Tag Archives: Midwest

St. Paul: Homes and Gardens

6 Feb

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We have a full day of exploring St. Paul planned, let’s start with the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park. It’s another hot and sunny day, we follow fellow visitors from the parking lot to the conservatory; the exterior plaza is a combination of concrete, sculptures and raised beds. The glass structure was built in 1915, it’s owned and operated by the City of St. Paul, admission is free, a voluntary donation of $3.00 is suggested and is well worth it. Inside we follow a concrete path through lush green foliage that leads us to the Sunken Garden, it’s stunning. I stand there for a few minutes just looking around, I just love these enchanting old conservatories. We’re slightly elevated here, the surrounding structure feels like we’re in a magnificent greenhouse, a beautiful wrought iron fence acts as a balcony, we have a complete overview of the garden. Narrow arborvitaes stand in tall lines along the sides, yellow cannas are blooming, straight down the middle is a reflecting pool, at the far end is Harriet Frishmuth’s bronze sculpture Play Days. Star-shaped lights watch over the garden, this is the conservatory’s show house, it changes with every season, I’d love to see it at Christmas time.

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The Palm Dome is 64′ tall and 100′ in diameter, filled with tropical palm and cycad species, some are over 100 years old. Orchids and Bromeliads are unique with their colorful blooms and thick leaves. We keep a leisurely pace meandering from one area to the next, the North Garden contains useful plants; aloe, banana, bamboo, coffee, fig. In the Fern Room a gentle waterfall spills into a tranquil Koi pond; children are excited to see the fish. There are over 100 species of fern and fern allies here, I’ve always been fond of the lacy foliage. Water gardens surround the exterior of the Visitors Center. Water lilies float in shallow pools with rock bottoms; white ones, purple ones, short, tall, pink centers, yellow centers, they’re beautiful but the most intriguing has to be the Victoria Water Lilies known as “Blooming Victorias”. Lime green platter-like plants float on the still surface, the edges curl up creating sides to the platter, revealing a fuschia-like color around the edges, I have never seen anything like them before.

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We drive to our next destination, Summit Avenue. The street runs just west of downtown St. Paul and continues 4 1/2 miles west to the Mississippi River; this is the longest avenue of Victorian homes in the nation. Populated with historic houses, churches, synagogues and schools, it was named one of the 10 “great streets” nationally in 2008. Oh, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (born in St. Paul) lived here too… Most of the homes were built between 1890 and 1920 some appeared as early as the 1850’s; out of 440 original grand mansions 373 remain today, isn’t that amazing? Let’s face it, in those days there was a lot of wealth, men got rich off lumber, mining, railroads and banks; it was a time like no other. We definitely need to take a walk. The homes are built on a bluff, stairs take you from street level to front doors, on the backside of the homes the mighty Mississippi flows below; every house is beautiful, seriously. Each home is different even though many were designed by Cass Gilbert and Clarence Johnson. Notice all of the detail in the brick and stone, the chimneys and porches. The flowers that fill urns and pots are enjoying a warmer-than-usual September, hydrangea are popular here too. I notice several of the houses have covered porticos from the horse and carriage days.

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The grey and plum Victorian with the amazing porch and pointy turret was built in 1891 as Mrs. Porterfields Boarding House, they say it was home to some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary friends, it’s a beauty.  An orange-brick house has white-painted wood over the porch and along the roofline, notice the stone ‘stripe’ and ornamentation. The dark brick mansion is fantastic, look at that place; stone details, slate roof, I like the rounded window on the side. The big grey wood-shingle house is unique, lots of detail here, especially above the entryway, I admire the way they painted the grapes and vines in color. We duck down Heather Place to see the stucco and stone house, it’s enormous; 10,000 sq. ft of Tudor Revival blended with Cotswold cottage it’s a real charmer; I’ve always been a sucker for the cedar roof that wraps around the edges. The rose-colored castle is one of my favorites, built in 1883 for a coal and lumberman, it has a skylight next to the turret.

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We come to a lookout called Overlook Park, there was a hotel here in 1859, wealthy folks traveling by steamboat would often stay here, it offered the best views in St. Paul with a large observation deck. After the hotel burned down it became a park in 1887, the ornamental fence you see on the right is original.The large Eagle statue was created by Louis Saint Gaudens in 1890, after being moved all around the city it was placed here in 1999. What an amazing view! Down the street is a lovely Georgian Revival built by a bank president in 1909; I am constantly struck by the time period these mansions were built, homeowners maintain them diligently from lawn and landscape to copper downspouts and roofs. There’s a lot of chunky stone, orange brick, turrets, arches, dentils and columns in stone and marble. Attorney William Lightner’s house was built in 1893 in the Richardsonian style, the exterior is Purple Sioux Quartzite and Kettle River Sandstone. The Germanic Institute was built in 1906 as a private home for the George W Gardner family complete with a third-floor ballroom, ratskeller and 9 fireplaces; the Germanic-American Institute purchased the home in 1965. One of my other favorites is the Driscol Warehouser house, Frederick Driscol, a newspaper magnate built this 11,000 sq. ft. mansion in 1884, a mix of Queen Ann and Gothic it has 8 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. It was later purchased by Fred Warehouser, a man who owned the largest lumber company in the world, he certainly had good taste.

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We arrive at the James J Hill House after the last tour has started. Since we’re from out-of-town the kind woman behind the desk invites us to have a look around the first level on our own, thank you! James Hill was super-rich, he purchased the nearly bankrupt St. Paul and Pacific railroad in 1878 and over the next 2 decades worked relentlessly to push the line north to Canada and then west across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean; it was then renamed the Great Northern Railway in 1890. His other business interests included coal, iron ore, mining, shipping, banking and agriculture–yes he had his hand in everything; he was one of the wealthiest and most powerful figures of his time. He built this opulent, 36,500 sq. ft. home in 1891 and died here in 1916.

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Four of his daughters were married in the home, it has 22 fireplaces, a reception hall nearly 100′ long and 16 crystal chandeliers. The home is a profusion of elaborately carved woodwork, ornate plaster ceilings, skylight, built-in organ complete with organ pipes; it has everything a railroad titan could wish for. At the time it was the largest and most expensive home in the state of Minnesota; the final cost for construction, furnishings and landscaping for the 3 acre estate was $931, 275.01. After James and Mary Hill passed away the children gave to home to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul in 1925. It was acquired by the Minnesota Historical Society to be used as a historic house museum in 1978. 

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Aren’t you thirsty after all of that? Thankfully Bad Weather Brewing Company is close by on 7th Street. The taproom serves up a constantly changing menu of beer and house soda. The space is industrial-modern, glass roll up doors open to the patio, colorful lettering fills the menu boards. A couple of seats open up at the bar, we move quickly to claim them. Beers are named using weather terms: Cauld Weather, Ominous, Windvane, you get the idea, the labels are cool. I’m drinking the Galactic Tide Porter, Kris takes the bartender’s suggestion; we both enjoy what we’re drinking. This place is buzzing, the line to order seems endless. We enjoy our conversation with the bartenders and invite them to the Mitten state to check out what we’ve got brewing.

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There’s a few hours left before we have to leave for the wedding, we head over to our airbnb. We have rented a Mid-Century Modern house tucked into a quiet neighborhood, it’s perfect for us. We have our own driveway and entrance on the first floor, the place is tastefully decorated, luxury linens, full kitchen, snacks; everything we need to feel at home. Our host is outstanding. Time to kick back and relax.

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The wedding is at Redeemed Farm in Scandia, about a 40 minute drive. Our route takes us north and east into the countryside. We  enter the barn, climb the stairs to the loft and take our seats before the ceremony begins. The bride is gorgeous, the groom wears a big smile; the ceremony is lovely. Our evening is spent visiting with the bride and groom, eating, drinking and catching up with friends, perfect. The setting is beautiful, the barns rustic and quaint, like an old-fashioned fairytale. Congratulations kids!

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Ohio Outdoors……

24 Oct


We are staying at Stone Gables Bed and Breakfast in Cleveland OH, having filled up on a wonderful breakfast prepared by Richard, we are ready for a day of adventure. Traveling east of Cleveland we arrive at The Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, it is our first visit, I can hardly wait to check it out. Holden Arboretum was started in 1931, a bequest from Albert Fairchild Holden created as a memorial for his oldest daughter Elizabeth who died of scarlet fever at the age of 12. The arboretum is a collection of woody plants that are labeled, cataloged and mapped; here you will find cultivated gardens, forest trails, woodlands and 20 miles of hiking trails covering the 3,500 acres. Directly behind the visitor’s center lies the Butterfly Garden, carefully trimmed grass pathways lead past beds bursting with Purple Coneflowers, Black Eyed Susans, Sedum and more. Crossing a footbridge we stop halfway and watch as water passes over stacked  rock creating a shallow waterfall. Foster Pond, thick with lilypads, is surrounded by plantings of late blooming perennials, daylilies and Trumpet Vine; bees and butterflies are everywhere. I overhear talk of a Tram Tour and discover there are still two seats available for the next tour.  Making our way over to the tram we pass one beautiful bed after another; Hibiscus wear blooms the size of dinner plates,  yellow Coreopsis, purple Bee Balm and Cardinal Flowers add bright splashes of color.


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We board the tiny white tram with three other visitors, the total capacity of the golf-cart-like vehicle is six, making for a very personal tour; the trail is hard-packed, used by pedestrians and trams alike. Traveling past mature trees our friendly, knowledgeable guide stops off and on telling us interesting facts, we glide past Ponderosa Pines, a wildflower garden and Blueberry Pond, its glass-like surface reflecting the nearby scenery. The grounds are breathtaking; lush green grass, ponds, pines, carefully placed benches invite guests to linger and relax. Off to the side a patch of Jewelweed is in full bloom, our guide invites a member of our group to carefully pinch off a seed pod for the rest of us to see. She instructs him to place the pod in the palm of his hand, then tap the pod, all of us jump when the pod explodes sending seeds into the air, appropriately, the plant’s nickname is Touch-Me-Not!  Approaching the Rhododendron Discovery Garden, we are greeted by the Noreb Tree Allee, lined with Paperbark Hazels, Swamp White Oaks, American Elms and Flowering Dogwoods, this place must be incredible in the Spring. Two huge granite acorns welcome us, we cross through a gate, past a pretty pergola into the collection of Rhododendrons and Azaleas, here again a springtime visit would be ideal. Corning Lake is home to tall reeds, cattails and Heron, a large turtle is resting in the grass. In one hour the tram leads us through all of Holden’s highlights, it is really the best way to become acquainted with the grounds.


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Driving south, we stop in the tiny town of Burton for lunch at a cafe. Fed and refreshed we arrive at Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park to do some hiking. The day-use park is made up of 167 acres of rugged cliffs, four scenic hiking trails and diverse plant life. The park lies near one of the highest points of the state; a popular vacation spot, the state of Ohio created the Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park in 1949, preserving it for future generations. Rock formations found here are among the few outcrops in northern Ohio still exposed to view. The incredible sandstone cliff formations are a result of erosion; wind, water freezing-thawing, wore away at the softer rock layers. Large blocks of rock called slump blocks fell away, leaving the more resistant layers to form ledges. Rocks lay jumbled about, moss in a variety of shades and patterns covers the surface. At the trail head we choose the Red trail, it is the most difficult of the four, also the most interesting.

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Red dots are spray-painted on trunks of trees, sides of rocks, leading us over dirt trails, rock stairs and fresh puddles. We descend the narrow space between two rock formations, the temperature drops noticeably, tiny white pebbles have worn smooth and are embedded into the rock. Trees are perched along the top edges, their roots exposed, clinging to each crevice. In shady areas ferns such as Christmas and Maidenhair grow wild, I read that in Spring Trillium are found in abundance, even the rare Red Trillium can be found here. We follow red dots catching a glimpse of a squirrel here and there, many songbirds can be found in the park. We are very low in elevation when we arrive at Fat Man’s Peril, here we have to duck down and squeeze between the rock surfaces, it’s dark too. The trail is loaded with places with names like Devil’s Icebox, Indian Pass, Old Maid’s Kitchen, posted signs urge us to stay on our path saying “Dangerous cliffs, stay on marked trails only”, good advice. Slowly we make our way back up, the leafy canopy above providing refuge from the heat. Back at the trail head we follow a trail leading us in the opposite direction, the ground is covered in fallen leaves year round making for slippery stepping at times. Reaching the boardwalk, we follow it around to a waterfall, today it is merely a fine spray of water passing over the rock face, the volume varies with the season. Speaking of waterfalls, we have one more place to visit.

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Chagrin Falls is one of those darling little towns that look like a set for a Hallmark movie. The Chagrin River runs right through the center of town, baskets of flowers cascade over the railing along the river, a fountain trickles in a tiny park riverside, the buildings themselves are quaint brick structures. The historic little village, an affluent suburb of Cleveland, is only 2.14 sq. miles, in it we find Greek Revival homes from the very early days, Italianate houses from the 1870’s, Queen Anne’s from the 1890’s and bungalows from the 20th century, they all look equally comfortable in their setting. The sky has become dark, we head directly for the falls before the clouds open up. An elevated wooden deck leads us down to the Chagrin Falls where the powerful river flows steadily over rocks, white water landing in the river below. Visitors pose for pictures, the scenery is lovely. On the opposite side of the water from us a large restaurant takes advantage of the spectacular view with lots of windows and a covered deck. It begins to rain, we quickly make our way to The Popcorn Shop on Main Street.

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Businesses in town consist of specialty shops, art and antique stores, home goods, clothing stores and restaurants. The Popcorn Shop is one of those places you have to visit when you are in town, decked out in red, white and blue, the building is charming, built in 1875 it originally was the retail end for the adjoining flour mill. Sometime in the 1940’s it became a popcorn shop which also served homemade ice cream and candy, and so it is today. I love their caramel corn, it is simply the best, Kris is more of an ice cream type guy, he orders a waffle cone with a peanut butter ice cream that is truly to die for! The harder it rains the more crowded the shop becomes, until at last it lets up. We take the opportunity to stroll Main Street, every shop displays  gorgeous urns stuffed with annuals, the scent of Petunias carried on the breeze. The town is quaint, walkable, picturesque, a great side trip when you are visiting Cleveland.

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St Louis Part III

18 Jan

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One of the best ways to get a feel for a city is to check out the local farmers market. Located on Carroll St in the Soulard neighborhood, this Farmers Market started in 1779 on what was then a flat piece of meadow land. The current building was built in 1929 in the Renaissance Style. Visit a farmers market on any given Saturday and you are sure to observe locals from every walk of life in the city. We began in the outdoor sheds, piles of fruits and vegetables sat atop tables and counters; citrus from Florida, home-grown apples, and Mississippi Pecans for only $3.80 a pound.  Continuing indoors the building has that historic charm, warm colored brick makes up the walls, double doors and arched windows are behind each stall, rectangular windows are placed high in the walls to let in more light, yellow banners hang above each stand telling you the vendor’s name and stall number. They have everything you’d expect from a farmers market, produce, meats, cheeses and baked goods. In addition you can browse a spice shop, pet puppies in the Soulard Pet Shop, buy Cardinal’s apparel, watch mini doughnuts being made, and try some pasta made of things like fruits, vegetables and even chocolate! While we were in the area we took a drive through Soulard, St Louis’s oldest neighborhood. The homes were originally built by the local brewery workers, many now house live music clubs, restaurants and shops. Steeped in French heritage they celebrate Mardi Gras in Winter and Bastille Day in July.

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Next destination Historic Cherokee Antique Row. Located south of downtown, the seven block area is home to Antique, Collectible, and specialty shops, galleries and independent retail. From vintage clothing and Mid Century Modern to antique china and period lighting, the shops are filled with rescued objects. It’s a beautiful street to stroll, homes are lovely, made of brick they are tall and narrow. On the corner of Cherokee and Illinois is a cafe/coffee shop called The Mud House, we stopped in for a snack and a coffee. At the counter we ordered espresso and a slice of  pecan pie, we found a seat by the window for a little relaxation before hitting the street again. Mud House has a warm and relaxed vibe, it is an obvious favorite to locals for both food and coffee. Rejuvenated, we continued shopping, we weren’t looking for anything in particular, more or less just looking. In and out of shops we saw something from each decade, books and records, automotive memorabilia, glassware and pottery. There was a fascinating shop called Saxquest, carrying both vintage and professional model saxophones, they have a sax museum on the second floor, the instruments are quite elaborate and elegant.  One of the galleries exclusively features St Louis artists, they also have a nice selection of T-shirts and city guidebooks.

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It was lunchtime and we were starving; a drive over to The Hill neighborhood would remedy that. The Hill is home to St Louis’s Italian heritage; Italian immigration began in the late 1800’s and continued for another 50 years. The neighborhood is home to authentic Italian bakeries, grocery stores, restaurants and trattorias, even the fire hydrants are painted red, white and green!  There is a wide selection of places to eat in this 50 block area along with coffee houses, a gelato shop, studios and Milo’s Bocce Garden. The neighborhood takes pride in the fact that Yogi Berra, Joe Garagiola and Jack Buck (Cardinals sportscaster) all grew up in this area. After a drive around we choose Zia’s On The Hill for lunch, we found parking up the street a little ways and wandered in. Named for the owners two aunts (Zia is Italian for Aunt) who were great cooks, Zia’s is a “Hill” staple. Housed in a former grocery store, upon entering you are in the bar area complete with tin ceilings and varnished wood.   Our waitress arrived with a bread basket and drinks, and helped us navigate the selections. The Zia’s salad is a must…crisp lettuce mixed with ham, artichoke hearts, green olives, Italian cheese and house dressing, it was excellent. We split the lunch sized entrée of Tortellini Piselli, they were kind enough to place it in two separate bowls. This stuff is out of this world….meat-filled tortellini in an egg cream sauce with peas and prosciutto ham. The waitress she highly recommended it, I can see why, this is some seriously good pasta. The only sad part was we couldn’t take our left-overs with us.

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We had been meaning to check out an area called Lafayette Square. Centered around the 30 acre Lafayette Park, this urban neighborhood is gorgeous! Amazing homes in the Victorian and Second Empire style grace the streets, the business district is made up of wine shops, nice restaurants, an arts center, brewery and several churches. Oh, there is one other place I should tell you about; Park Avenue Coffee which features St Louis’s own Gooey Butter Cake. Yes, we were full, but we had been hearing about Gooey Butter cake for days now, and here we were face to face with the real thing, there’s only one thing to do…. try it! Made by the Ann & Allen baking company of St Louis, they are up to 73 flavors of “gooey butter goodness”. I wanted to try the original, it was so good I actually started to giggle while eating my first piece; as you would expect it had a chewy crust and a delectable gooey center, the original is a yellow cake at it’s best, melt-in-your-mouth scrumptious, oh so yummy! Now we seriously needed to walk, we couldn’t have chosen a better place than the Lafayette Square historic district. St Louis prospered in the post Civil War years and Lafayette Square became one of the most fashionable neighborhoods. Unfortunately as early as the 20’s the area began to decline; homes were neglected and abandoned, many were destroyed.  At one point there were plans to bulldoze the neighborhood in favor of a highway; but as is often the case locals came together and saved the area from destruction. In 1972 Lafayette Square became the first historic district in St Louis, in 1973 it was placed on the National register of Historic Places. Today this neighborhood is thriving, homes are being restored, lofts are being renovated and condos are being built, Lafayette Square is now being recognized and appreciated for the superb treasure that it is.

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It was time to get back to the hotel, our New Year’s Eve plans consisted of relaxing at the hotel, eating dinner in, and having a drink at the bar to welcome in the new year. If that doesn’t sound very exciting to you, let me tell you where we were staying:  The Marriott at St Louis Union Station, and it’s  no ordinary hotel. Take a moment and click on the link to see the exterior of the building, go ahead, I’ll wait…….Amazing isn’t it?  While the grand Romanesque exterior is made of Bedford Indiana limestone and is quite impressive, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!  Enter the building, climb a few stairs and you are now in the Grand Hall, the 65 foot barrel-vaulted ceiling is magnificent with its gold-leaf detailing. The detail is incredible; Romanesque archways, fresco’s, mosaics and art glass windows. The most significant window can be found above the main entryway; hand cut Tiffany glass features 3 women representing the main US train stations during the 1890’s: New York, St Louis and San Francisco. Union Station was built for $6.5 million in the 1890’s, during the 1980’s the building underwent a $150 million dollar restoration. The place is seriously gorgeous!  This is probably the best experience I have ever had at a hotel; from the minute we arrived until we left, the service was exceptional. Everybody was kind and helpful, friendly and outgoing. The room was beautiful, clean, quiet, everything you hope for on a vacation.

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We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, Station Grille, New Year’s Eve. The food was outstanding, the service top-notch.  The dining room is elegant, all the wood is still original. The menu is well-rounded, one of our favorite items was the Charcuterie Plate; house made salami, pork loin, grainy mustard, pretzel bread, olives and pickled vegetables, excellent! I was also unaware that St Louis is known for its toasted ravioli, Station Grille’s is superb, love the sauce.  After dinner we set out to explore more of Union Station itself. Each evening we would walk around a bit and marvel at the grandeur of the place, tonight we headed out to the Midway and Train Shed areas and to visit the Memories Museum. Opened September 1, 1894 Union Station was owned by Terminal Railroad Associates of St Louis. The building housed a hotel, restaurant, passenger waiting rooms and railroad ticket offices. At the time of its opening it was the largest and busiest railroad station in the world, at its peak the station combined passenger services of 22 railroads. In 1903 the station had to expand to accommodate people arriving for The World’s Fair in 1904.  The Midway at 610 ft long and 70 ft wide once served more than 100,000 passengers a day, today the passageway is a mall with shops and restaurants. At 11.5 acres the train shed was once the largest roof span in the world.  The shed also houses retail shops, restaurants, a portion of the Marriott hotel, and a lake, it is truly a remarkable feat of engineering. The Memories Museum really puts things into perspective as to what train travel was like in the late 1800’s, it was no easy task. Trunks would be loaded onto wagons and taken by horse to the trains to be loaded. People did not have cars back then, so even getting to the station was a feat. The museum has great displays of dishes, period clothing and trunks, menu’s and train schedules… it’s all fascinating stuff. The museum is always open, located in the midway and shed area you can wander through at your leisure.

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Finally we migrated to the lounge in the Great Hall, there isn’t a prettier bar in St Louis. Todd, our bartender, whipped me up an awesome White Chocolate Russian, Kris a VO & Coke, as we watched all of the activity going on around us. People were dressed to the nines, they’d stop in for photos in front of the towering Christmas tree, or drinks on the way to their next stop, it seemed everybody was having a good time. While awaiting the arrival of 2012 we soaked in every bit of ambiance this place offered. Happy New Year !

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Give St Louis a try; a great Midwestern town with way more to offer than meets the eye ! Hmmmmm, sounds familiar, time to head back to Detroit …..