The City Museum in St Louis

Argentina 2007

Before I left Edinburgh a friend, Peter, told me to go to St Louis’s City Museum because — and I quote — it is the best place in the world. I was expecting big things when I was there last Friday night, and I wasn’t disappointed: it’s the best place in the world.

‘Museum’ is a bit of a misnomer: think of a place invented by kids with active imaginations, and now think of one of those kids growing up to be a talented artist with eclectic interests and a healthy disregard for health and safety, building a museum. That’s the City Museum.

The building has a yellow school bus hanging off the roof of its seven stories. Outside are a ball-pit, swings, an open-air cinema, a fire-pit, a bar, and perhaps the only beer garden you can enter by going down a slide. Above these are two aeroplanes that have an intricate set tunnels twisting from ground-level up to reach them. The tunnels are partly made out of spiralling metal rods, but mostly they’re made out of air. When you’re sitting in the beer garden you can look up at people crawling all over the planes’ wings and tentatively climbing through the tunnels. When you’re up in the tunnels, your hands clinging to the thin metal rods that wrap around you like a blanket, you look down at the hard ground twenty metres below and wonder what made you go up here. It’s a bit like being inside a large Slinky swinging softly as you clamber through it high in the air. I’ve never felt so claustrophobic while not actually being trapped in much. It was incredible! I went up the pipes, through the planes, across a Slinky-tunnel, down a slide, down an old ship’s funnel (banging my knees as it turned ninety-degrees), down a mirrored slide head-first on my back, down another slide to grab a beer and listen to the live musicians next to the fire. Four times.

Inside the museum more joys await. There’s the Enchanted Forest, a huge area made of wood that’s essentially a maze you can climb around. Then there are the caves: here you walk around artificial underground caves and anytime you see a hole in the walls you can climb in it. It might be a tunnel to another cave; it might be a tunnel to the Enchanted Forest; it might lead you to an aquarium; it might lead you to a set of tunnels hanging off the ceiling where you can watch the scenes below without being seen. It’s just fantastic! You’ll be walking through a dark corridor when suddenly someone will appear out of nowhere, as if the wall is giving birth to a fully-grown man — and then you’ll have somewhere else to discover. There are tunnels only just big enough to fit in to — and some smaller than that. You might think you’re completely lost until you climb through a hole and down a slide to find yourself standing next to your equally disorientated friends in the intricately mosaic-floored foyer.

The whole place is simply amazing. There’s far more to it than I’ve mentioned, from the carvings of animals flowing out of the walls to the architectural gems rescued from building sites, this place can keep you in the highest state of excitement for hours. I recommend anyone who’s even vaguely close to St Louis to come here on a Friday night (when it’s open until one AM), get a few beers inside you, and start wandering about. I only wish I had discovered it earlier.

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of our adventures because my brand-new camera was sitting idle while I charged its batteries. Before the City Museum we joined the Dinner Club for a thoroughly enjoyable Thai meal in The Loop (more about the Dinner Club on Jimski’s site and at The Commonspace) and it was only a spur of the moment decision to go a-drinkin’ at the museum. However, while we had no photos we did take a few videos of us on two slides:

Brian’s collage of me on the long slide (1.78 MB):

Matt going head-first backwards down the mirrored slide (0.25 MB):

I’ll try and wander by the museum on Monday and get some pictures of the building, but by far the best way to see it (without actually being there) is to look at these panoramas of the City Museum.