Your Daily Guide to St. Louis Arts & Entertainment

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 / 10:28 AM

The Bars of Sutton Boulevard

The Bars of Sutton Boulevard

Orbit Pinball Lounge. Photographs by Thomas Crone

We’re all dreamers, in our own special ways. To my mind, no trip into St. Louis County goes without some musing about our region’s multi-layers of districting: fire districts, police districts, school districts, special taxing districts and more, all set atop the 90-some municipalities that make up the complicated, compartmentalized puzzle of St. Louis County. My dream: less as more.

Just as every resident of the region has advice for the City of St. Louis, I, as a City resident, offer this modest proposal to the County: tighten up! Here’s a starter: Brentwood, Richmond Heights and Maplewood should get the ball rolling by forming a new, mid-County super town, with a great mix of residential, commercial and retail bases. In this new environment, Maplewood would be the funky corner of this new municipality, the place to go for a drink or a meal, with the super-walkable Manchester providing all kind of options between Southwest and Big Bend.

But we can’t forget the neighborhood’s fun ancillary road: Sutton. Just as Manchester provides a variety of retail and dining options, Sutton’s got its own mix of interest, with disparate blend of artistic concerns. From a high-quality art gallery to a children’s theatre, from a music school to a guitar repair shop, the block’s got a pinch of most artistic disciplines, along with a nice accompaniment to the arts: alcohol.

Last week, over two trips, Sutton’s nightlife (and daylife) was sampled, during off-peak hours. The first two spots sampled below were hit on Monday night, while the latter three were tackled on a brisk, sunny Saturday afternoon.

The Wood
2733 Sutton, 63143

When you lose a favorite dining-and-drinks spot, it takes a long time to fully get over that sense of abandonment. I loved Deluxe, the rockabilly-tinged, former restaurant and bar that inhabited The Wood’s space. That love was especially pronounced during the dinner hours when the Deluxe veggie burger was an every-couple-weeks inducement to visit. It took a while—a good, long while—but Deluxe’s successor was finally hit last week, with a Monday night drop-in to The Wood. That meant that the crowd was a pretty mellow, a low-key assemblage of maybe 15 or so people during the early evening, many of them emotionally drawn into that night’s Blues game.

As suspected, the crowd in the large-ish, nicely-appointed room was relatively young, most everyone neatly tucked into a 25­­–30 demographic; interestingly, the night’s music was right about the same age, with the low-volume PA pumping out a mix of The Cure, Pixies and Depeche Mode. That quietude allowed for nearby conversations to be overheard, including the server’s discussions about a new haircut (to my mind, her current cut was looking good, but I kept that opinion to myself). Our bartender, Eric, was a solid pro, neither hovering nor inattentive on a slow night; he kept himself busy with side work, while not forgetting about us. 

Now, we come to the pickles portion of our review. Ordering food, we got the meals in a reasonable amount of time, assuming that only one person was manning the kitchen. The pickles should never have made it out of that kitchen; they should’ve, instead, been taken out back and shot, seeing as how they’d lost whatever zest they enjoyed six months ago when still fresh. Such is life, though. The rest of the experience was solid, but the pickles are going to stick in mind for a bit, whenever The Wood’s mentioned. Those tragic ex-cucumbers did provide an amusing, running joke for the remainder of the evening. Which was spent at...

Orbit Pinball Lounge
7401 Hazel, 63143

Two sensory impressions were immediately struck upon walking into the Orbit Pinball Lounge: the room was very dark, despite an assortment of fun, retro lighting fixtures; and the room was very loud, compliments of what appeared to be a skeeball league taking place in the game room, featuring an emcee shouting out the game results in an amusing fashion. But the room was neither too dark, nor too loud to enjoy the overall vibe, which seemed to be upbeat and fun. 

Most surprising was that I hadn’t heard, nor read of the place existing before happening across it. That’s a bit embarrassing when you pride yourself on being able to sense even the rumor of a new bar; but this one slid into existence without my radar being tipped in the least. Now that it’s been discovered, Orbit will have to at least be an occasional stop, with plenty of solid reasons to enjoy the place, even if pinball’s not a personal must-do when there. The drinks selection was expansive enough, with the local brewery, Schlafly, well-represented on the beer list. The spirits were moving, too, especially with a young core of seeming-regulars, who sat around the wide curve in the bar, joking with the evening’s garrulous bartender.

Open for about 10–11 months, The Orbit appears to have captured the neighborhood set, along with those who like a bit of theme orientation to their bar-going experience. The whole pinball motif was fun and a clear, central part of the room’s visual appeal, with classic games mounted on the walls and a whole bank of current-to-recent-vintage machines scattered through the game room. What was also appreciated was the placement of the bar’s TV, tucked around the corner; there for those who wanted to watch, but hidden from view for those who want to sit, talk and observe. A total shocker, The Orbit was one of those “aha” finds you come across too infrequently.

Saratoga Lanes
2725 Sutton, 63143

Established in 1916, Saratoga Lanes is moving quickly towards its own century mark, an amazing number for any type of business, but especially one that relies upon people’s disposable incomes. Over the past 90-odd years, bowling has gone through every manner of popularity, with the sport’s peak long since passed. But there’s always someone rolling at The Saratoga, along with a few games of pool taking in the back of the room. A visit on Saturday afternoon found the space rollicking, with leagues about to start at 5:30 p.m. and folks jockeying for the remaining, two open lanes.

The theory walking up the long flight of stairs was that the Saratoga’s a place that doesn’t change much over time. And having not walked into the facility in about three years, I was struck by the rightness of that idea. If anything had change, it was something small, a bit of signage on the walls, maybe. But the space was otherwise exactly as remembered, with a bright afternoon sun washing light over the pool tables and the upbeat players on them, a few of whom had whiled away the afternoon drinking and shooting.

Sitting at the bar, I enjoyed a Schlafly, staying true to the neighborhood vibe, while briefly catching up a former co-worker. The TVs featured basketball games, though no one seemed especially caught up in them, preferring to spend time on their own sporting pursuits, whether billiards or bowling. There was, in one respect, nothing special going on that afternoon. But the place was still happening. Which makes it special.

American Legion Post #103
3212 Sutton, 63143

There’s nothing quite like day-drinking at a VFW or American Legion hall, no matter if that place is in the city, the suburbs or a rural outpost. The feel is usually the same. Walking into Maplewood’s ALP #103, the vibe was immediately felt, what with the American flags in the lobby, the posterboards covered in event flyers and the distinct scent of tobacco overwhelming the sense of smell. The smokiness only kicked up a few notches when walking into the actual barroom, which was a U-shaped contraption that bent around a central wall.

Within there, the young, shamrock-tattooed bartender moved around with efficiency, cracking wise with customers that seem to be there on a near-daily basis. The comfort level in the room was immediate, though this outsider didn’t feel unwelcome. Instead, I ordered a dollar draft and sipped away at my Busch Bavarian, while eavesdropping on conversations. On this day, the place was hosting a spaghetti supper to benefit the Post’s building manager, who needs funds for some health care. It seemed that the dominant discussion was who was going to win the day’s 50/50 drawings, or the gun that was being raffled off for a $50 chance.

My neighbor eventually fell into a riff of mocking the Metrolink, in the kind of salty, earthy way that many white suburbanites will do. I took this as my time to exit, though the bar’s price structure (did we mention the dollar drafts?) held a certain appeal. Five years, 50 years from now, the same kinds of conversations will be held at this location. Which is neither a good nor bad thing. It’s just a thing, predictable and true.

Foley’s Bar and Grill
3522 Greenwood, 63143

Foley’s is an Irish bar, located at the proverbial end of the Sutton rainbow. Just as the journey really begins with an eastward trek from Manchester, the trip ends with the Sutton running smack-dab into Greenwood and a commercial strip that includes the central anchor of Foley’s. Not too-dissimilar to the American Legion, Foley’s doesn’t change a whole lot, and there’s a definite feeling that the folks you run into there today will be there in a year, or three.

Aside from affordably priced drinks in the usual corner bar categories, the main appeal of the place is billiards, with a side game room mostly given over to pool. On Saturday afternoon, Foley’s was shy of any players. Instead, the patrons huddled around the bar in a few different packs, two of the groups watching the Missouri basketball game, while a three-pack of middle-aged bar-goers held down the corner of the bar nearest the door. With virtually no sound coming from the TVs and the jukebox not getting played, it was easy to listen in on everything happening around you and those three provided a sort of running commentary on the day’s events, old grudges and televised golf coverage.

Interestingly, a couple of ’em were planning a run across the street, to grab some spaghetti at the American Legion, adding to the sense that “community” can be found in different forms. For one member of the group, that was probably a good idea, as he’d been at the bar since 11:30 a.m. and it was now turning 5 p.m., a shift nearly as long as a workday. During that time, the world’s problems had surely been dissected. Solutions hadn’t been found, but opinions had been offered and both accepted and rejected, accompanied by $2.75 bottles of Soulard’s finest. I shoulda offered up my Maplewood merger plan, I really shoulda...

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Feb 25, 2013 12:50 pm
 Posted by  BloggerMark

Hello, Thomas Crone:
Being a big fan of your writing for years, I was super-surprised you "happened" into Orbit. Had you been at VFW on the third Thursday, you might have seen Ken Massey's Auction going on in the big hall. This is another one of those things that we Mid-Countians like to keep under wraps---it is bizarre enough that it may even merit an article in STL Mag. Meanwhile, the Merger of R.H., Brentwood, and Maplewood is an intriguing one; what would the other two municipalities bring to the merger or is this a future article too?

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