One funny thing about Evanston winters is they tend to drag on until at least halfway through spring quarter. As temperatures refuse to rise, and you’re begging for any excuse to escape this cold, cold campus, NBN offers you a way out: a weekend in St. Louis. Pack your bags Thursday night, sprint out of your Friday morning discussion section, and head south for three days of blues, barbecue, and a bizarre children’s museum that a rowdy all-ages crowd roves until midnight. Don’t worry, overcommitted wildcats—you’ll make it back in time for your Sunday night meetings.
FridayBeale on Broadway (Cover charge ranges $7-15, depending on the act. Music starts at 8, and the headliner goes on at 10:30.)
Lively, intimate club featuring live blues seven nights a week and draft beers under $5. The small venue fills up quickly. On nights when it gets packed, the standing-room audience members practically touch the stage. In fact, local musicians in the crowd may get pulled onstage to play a few songs with the band.
SaturdayCourtesy Diner (The one at 1121 Hampton Ave. Open 24 hours a day. Breakfast plates start at $3.)
For a dose of Americana, start your day at this classic diner, which dates back to 1935. You can get eggs or a short stack of pancakes for as little as $3, but we recommend springing for the hangover (two eggs, hash browns, and chicken fried steak slathered in white sausage gravy) at the high-rolling price of $6.25. Afterward, amble into Forest Park, just a block and a half up the street.Forest Park (Free all day)
Walk off breakfast with a stroll through this mammoth urban park criss-crossed with creeks, bridges and crunchy gravel paths. As you move deeper into the sprawling green space, the sounds of street traffic fade away but the highrises of Central West End remain visible above the trees. Forest Park, which is nearly 500 acres larger than New York’s Central Park, is huge enough to hold two museums, a planetarium, and a zoo.Missouri Botanical Garden ($12 for non-state residents. Open 9am to 5pm.)
Whether you’re escaping Evanston’s snow in winter quarter or coming down in time for the bloom of the spring, the Missouri Botanical Garden—one of the oldest and largest in the country—is worth a visit. Check out the Climatron, a massive aluminum and glass dome enclosing a steaming tropical oasis of orchids, bromeliads, star fruit, and mangroves, complete with a 10-foot waterfall you can walk under.World’s Fair Donuts (Open 4 a.m. to 3 p.m. Donuts go for less than $1.)
As you leave the gardens, make a pitstop at this mom and pop donut shop. The exterior is unassuming, but inside you’ll find a mouthwatering array of apple fritters, long johns and donuts ranging from buttermilk to red velvet cake, baked by the same couple that has run the place for more than 40 years. They only take cash, but you won’t need much to load up on enough sugar to boost you through the rest of the day.Pappy’s Smokehouse (Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Ribs go for $17/half rack.)
This beloved barbecue spot specializes in dry rub St. Louis-style pork ribs, but you’ll have to show up early if you want to try them. At peak times, the line to order wraps through the entire restaurant, and on the night we visited the ribs sold out around 7. Pappy’s is popular for a reason: the barbecue is to die for, served with four kinds of sauce and sides that are every bit as delicious as the main dishes. On the walls you’ll find menus signed by Flavor Flav, Nick Jonas, Larry the Cable Guy, and the 2012 U.S. Olympic gold medal women’s gymnastics team. Any restaurant that can bring such an eclectic mix of people together at least deserves your consideration.City Museum ($14 admission. Open until midnight on Sat.)
It’s hard to say why the City Museum exists, but I couldn’t be happier that it does. Ostensibly, it’s a children’s museum and four-story jungle gym. But you’ll find plenty of grown ups and couples in their 20s and 30s wandering around alongside toddlers, tweens, and teens. Somewhere in this absurd jumble of tunnels, slides, ladders, trains, planes, castles, fossils, arcades, aquariums and a circus you’ll become a wide-eyed child, amazed to discover all the elaborate nooks and crannies hidden in this 600,000 square foot wonderland.
Spend a few stress-free hours downtown, near the train and bus stations, so that you won’t have to dash across the city to make your Amtrak or Megabus. Baseball fans can check out Busch Stadium, music lovers the National Blues Museum, bookworms the Central Library. And if you want to take one last longing look at St. Louis before you go, you can shell out $13 for a trip to the top of the Gateway Arch. I couldn’t tell you what that’s like, because we chose to invest that money in beer at nearby 4 Hands Brewing.4 Hands Brewing (Open noon to 9 p.m. Beers run $5-7.)
To take the edge off of your five-hour train or bus ride home, visit the tap room of this local brewery, which on weekends teems with millennial yuppies, hip parents, and a surprising number of little kids running around. If you want to grab a bite to eat before you go, there’s a food window where you can order a $7 brat or drop $14 on an elaborate plate of brisket nachos.