrideFest, this area is also home to a number of ethnically diverse restaurants and some beautiful Victorian-styled homes.

in focus
Plenty of room to frolic
If your idea of a satisfying use of vacation days calls to mind rural, outdoorsy scenery, then Missouri's Cactus Canyon Campground should hold a spot on your short list of "must visit" destinations.
Cactus Canyon, located in Ava, a four-hour drive southeast of St Louis, is one of the nation's largest and most popular gay men's camping sites. Totaling more than 720 acres, the ever-increasing property offers plenty of space for visitors to indulge in an adventure far removed from the concrete jungle of metropolitan life.
It's an adventure that men have frequently had a difficult time leaving behind in the 11 years since property co-owners Jim and Chaz first opened the gates. Many visitors return on a yearly basis, and some have come to the site every year since Cactus Canyon's opening.
"It's purely an amazing place," Jim told Guide magazine. "The peace and tranquility make it difficult for people to leave. And we keep getting busier every year, with people coming from farther away all the time."
He said every season is like welcoming back old friends.
"It's so nice to have our regular customers come back every year. It's like a homecoming every weekend in the spring," he said.
Cactus Canyon has grown immensely since its 1999 opening. Today, the amenities range from more primitive camping and RV hook-up sites to rustic cabins, in addition to a swimming pool, dry sauna and hot tub. The vast property presents plenty of opportunities to fish, hike or strike up a volleyball match.
Weekends at the Canyon offer a range of themes catering to guys whose interests fall outside the mainstream, including line-dance and two-step-intensive cowboy roundups, "leather in the woods" and several weekends catered to bears and bear-lovers. And silver daddies, there's a weekend set aside for you, too.
Perhaps the best, and most unique, part of your stay at the Canyon is that it's all clothing-optional, offering refuge for those who'd rather not have those pesky layers of fabric between them and their vacation. It's a policy that has gained many fans among the property's return visitors.
"You can run around naked almost anywhere on the property," Jim says. "Some people barely make it through the gates and they have their clothes off."

For more info
For a list of the area's bars, restaurants, hotels and other businesses, see our map. And for complete coverage, click into GuideMag.com.

Top experiences
Theater's "bad boy." The New Line Theatre troupe takes musical theater in a sexy, provocative direction. Their production of Evita runs July 8-31.

The best things in life. It's true, they're free. It is said that St Louis plays host to almost as many free -- or very cheap -- attractions as DC, so save some money for your bar tab by spending your days wandering through the city's many museums and outdoor spaces.
Don't hate the straights. While the city has great gay bars, some of the most energetic nightspots are geared to the omnisexual. But in true Midwestern fashion, everyone gets on just fine.

Need a pick-me-up? One of the city's most acclaimed gay attractions is the Coffee Cartel, a 24-hour coffee shop located in the Central West End. It has an edgy, cruisy-at-times vibe.

Pride Day
PrideFest St Louis 2010
St Louis's annual Pride celebration, in Tower Grove Park, is packed with entertainment, food, vendors and 90,000 attendees. The parade launches Sunday at noon.
June 26-27

Event planner
Mr Heartland Bear 2010
The Show Me Bears' annual contest is a weekend full of beastly fun.
3858 Market St
June 4-6

Gateway Regional Rodeo
The Gateway Gay Rodeo Association presents this weekend for cowboy chasers, only nine miles south of downtown St Louis.
10 Tucker Dr, Caseyville, IL
June 10-12

The Festival of Nations
This multicultural festival is one of the most cele-brated annual St Louis events.
Tower Grove Park, 4256 Magnolia Ave, St Louis, MO
August 28-29

Mr Midwest Leather
St Louis plays host to this year's Midwest International Mr Leather qualifier.
Bad Dog Bar & Grill, 3960 Chouteau Ave.
September 24-26

St Louis International Film Festival
The 19th-annual festival features provocative films from around the world.
November 11-21

Local media
The metro St Louis area's gay community is served by the Vital Voice. The Riverfront Times is the city's gay-friendly alternative newsweekly.

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.
Brewers House B.&B. (1829 Lami; 314-771-1542) Civil War-era home, fireplace, wi-fi, sunny garden with hot tub.
St. Louis Guest House (1032-38 Allen; 314-773- 1016) brick townhouses overlook Clementine's, kitchenettes, wi-fi, hot tub in private courtyard.

Click HERE for more area accommodations.

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: North Midtown to Central West End
Magnolias (5 South Vandeventer) three bars on two levels, dance floor, drag cabaret shows, restaurant.
The Zone (16 South Euclid, Central West End) known as the Loading Zone, hot guys, video bar, show tune sing-alongs.

Bars & Clubs: South Midtown and the Grove
The district blossomed recently when several new bars opened.
Bad Dog Saloon (3960 Chouteau Ave) new Grove location of a well established bar for biker, leather, and fetish-loving men.
Complex (3515 Chouteau) top dance club, drag shows, big crowds, easy parking, 18-plus nights.
Erney's 32 Degree Vodka Bar (4200 Manchester) huge vodka cooler, sipping station, comfortable lounge.
Just Johns (4112 Manchester Ave) formerly called Freddie's, video bar, dance floor, open-air patio bar.
JJ's Clubhouse, (3858 Market) time- honored institution, denim and leather bar, shop, tournaments and competitions.
Premium Bar (4199 Manchester) best selection of top shelf liquor, relaxed and tranquil atmosphere.
Rehab Lounge (4054 Chouteau Ave) newly opened, fast becoming the daytime hotspot.

Bars & Clubs: Soulard
Bastille Cobalt Grill (1027 Russell) Mardi Gras atmosphere, local hangout, bar and grill, friendly vibe.
Clementines (2001 Menard) New Orleans-style bar, outdoor patio, popular holiday pig roasts.

Bars & Clubs: South Grand to South Broadway
Absolutli Goosed (3196 South Grand) primarily for women, mixed crowd, fine martinis.
Grey Fox (3503 South Spring) neighborhood bar, weekend drag and variety show.
Hummel's Pub (7101 South Broadway) took over Korners old location, drag shows and entertainment.
Korners (7109 South Broadway) recently relocated, darts and games, drag shows, live entertainment.

Across the river
Bubby & Sissy's (602 Belle St, Alton) near Argosy Casino, two levels, dance floor, female impersonators, huge patio.
Boxers 'n Briefs, (55 Four Corners Ln, Centreville) non-stop totally nude strippers, public or private shows, 18- plus admission.

South Grand's dining options include Vietnamese, Thai, Latin American, and Chinese. Soulard, the Central West End, and the Grove area on Manchester, have lots of options as well.
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.
Chez Leon (4580 Laclede Ave, Central West End) fine French cuisine, house-made country pate, full bar.
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.
Novak's (4121 Manchester) everyday bar and grill, basic and hearty food, friendly gay atmosphere.
O My Darling Cafe (2001 Menard, Soulard) at Clementine's, New Orleans and local fare, nightly specials, weekend brunch.
Pho Grand (3195 South Grand) authentic Vietnamese food, gracious service, lunch and dinner menus.
Soulard Farmer's Market (Lafayette at Seventh) since 1838, fresh produce, baked goods, famous donuts.
St. Louis Bread (3114 S Grand) a St Louis original, soups, sandwiches, baked goods, internet.
Soulard Coffee Garden Cafe (910 Geyer) omelets, sandwiches, pastries, good coffee, inside or garden seating, relaxed vibe.
Ted Drewes (4224 S Grand) unforgettable old-fashioned cold treats for hot summer days respites.
Wild Flower (4590 Laclede, Central West End) Greenwich Village-style bistro, open for lunch, brunch and dinner.

Club St. Louis (2625 Samuel Shepard Dr) complete sauna facilities, private sling room, outdoor pool, Sunday buffet.

Cheap Trx (3211 South Grand) stuff seen nowhere else, amazing emporium, leather store, safe piercing and tattooing.
Priscilla's (3550 Grand) the city's best selection of sex toys and accessories for every orientation.

Author Profile:  Joseph Erbentraut

Joseph Erbentraut is a Wisconsin-born freelance writer and editor currently living in Chicago. His articles on politics, music and culture have been featured in the Village Voice and other publications. He also blogs at Chicagoist.

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