The Hidden Gems of Grand Center
Lauren Smith explores all the happenings of the close-to-SLU, up and coming Grand Center.
Just around the corner from SLU is the Grand Center Arts District, alive with concerts, symphonies, festivals, films, and art just waiting to be experienced by the Midtown locals. Since the early 1900s the Grand Center has been a bustling hub for the arts and a major midwestern tourist destination. The area took a hit during the 1960s as St. Louis natives began moving out into the suburbs but was rejuvenated by SLU’s support and many new renovations. Although the traditions of circus and cabaret shows did not live on, many new theatres and restaurants moved into the space. On top of the vibrant music scene, there are tacos to be tried, steaks to cut and cocktails to be sipped with faux class.
Another great reason to support the arts in Grand Center is that most organizations are nonprofit and constantly working to give back to the St. Louis Community. The Fox, Powell Hall Symphony and Jazz at the Bistro all offer student tickets to shows as low as $10! Find them online or through the Student Involvement Center (BSC room 319). Additionally, the Wednesday Night Jazz Crawl is free and open to the public is. Sponsored by the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, the crawl goes from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., moving from one location to another in Grand Center. For up-to-date information, visit http://www.kranzbergartsfoundation.org/wednesday-night-jazz-crawl/.
The Dark Room/Grandel Theatre
Newly located at the historic Grandel Theatre, the Dark Room is one of the best-kept secrets in St. Louis. The venue offers everything you need to cure a creative fix. Rotating photography exhibits line the walls, and a jazz-focused band performs for an intimate crowd every Wednesday through Sunday evening. As if it couldn’t get any better, the bar and kitchen offer an exceptional happy hour menu of $3, $5 or $7 food and drink options from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. 1 a.m.. As an award-winning sommelier, its extensive wine list and cocktails offer an impressive bang for your buck. The menu of unique small plates is comprised of simple dishes executed well with a unique twist.
Operated by the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, the Dark Room is a mission-driven project devoted to the support of the patrons of the arts. As a nonprofit establishment, every dollar spent goes back to support the arts in the St. Louis area. The renovation and relocation to the Grandel Theatre served as an opportunity to enhance the Kranzberg Arts Foundation and make use of a meaningful, historic site again. Built in 1884, The Grandel originally was a First Congregational Church and has since been renovated and used as a 600-seat theatre. At night, purple underlighting illuminates the elegant architectural treasure of Grand Center as patrons trickle in.
Hidden behind the St. Louis Public Radio building and courtyard, The Sheldon is an iconic concert hall and art gallery dubbed the “The Carnegie Hall of the Midwest.” Built by the notable 1904 World’s Fair architect, Louis C. Spiering, the building was initially home to the Ethical Society of St. Louis, hosting many world-renowned revolutionists. For 10 years, it served as two gospel churches and a venue for blues, jazz, and folk performances. The nonprofit Sheldon Arts Foundation was formed in 1988 and then commenced a series of renovations through 2001. Today, the space holds over 350 incredibly intimate events with beautiful acoustics echoing off of the stained glass windows. The venue also hosts matinees and coffee concerts at 10 a.m., offering complimentary coffee and pastries before the show. Rotating art displays fill the Sheldon Art Galleries as well as artist meet-ups, poetry and music events, and interactive workshops. The Sheldon is truly a historic treasure and vibrant piece of The Grand Center’s arts scene.
Comprised of The Folk School, The Stage, the Magnolia Cafe, KDHX.org, and 88.1 FM, KDHX is one of the more underlooked nonprofit arts organizations in Midtown. Thirty years ago, the founders of the organization wanted to host real DJs playing unique music without any commercials. And so it was done. It is now a cafe and music venue holding concerts, film series and intimate sessions on the arts. KDHX.org publishes music and arts reviews, in-studio videos and photography in mass amounts. The Folk School of KDHX offers music classes, workshops and free performances to showcase its students all year. Through the sponsorship of many local concerts and events, the organization is proud to support independent music, the arts and St. Louis culture.
Jazz at the Bistro
This jazz club has been an integral part of St. Louis since the 1990s when Barbara Rose began “Just Jazz” at the downtown Hotel Majestic. After relocating to the Grand Center and being renamed to Jazz at the Bistro in 1995, the organization became a not-for-profit with the mission to “lead out community in advancing the uniquely American art of jazz through live performance, education, and outreach.” With a grant from the Whitaker Foundation, the organization was able to begin various jazz education and community outreach programs and has reached more than 140,000 students in the St. Louis community.
The venue is a swanky, newly-renovated yet old-school dinner club. Its two-tiered seating options allow for better views of the stage so that no matter where you sit, you feel a part of the performance. Warm pink and blue lights cover the stage as internationally renowned jazz bands perform just feet away, and waiters weave around, carrying cocktails, steaks, and crème brûlé. Although the club comes more alive at night, it also hosts Thursday Morning Coffee Concerts complete with coffee and donuts before the show. Indulge in one of Midtown’s jewels for a night on the town not too far from home.