St. Louis has long dueled Camden and Philadelphia for the position of "Murderingest City in America." But the Gateway to the West has two things going for it: incredible frozen custard and the best museum on earth.
You'd expect the St. Louis City Museum to be yet another boring collection of old dead people's loot. And you'd be so wrong. This museum long ago traded in "educating people" for "having a 10-story slide and a full bar." Most of the building is taken up by floor after floor of wooden Jeffries tubes, secret passageways, hidey-holes and even a giant skate park that doubles as a parkour arena for people too drunk to realize how bad an idea that is.
I brought two friends with me: Alice, a tiny Canadian girl farther than spitting distance from a Tim Hortons for the first time in her life, and Mauve, my guide for my weekend abroad in the Midwest.
After gawking at the madness of the adult-sized playground, we found ourselves sitting in front of a bar that would have been well equipped even if it weren't located inside a museum.
The City Museum looks like what would happen if the best playgrounds of your childhood got into an unusually severe skiing accident and ended up tangled on top of each other. Wooden staircases spiral up into hidden wombs of corrugated metal and plaster resin caves with walkways narrow enough to ruin a fat kid's field trip. There are sudden low ceilings and overhangs to bump your head into, metal hinges and rocks to slam your shins against and all manner of awkward walls to bang your elbows on.
In other words, it's the perfect place to recapture a few hours of childhood after a micro-brewed IPA and a bourbon from Kentucky (only a few hours' drive, somehow). We ended up wandering off the beaten path and into the section of the museum reserved for huge, expensive parties. One of which -- a fraternity dance -- was going on right that second. They were locked away behind big glass doors, guarded by steely-eyed security guards.
In a playful move after our playtime, we decided to try to sneak in. I took point, Alice took the middle and Mauve glanced around. Having all played entirely too much Splinter Cell in our time, we communicated through a series of elaborate hand gestures, the meanings of which changed from moment to moment.
Through diligent scouting I learned that the party room had a back entrance, hidden by some sort of natural history museum wing. There were guards that way, but they were spaced out and busy answering text messages. Alice, apparently an expert on subterfuge, found the way in. A man-sized stone wall divided our section of the museum from the festivities, but it was easily hopped. Once over, we'd be home free.
Life never shakes out that neatly though. Alice and Mauve both made it over, but a pair of guards came up from behind right as I reached the top of the wall.
I hopped down and made a beeline for where I assumed the fire exit would be. It was touch and go there for a little while but, by strategically crying like a little girl, I convinced them to let me off without calling the cops. When I got out to the car, the girls were waiting with pockets full of cheese.