I don’t like the Cardinals. And at the risk of offending many or ruining any chance of Anheuser-Busch sponsoring this blog, I’m not a huge fan of the city of St Louis either.
But it’s the best baseball city in America.
Yes, yes that’s a cliché. Fans in Boston, New York and Chicago may argue that. But painful as it is to admit, I think it’s true. Other places may have louder fans, or even more seats full. But St Louis knows its baseball. On any given game, there must be a few thousand fans keeping score with paper and pencil. They’re into it. And so it makes a game here special.
Exterior aesthetics 7/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 5/10; Sightlines & seating 8/10; Amenities & entertainment 7/10; Flow 4/5; Celebrating history 4/5; Scoreboards 4/5; Grand entrance 5/5; Sense of place 10/10; WOW Factor 24/30. Total 78 points divided by 2 for 39.
This is one of several red brick retro style parks. In some ways, it’s the most generic of them. And unlike say Atlanta, there aren’t a lot of added special features to offset a merely adequate structure. Except Busch Stadium benefits immensely from having the second-best skyline view in all of baseball.
- The open outfield provides a view of downtown St Louis including the Old Courthouse and the famous Gateway Arch. The park has an immediate and unmistakable sense of place. Wonderful view.
- The main entrance features a steel arch that evokes the Eads Bridge, the bridge that linked St Louis to everything east of the Mississippi. Some call it derivative, but I find it sharp.
- The statues out front of the stadium are a quick reminder that the Cardinals have more Hall of Famers than all but the Yankees and Giants
- The huge Budweiser Terrace takes over the poor seats in the rightfield upper deck and creates one of the better drink rail areas in all of baseball
- The red brick Cupples Warehouses were said to be the inspiration for the red brick exterior. Some feel that explanation was a post-rationalization for an easy choice (following the red brick movement of Baltimore, Denver, Detroit, San Francisco and Philadelphia), but nonetheless, it does blend it with its immediate surrounding.
- Befitting to a fan base that tends to watch the game from their seats, more lower bowl seats are padded than any other park
- Concession lines seemed to move well
- Ballpark Village, built across the street in leftfield in the same architectural style, fills a gaping hole from when the park first went up and better completes the in-seat view
- Surprisingly, you can’t see the game from the concourse. If any park would value this, you would think it be here where fans are actually paying attention.
- In addition, the concourses feel quite dark, as if you’re heading to the cellar for another pretzel dog. Plus there are no sit-down restaurants accessible to all fans.
- With Ballpark Village in left, the Cards had to put both scoreboards in right, which leads to a slightly off-putting visual imbalance on an otherwise magnificent view. Perhaps one ginormous board would have worked better here.
- The rooftop seats in Ballpark Village feel contrived. Why are they there?
- There are no artistic design flares and few interior historical touches. It some ways, it really is a “cookie cutter” retro ballpark that replaced their “cookie cutter” multi-purpose bowl.
In the end, Busch is a fairly functional baseball park with a killer panoramic view from the infield seats.
The food here is decidedly average. Unlike other parks that have essentially turned concessions over to local vendors, Busch Stadium is still very much run by Delaware North.
For the most part you’re looking at ballpark fare, sometimes with a twist. The smoked chicken legs available in the 400-level were really good. You can get pastrami or corned beef sandwiches and knishes from the Kohn’s deli. The pretzel dogs are good and there is a large variety of nachos be they BBQ, El Birdos, Helmet, supreme, shrimp, even tater tot. Sausages are at par with other ballparks. And there are some decent BBQ options including a smoked turkey plate.
But it’s hard to find a local delicacy. For instance, St. Louis’ renowned toasted ravioli has come in and out of the stadium over the years. To me, this amazing finger food should be a staple here offered in every fourth concession stand. Even an ordinary toasted ravioli is good eating. When it’s here, it’s my personal fave.
The other really good item of note is the Mega pizza slice, 16” of simple pizza goodness. It’s my favorite item when the ravioli is not offered. (And as an aside, St Louis has a strong Italian community. There should be much more good Italian food here at the ballpark; a top-notch chicken parm sandwich would be great.)
You’re in St Louis. Home to Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser, the King of Beers. If this is your beer family of choice, there’s one seemingly at your fingertips from every concession and every beer vendor. If you want anything other than AB macro products, you’re going to need to make an effort.
AB’s craft crew of Goose Island, Breckenridge and Elysian make appearances. I found some Founders, Bells, and local beer Schlafly tucked away at one of the larger stadium bars. But your best bet for something local and/or a little different is from the 1764 Craft Pub. There you can get things from Missouri brewers 4 Hands, Urban Chestnut, Charleville, Mother’s Brewing and Logboat Brewing. It’s a nice selection, but really limited in distribution.
Before Ballpark Village there used to be a decent little local scene. Mike Shannon’s offered a more upscale approach. Joe Buck had a bar. Al Hrabosky, the Mad Hungarian, had a large indoor/outdoor space. All those are now gone leaving only a smattering of decent independent bars in the immediate area worthy of a pre or post-game visit.
For better or for worse, almost all of the action is now contained at Ballpark Village, just across left field. Home to a dozen or so large eateries and bars and a large stage for live music, fans can enjoy some rollicking, if mainstream fun. While on one hand I don’t like the artificial feeling of a pre-fab “village”, I admit that I always have a blast here. I feel bad for the little guy shut out by this corporate entity, but then I get caught up in the buzz and the cover bands, and next thing I know I’m grinning from ear to ear (though that could also be due to the copious amounts of beer consumed by then). FWIW, you’ll also find the Cardinal’s Hall of Fame in here which you don’t want to miss.
Success comes at a premium. Everything is just a little more expensive than average here, not outrageously so by any means, but it all adds up to a slightly above average cost of a ball game.
It’s easy access to the stadium from the interstates with traffic surprisingly not being too bad unless you have construction or an accident. The light rail also drops you off at the stadium, which you can take all the way from the airport. Unless you park on a top level of one of the large nearby garages, it’s a fairly easy ingress and egress.
St Louis is either too cold or too hot. There never seems to be many perfect 70-degree nights. Rain, including the occasional vicious Midwestern storm, can also be an issue. But you get an extra week or two of summer compared to the rest of the Midwest.
I’d argue only Fenway offers a purer baseball experience. Only New York and Wrigley offers this level of fanaticism
The Busch Stadium crowd is not the loudest crowd in baseball. There’s a Midwestern conservatism to these fans, many of whom are older. And they can get a little ornery if they see stupid baseball being played.
But if you want to talk baseball, they’re your crew. I think more programs or lineup cards are sold here than any other place. More fans have a radio going in their ear to catch the play by play as they watch live. Fewer fans are off doing non-baseball things in the bars or social area or kid’s area. The game is the focus. As it should be.
There’s a lot of other things to like as well:
- The Cards have a liberal re-entry policy allowing you to migrate in and out of the stadium if, for instance, you wish to take in an inning at Ballpark Village or drop your giveaway/purchases off in your car instead of lugging them around all game. I appreciate that the fans are treated like adults in this regard rather than some shifty hoods. Just get a hand stamp, show your ticket and come back in.
- They still play “Here Comes the King” (Budweiser’s old ad jingle) in bottom of the 7th inning even though the Clydesdales tend to only circle the park on opening day and special events as opposed to having a regular appearance as they did at old Busch
- The beer vendors have personality and seem to enjoy what they do, even in the thick Missouri summer heat.
- The red seats are filled with people in red jerseys cheering in unison
- The Cardinals always look sharp, wearing (what I think are) the best uniforms in baseball
- That fans don’t necessarily need a videoboard to get them cheering
- Despite the shared passion for THEIR team, most Cards fans aren’t jerks if you root for the OTHER team (I’m usually way more embarrassed for the behavior of fellow visiting Cub fans than I am worried about being accosted by a Cards fan). It’s a great atmosphere for baseball, and I enjoy coming here (even though I am always quietly rooting against the home nine).
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Three fun STL eateries:
- A barbecue joint. While Kansas City is more famous for their smoked meats, St Louis has a few killer BBQ options to tickle your tastebuds. My favorite is Salt + Smoke (Central West End), but the always-great Pappy’s Smokehouse (Midtown) is more famous, and Bogart’s Smokehouse is also fabulous and just one mile south of the stadium.
- Charlie Gitto’s (Three locations. Classic white tablecloth Italian restaurant with fantastic dishes and one of the best Toasted Ravioli. Downtown location close to park is a little more casual on game days.)
- Pi Pizzeria (Local chain with a north Downtown outpost. Top flight pizza both deep dish and thin crust.)
Three places to imbibe before the game:
- Ballpark Village (Obvious but strong choice.)
- Paddy O’s (Ballpark. An independent bar that survived Ballpark Village due to location just south of the park. Decent pub grub, and good beer selection in a bustling bar.)
- Tin Roof (Downtown. St Louis location of small bar chain offering a wide tap list and frequent live music.)
One bar in the area worth hitting:
21st Street Brewers Bar (Well-respected craft beer bar with rotating taps about 1.5 miles west of the ballpark)
Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:
- 4 Hands Brewing (Just south of the ballpark. Home of the amazing City Wide Pale Ale. Close enough to walk to game. Ask for a to-go cup if you want to start heading to the park before your beer is done.)
- Schlafly Tap Room (Downtown West. Large taproom for Old School brewer.)
- Civil Life Brewing Co (Tower Grove South. Known for a smoother, lower ABV beer.)
Three fun tourist attractions in the area:
- Gateway Arch (The history is more interesting than the ride to the top, but worth doing.)
- Anheuser Busch Brewery Tour (Still the best brewery tour in the country.)
- Cardinals’ Museum and Hall of Fame (In Ballpark Village)
The stadium itself is relatively ordinary compared to some of its cohorts, and the food and beer concessions could use more local flavor. But it’s still a good-looking facility in absolute terms and offers a city view unmatched by all but one park. Add baseball’s best fans into the mix, and you’ll have yourself a recipe for a good day at the ballpark. Even if you hate the Cardinals.