Of course, San Franciscans leaving the safety of our peninsular nook to visit The Lou this week may initially find themselves in a deep state of disorientation. The free parking and clear roads and ever-present cigarette smoke are more than enough to knock any of us off our game.
Not to worry. For fans making the Eastward trek to the Gateway to the West, here's a detailed cheat sheet to prepare you for and enhance your St. Louis experience.
[Updated to show that Lacy Clay beat Russ Carnahan in Democratic Primary in August, and that Lewis Reed would be St. Louis' third black mayor, not second. Fact check hat tip to Joe Holleman at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.]
Similarities: Like San Francisco, St. Louis is a kicked-back, laissez faire, uniquely architecture'd left-leaning port town controlled by political dynasties. Like San Francisco, St. Louis is composed of distinct neighborhoods, each with its own flavor, culture, and smell. Just as you can go from Mission to Sunset to the Marina to the TL and feel like you're in a different city each time, in St. Louis you can experience the same sensation going from Tower Grove to The Loop to the Central West End to Soulard.
Mexican neighborhood slowly gentrifying with artsy types and college kids: Cherokee Street is their Mission.
Swanky and Martini-scented location filled with guys in blazers and girls in heels: Washington Avenue is their Marina.
Across the bridge counterpart: East St. Louis is their Oakland. Except with more crime, less resources, more dysfunctional city politics, fewer jobs, more poverty, and fewer hipsters. The city, however, has a proud jazz and sports tradition, producing Miles Davis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Kellen Winslow, and Darius Miles. It is also home to the winningest high school football program in America.
Identifying monument that lingers on the horizon as you drive and is, no surprise, expensive to enter: The Gateway Arch is their Golden Gate Bridge.
Baseball hero statue in front of new ballpark: Stan Musial is their Willie Mays.
Three things they do better than us: $2 beers, BBQ, affordable housing.
Three things they don't do better than us: snowless winters, burritos, baseball stadiums.
So, what's the story on weed there?: The pot is not as strong and more expensive. Also, Missouri has some of the strictest marijuana laws in America -- any possession can be a misdemeanor and an ounce in the pocket can get you up to one year in jail or a $1,000 fine.
Political Dynasties: There's the Slays (current Mayor Francis G. and his father, powerful Democratic Committeeman Francis R.), the Clays (current Congressman William "Lacy" Jr. and his father, former Congressman Bill), and the Carnahans (Congressman Russ, his sister, Secretary of State Robin, their father, Governor Mel, and their grandfather, seven-term Congressman Albert Sidney Johnston).
Political Dynamic: Like San Francisco, St. Louis is a dark-blue Democrat city. There are no Republicans on the Board of Aldermen. But while SF's primary city hall conflict is Progressives vs. Moderates, St. Louis' is North City vs. South City (aka Black vs. White).
St. Louis' population is 49 percent black, 44 percent white, and 7 percent everything else. The city is effectively split into halves -- north of Delmar Boulevard and south of Delmar Boulevard. Historically, white people lived on the south side and black people lived on the north side. While that divide is less stark now than it was decades ago, north St. Louis remains almost exclusively black and south city remains majority white.
City hall voting often splits along those lines as well.
There are two big political races that underscore the significance of the north-south divide. Due to redistricting orchestrated by the Republican state legislature, most of Carnahan's district merged with Clay's. For months, the two (Carnahan is white, Clay is black) were locked in a vicious battle for the city's sole House seat, each man testing the strength and depth of his long-entrenched local loyalties. Clay won the Democratic primary in August.
Meanwhile, Slay is seeking to become the first mayor in the city's history to serve for four terms. But he'll first need to get past his most formidable challenger yet: Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed, who would become just the city's third black mayor.The election is in Spring 2013, and Giants fans watching local St. Louis television might catch Reed's debut campaign ad.
Distinctive architecture: San Francisco has Victorians, St. Louis has brick. Rows and rows of gorgeous red-brick houses. Why brick? The fire of 1849 devastated the city and changed the way they constructed buildings, much in the same way the 1906 quake did to San Francisco.
Brick is a valuable commodity, though. And stretches of St. Louis are also blighted by abandoned homes. So after drifters or thieves take those copper wires and aluminum gutters, they chip off the brick. In some parts of north St. Louis, you'll find whole blocks lined with houses missing entire walls.
Suggested bars: After a night at the ballpark, visiting San Franciscans will need somewhere to celebrate the win. And St. Louis has a very solid bar scene. For dark-wood and dimly lit sophistication, there's Brennan's in the Central West End, a good place to sip a whiskey and puff a cigar. For live blues, creole cuisine, and outdoor cool, there's Broadway Oyster Bar, which is two blocks south of Busch Stadium. For some young professional home flavor to watch tonight's debate, there's the Royale, which features framed photographs of JFK, RFK, MLK, and Nelson Mandela, among others, on its walls.
Strip clubs: San Francisco is considering a weird law banning nudity in public. Missouri has a weird law banning nudity ... in strip clubs. But just like San Franciscans can zoom across the Bay Bridge to cop free plastic bags, St. Louisans venture across the Eads Bridge or the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge to indulge in Illinois strip joints along the Mississippi Riverfront.