Concerts and Cocktails and Hipsters, Oh My! An Updated Guide to the Grove



St. Louis' neighborhoods are gems in their own right: full of history, great people and, as far as Gut Check is concerned, fantastic food. Each week we'll take you into a specific neighborhood and point you in the direction of the best places to grab some bites.

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The next time someone complains about the lack of late-night entertainment in St. Louis, point them toward the Grove. What was once considered a blighted, neglected neighborhood, the Grove is now associated with 3 a.m. bars, pulsating dance floors, ethnic cuisine and a diverse, welcoming crowd meandering back and forth across Manchester Road. Whether you're in search of the perfect cocktail or have a hankering for some Nepalese cuisine, Gut Check insists you check out the following guide to one of St. Louis' most impressively entertaining and growing neighborhoods. Continue on to our updated guide to the Grove.

        HandleBar welcomes you | RFT Photo
  •         HandleBar welcomes you | RFT Photo

Handlebar (4127 Manchester Avenue; 314-652-2212) Handlebar is quickly becoming one of the city's hippest of scenes. How hip, you ask? Well, we named it 2012's "Most Hipster Bar," for starters. On any given night you'll see bicycles galore parked outside, '80s hits blasting through the speakers and irony in every corner. But Handlebar, despite the negative connotations of hipsterdom, is the opposite of exclusive: All are welcome here, and that draws in bright-eyed college kids meandering thirtysomethings alike. The menu is full of traditional Russian fare, and the bar offers plenty of craft brew along with enticing drink specials. The dance floor is as eclectic as the crowded dance floor, and the music thumps rock and soul DJs and all 50 shades of EDM. The best part of Handlebar might be the back patio where smokers find relief around a fire pit and conversations escape the pounding bass.

See also: - Best Hipster Bar - 2012 - The Five Best Bicycle Friendly Bars in St. Louis

Everest Café and Bar (4145 Manchester Road; 314-531-4800) At Everest you'll find a mix of exotic Nepalese, Korean and Indian dishes prepared with only fresh, healthy ingredients hand-selected by chef Dr. Devi States. The menu is veg friendly and chock-full of organic vegetables: This is very much a health-conscious place, which means no processed foods or butter or heavy creams. Choose from the simple pleasures of mo-mos (steamed pork dumplings from Tibet) to the complex interplays of meat, vegetables and spices that fill daal, bhat, tarkari ra saag (a complete Nepalese meal: rice, meat, vegetables, pickled mango, a lemon wedge and a slice of cucumber). Everest also offers a lunch buffet every day but Monday, and with food this healthy, there's no reason not go back through for a second helping.

See also: - The Ten Best Vegetarian Restaurants in St. Louis

Continue on for Atomic Cowboy and Sanctuaria. Atomic Cowboy (4140 Manchester Avenue; 314-775-0775) If one spot captures the diverse and energetic vibe of the Grove, it's Atomic, the perfect combination of restaurant, bar, club, and music venue. Recently, the Demo, a separate room explicitly for live music, opened inside of Atomic Cowboy, and inside you'll find some of the city's preeminent DJs, jam bands, burlesque troupes, indie bands or hip-hop showcases. The full bar offers housemade vodka infusions, and the menu is solid: shredded pork tacos, fish tacos, piles of greasy-good nachos, a kicky quartet of buffalo chicken sliders. The massive patio and outdoor bar is great for warm summer nights, so kick back and grab a "super premium" margarita before hitting the dance floor.

        The unique bar at Santuaria | Jennifer Silverberg
  •         The unique bar at Santuaria | Jennifer Silverberg

Sanctuaria (4198 Manchester Avenue; 314-535-9700) Sanctuaria wants you to join the club. The "Cocktail Club," that is, featuring more than 150 drinks that span the history of cocktails -- so if you drink them all that must make you an expert, right? But you don't have to join the club to sample from a selection of terrific, sophisticated drinks, like the "Siiac Smash" (with tequila, honey, orange, cucumber, hibiscus syrup and the restaurant's own ginger beer) and the "Tramp Swizzle," which tops a blend of gin, calvados, honey, lemon juice and peach bitters with a splash of Cava. Beyond fancy drinks, Sanctuaria is also a true tapas bar, serving small plates that range from simple pleasures, such as cornbread studded with jalapeños and slathered with honey butter to grilled lamb chops served with a sophisticated Bosc pear-and-pine nut salsa.

See also: - Best drink Menu - 2012

Continue on for Sweetie Pies at the Mangrove and Joyia Tapas. Sweetie Pies at the Mangrove (4270 Manchester Avenue; 314-371-0304) This is hallowed ground for soul-food lovers. The food is so infused with homemade love that Oprah Winfrey chose the restaurant and owner Robbie Montgomery and family to serve as the basis for a reality show, Welcome to Sweetie Pie's, on her OWN network. Feast on smothered pork steak, baked chicken, ribs, Salisbury steak (main-course meats change from day to day), and side it up with classics like mac & cheese, okra, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice and gravy, or cabbage and greens. The food is served cafeteria style and the lines can get ridiculously long, but if Oprah is a fan it's safe to say you will be too.

        Joyia's bocconcini | Jennifer Silverberg
  •         Joyia's bocconcini | Jennifer Silverberg

Joyia Tapas (4501 Manchester Avenue; 314-531-5300) Tapas has been all the rage for a while now, and that's fine by us, just as long as Joyia keeps serving small plates of Mediterranean-inspired cuisine -- Middle Eastern and Northern African as well as southern European. The sprawling menu includes familiar dishes (hummus, gyros, meat and seafood kebabs), as well as more ambitious fare, like the lamb tagine, with the meat, apricot and orange rind in a broth perfumed with saffron, or try the chorizo rollos: miniature burritos with sausage, bean, onion and more wrapped in phyllo. Tapas implies small plates, but many of the dishes are large enough to share...yeah, that's crazy. We wouldn't share, either.

See also: - More Than a Mouthful: Joyia Tapas has a lot to offer

Continue on for Sameem and The Gramophone. Sameem Afghan Restaurant (4341 Manchester Avenue; 314-534-9500) Afghani cuisine adds nicely to the Grove's diverse culinary community (Sameem's menu also includes Indian and Pakistani dishes). If you're looking for the perfect introduction, try the Muntoo, a standout dish: steamed dumplings filled with onion and ground beef, topped with lentils and more ground beef, a garlic-yogurt sauce and dried mint. If you're in the mood for something a bit spicier, try the lamb or chicken karahi, which serves your choice of meat in a tomato-based sauce enriched with garlic and jolted with green chiles.

See also: - Sameem Afghan Restaurant's Muntoo - Sameem Afghan Restaurant: Review + Slideshow

The Gramophone (4243 Manchester Avenue; 314-531-5700) The Gramophone is the nexus of the Grove's nightlife magnetism, pulling in musical acts of every genre and crowds that pack the house. Just about every night of the week, the venue offers up tunes from up-and-coming hip-hop acts to bloghouse DJs and swampy Delta blues -- all play on a small, tight stage that makes for an intimate concert experience. But while live music is the major attraction, the Gramophone offers a killer cocktail menu, and there's always some sort of drink special to take advantage of.

See also: - Best New Bar - 2008

Continue on for Just John.

        The patio at Just John's | RFT Photo
  •         The patio at Just John's | RFT Photo

Just John (4112 Manchester Avenue; 314-371-1333) Just John is not only one of the best gay bars in the city, but it's also one of the friendliest. The bar itself is expansive, with an outdoor bar flanked by two patios and a stage for drag shows and special events. And then there's the karaoke: an energetic and encouraging audience plus a never-ending supply of cocktails means you'll soon overcome any nervous reservations and jump up onstage, stardom within reach. When you're finished warbling, the city's hottest dance floor awaits, bumpin' and bangin' seven days a week. Blasting mainstays like Madonna, Gaga and some Nicki for good measure, it's nearly impossible not to be swept off your feet. See also: - The Five Best Places for Karaoke in St. Louis - Best Dance Club - 2012

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