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Review: City Museum in St. Louis, MO

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Last week my family and I, along with some family friends, took an overnight mini-vay(cation) to St. Louis. I think St. Louis is the coolest town. Never to dethrone my beloved Chicago, but it’s a great American city. 19th century architecture, beautiful parks and attractions, good food and a love of beer – St. Louis really can’t go wrong.

For the first time while visiting St. Louis, we finally heeded the siren’s song of City Museum, a multi-faceted attraction/experience. Set in a neighborhood undergoing an urban renewal, and housed in an old shoe factory, this funhouse boasts more activities than we could fit in an afternoon. Or a full week. So now I humbly submit to friends that have recommended this joint to us for years, “You were right. City Museum is totally and completely awesome.”

It’s hard to describe City Museum without just giving a laundry list of its many attractions. (I could: circus, human-sized hamster tube city, cellar cave system, run-and-tumble half-pipes, indoor climbing forest, salvage yard playground.) But I’ll try to just review what really rocked my soul.

My kids and husband and I (ages 4-34) all spent a great time exploring and navigating the cellar cave system. The building’s original (and probably neglected) cellar provides a natural system of caves, as we climbed up, slid down, and squeezed through a subterranean Chutes and Ladders. I hit my head forty times at least, my knees ached from crawling, and I have a big, purple bruise on my hipbone. It was wonderful.

Probably my favorite feature was the ten story slide. We emerged from the underground cave labyrinth into an industrial atrium. Sunlight from a skylight bathes a ten-story nave cut in the center of the building, housing the old shoe factory’s chutes. We climbed ten stories of spiral staircase to the top, then slid down a ten-story spiral slide (a former garbage chute) down. Going down the slide I actually let out a happy “Ahh!” The so-simple brilliance of a garbage chute slide epitomizes the concept of this wonderland: clean and tidy but original elements simply converted for unorthodox fun.

Outside of the building, on an adjacent lot is an enormous hamster tube play structure crawling with people, young and old. Salvaged buses and derelict factory ruins are linked together by a system of Rebar mesh tubes. We set out (“Let’s go to that rocket ship!) and made our way, slowly, sometimes gingerly, through tubes, and and barely through openings, and down slides to our destination. Then, a new destination, and a new, twisted course.

After playing for several hours, I started getting hungry, and of course: cranky. My husband has learned that I can be as primal as a Giga Pet, so he smartly fetched me a delightful IPA from the cantina, and bought nearly an hour and a half of Happy Wife. Until I had that beer in my hand, I didn’t think City Museum could have gotten any better. But there, in a beached street car, I reached family outing nirvana. (I have long been an pioneer and advocate of bringing alcohol to child-participating-parent-spectating events. I am the girl who suggests “BalletRecital-gating” and “ChristmasPageant-gating” and “LutheranTrackMeet-gating.” I also endorse a drink in hand when supervising my child cleaning out her closet.) City Museum has somehow achieved a brilliant balance of fun for all.

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But for me, the best part of City Museum was its omniscient industrial art style. This place is beautiful! The lobby features pillars encrusted with thousands of reclaimed gears. One curved wall is “tiled” with reclaimed restaurant stainless utility containers (pictured above). Rebar trees and vines grow among the outdoor play structure. Innovative art – made from recycled materials – gives City Museum a fresh and inspiring art-in-life aura. And just for art nerds like me, a Antoni Gaudi-esce mosaic sprawls over the massive first floor (pictured below). Schools of tiled fish and squid eyes and spirals of seaweed cover the floor and more in the largest mosaic mural I’ve ever seen.

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I walked out of City Museum, happy and energized. And knowing without a doubt that I would tile the floor of my mudroom in a semi-surrealistic mosaic.

I give City Museum my highest rating of five big thumbs up AND the very coveted and Golden Radish Award. Wow!