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OTF Travel Diary: St. Louis

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The infamous OTF gang headed to the junction of the Mississippi and the Missouri for last Saturday's game. It's been a few days, and all parties involved have finally recovered.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Ahhh, St. Louis. A city with a long and rich history, mostly of people trying to escape. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived in St. Louis in 1804 and looked westward, to an unknown expanse filled with wild animals, impenetrable snow-covered mountain ranges, and Native people willing to protect their land to the death and said "hey, it can't possibly be worse than this". Because of this expedition, the city is often referred to as the "Gateway to the West", AKA a better place to live.

To commemorate this history, the world-famous Gateway Arch was constructed in the 1960's. Some people say it looks like a giant silver toilet seat, but I've always interpreted it as a guide, a massive vertical set of directions passed on from previous generations telling travelers to "take the long way around". Since St. Louis was our intended destination, we had to ignore these warnings. This is our story.-JZ

TIMELINE OF EVENTS:

THE TRIP

Jason: Jon has described my car as something like a 90's dorm room due to the hundreds and hundreds of cd's I have. Look, I happen to have a hookup for free discs (mostly country), and yeah I have a bunch of others too. Also, I drove so everybody else in the car can sit and spin.

Dan: Jason saved some awesome quotes from the trip, but I'm sure those are long gone now. During our trip we were emailed the St. Louis Game Time digital issue, which nearly caused us to wreck somewhere in Illinois. Jason shared plenty of stories about actually going to school in this part of the world. Between the three of us, all three coasts were represented, and merriment was shared.

Jon: Jason actually had tons of Bad Religion and Foo Fighters albums, and I got to listen to Sum 41 for the first time since middle school, so I won't complain. Can't imagine the morale would have been too high had I driven and forced everyone to listen to Morbid Angel, Amon Amarth and Blind Guardian. I also forgot that the Midwest has a permanent gray haze surrounding it.

Jason: One important note: If you're ever up that way, gas is CRAZY cheap in Kentucky.

THE PREGAME

Jason: We arrived in town pretty early, but not too early to grab a beer. It was exactly noon...I checked. Jon was a credentialed member of the #OfficialOnlineMedia for this event, so he was forced to watch us sample our way through some of the fine offerings at the Schlafly Taproom.

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Dan: Not like 11:30 would've stopped us. Jon got brave and went for a sampler (flight) AND some poutine. I got a bag o' pretzels that came with some type of cheese dip that had the consistency of white gravy. It was somehow delicious. Speaking of delicious, that beer is pretty good. We never found out why the entire city smelled like burnt plastic while we were rolling in though.

Jon: I was so confused when Dan ordered a bag of pretzels. I though he meant a pack of Snyder's or something but they literally brought out three gigantic soft pretzel sticks in a white bag. St. Louis. Pretty sure that burnt plastic smell was a building on fire a few blocks away, which we can only assume was the citizen's way of welcoming us to their native land.

Jason: I have to agree on the cheese sauce...weird, but good. The poutine? A little rich for me. There was apparently a life-changing meatloaf muffin on the menu, but we didn't quite get to it...maybe next time.

Jason: Because we have literally zero self-respect, we went right from eating at Schlafly to Lunch Number Two at Pappy's Smokehouse.

I've been here before, and consider myself a huge fan. The smoked turkey is about the best I've ever had, but noted BBQ aficionado Dan Bradley has his criticisms.

Dan: The burnt ends and smoked turkey were both very good. I maintain that a smoked poultry item needs a white sauce, but it was still very good. The sides were weak. The potato salad was a bit odd. The ambiance was decent, but no beer. If the standard of an awesome BBQ joint is Martin's of Nashville, Central, or Moe's Original, this falls short. But I'm glad we went and it was worth the wait.

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Jason: Dan is 100% wrong on the white sauce. It's awful, and nobody should eat it, like ever. I'm actually kinda glad they didn't have beer there...after eating all that food I had a serious case of the Meat Sweats. Beer couldn't have helped.

Jon: The amount of food we consumed in three hours was ungodly. I ended the trip with a stack of takeout boxes a mile high. I regret nothing.

Dan: Amateurs.

Jason: One of the cool things about Pappy's is the signed menus on the walls from all the celebrities who've visited. Although the definition of celebrity is a bit loose.

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I LOVED that they had a menu signed by Elisabeth Shue, you know, the actress most famous for her role in Karate Kid.

shue menu 2

Jason: Ok, off to the hotel. Here's a fun fact...NOBODY in St. Louis can drive or park an automobile. What a nightmare. I'm not prone to road rage, but man this was aggravating.

Dan: Before the game, we needed strong drinks. Jason and I walked for blocks and blocks, and there wasn't much to drink. We stayed right next to the arch, walking east to west to the go the arena. We attempted to get through Union Station, but we found only two places. One was a tiny bar at the Hard Rock that had all 23 seats filled, the other was a closed bar at the Union Station. We gave up, and went to the arena. Bought a Game Time paper, because I really wanted one.

Jason: The whole "trying to enjoy yourself before the game" thing does really seem to be missing. There's stuff by the river...and that's about it. It seems like even the muggers retreat to the 'burbs at night and on weekends. I'm sure somebody can tell me we just went the wrong way or something. Whatever.

Dan: I was a bit bummed that Charles Glenn wasn't singing the anthem or "When the Blues Go Marching In". Mr. Charles is a treasure. But his stand-in did the job just fine. There was some confusion on the final note, but she powered through it.

THE ARENA

Dan: Scottrade doesn't have bad sightlines, the chairs seemed a little bigger than Bridgestone's, and the leg room was nice. The seats are a bit steeper, but the suites looked like they had a great view. The ceiling is much higher, so it's not as noisy. Also, their speakers are much higher up and centralized which means their game ops were all quieter. Their seating bowl had less retractable seats, so no subwoofers were under the floor. Scottrade ain't all about that bass.

The concourses were more narrow, but you could not step in any direction without getting access to beer. There were beer vendors on the concourse, and their ice crew and other gals getting people to sign up for their 50/50 raffle. So there was plenty of yelling going on. I wouldn't be surprised if the concourses are renovated before too long. It does ooze culture, which is more than what I can say about some sections of Bridgestone, but there are parts of the building that look like a 90's mall food court. (Hickory Hollow/Rivergate, not Cool Springs)

Jon: If you can imagine the scene in 'This is Spinal Tap' where the band gets lost underneath the arena, that was me trying to find the media room. My years in the newspaper industry perfected my "walk in like you own the place" look, so no one questioned when I accidentally walked into a boiler room. (Kidding.) I ended up abandoning my quest for a free meal before it began, and I was content with pounding coffee and munching on chips for three hours.

Jason: Dan is correct about the 90's mall vibe. I'm almost positive I saw an Orange Julius and a Miller's Outpost on the 300 level. Crazy small pro shop(s) too. For those who just can't wait until after the game to hit the casino, the Blues have got you covered.

lotto

THE GAME OPS

Dan: As mentioned, it was kinda quiet. But looking at it from their point of view, I'm sure I would've been dejected as well. Sometimes your team is just snakebit. Sometimes you play against a determined and rested Pekka Rinne. Sometimes it's a bit of both. The game ops folks didn't try to get people loud for EVERY SINGLE FACE OFF. But when situation warranted it, the folks were prompted and it did get loud.I liked that their ice girls are a bit more clothed. Yes, they are all very pretty. But seeing women skating around dressed in black pants and a nice long sleeved t-shirt isn't bad at all. I'm no puritan, but I have a sister or two.Their PA announcer was strong, but not over the top. The music wasn't 3,159,013 techno songs and embarrassing "local themed" music, and aside from one women conjuring up a demon doing the YMCA dance, it wasn't a collection of dancing drunks on the screen. It was treated like hockey game. I didn't see Louie. Blues fans will consider this a blessing. #FireLouie

Jon: *looks up from computer, sees something interesting, goes back to typing away on Twitter*

Dan: There weren't many camera segments or "Let's get a fan to do something on camera" segments- they did do quite a few music videos for different things. No Derek Roy tribute video though, and that's just a low down dirty damn shame. Their camera segments included a KISS cam (like... the band KISS), and a Sons of Anarchy look-alike contest where some poor woman in her 20s-30s was cast as Gemma Teller. Gold. I'm a fan of Tampa Bay's organ, but St. Louis does have a very good organist as well. It also sounds like a big pipe organ and not a kid's toy. Something subtle that helps out is that he plays a power chord and transitions to a fanfare a few minutes before the team takes the ice before each period as a signal to folks to get back to their seats. That's helpful.

Jason: So as anyone who has had tickets low and in the corners knows, you can lose sight of the action on the far end at times. It seems like every time I looked up at the scoreboard to see what was going on, they were replaying something that happened 5 minutes earlier. The seats down there were better that at Bridgestone though. I can never wrap my head around some of the most expensive seats in the arena being tiny, plastic, and without a cup holder.

THE CONCESSIONS

Dan: Nothing too eventful, but you could get some legit-looking Cajun fare in the lower level. If you like Bud Light, this is the mecca. We enjoyed the Schlafly Pale Ale again, Jason and I succeeded in not having any Anheiser-Busch products on this trip.

Jason had a hot dog. I'd ask him about it.

Jason: I had a hot dog. It was a Nathan's. Anyone keeping a running calorie count for me yet?

Jon: Again, the chips and coffee they had were pretty decent, but I was jealous of the cookies Stromgren stockpiled from the media room. I really shouldn't have given up so easy.

THE ACTUAL GAME

Dan: We didn't wear any Preds gear, partially because Jon had his creds so we were there in sort of an #OfficialOnlineMedia capacity, and partially because some of the horror stories we've been told. Frankly, the second part felt dumb after a while. We sat 6 rows off the glass, and 2 rows in front of a couple in Preds gear. We celebrated the goals. No one said an ill word to us.

Jason: Fun fact about me...I HATE seeing my teams on the road. It feels weird being surrounded by the enemy, and I've just never really enjoyed it. I agree it would've been totally safe to do so, though. We saw quite a few Preds fans, and there didn't seem to be any problems. Of course they brought manners and good sense to the game, unlike some folks we know *COUGH* Blackhawks Fan *COUGH*.

Dan: A woman in front of us wore a Corey Crawford jersey to this game. She wasn't booed, but she knew what she was doing and even tried to talk smack to the Blues fans. By the end of the game, we were all talking.

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Jason: Yeah, that was an interesting one. Saw a bunch of people in Hawks gear...they must've been lost. I particularly enjoyed this Preds fan, though. I'm sure Seth appreciates your support, sir.

seth grab

Dan: The Blues do try to preserve their arena experience and make the presentation a throwback, and I enjoyed it. Nothing felt fake about the experience at all, save for the power play dance.

During the second intermission, we met up with a couple of the guys from St. Louis Game Time. Aside from feeling dwarfed by both Brad and Dan, that was a pretty fricken neato experience. There's more on that coming later.

THE POSTGAME

Dan: While Jon transcribed wisdom from the team, Jason and I mingled with other Preds fans. Since we had that Game Time program, we figured we'd have some fun.

Jon: Yeah... I got lost again trying to get to the visitors locker room.

You think they'd have some sort of Ender's Game style coloring to get media members where they need to be, especially since there were only two people there representing the Preds. After accidentally finding myself in the Blues room, I finally found where I needed to be, but not before walking in front of the area where St. Louis fans can watch the players hit the ice on the other side of a pane of glass. Their confusion from watching a dude in chinos and a hipster tie walking past them was worth the entire trip.

THE REWARD

Dan: All you people need to know is that we made it to the casino, played a few hands of blackjack, and had a good time. That's all you need to know. Darren Pang, I'm watching you.

Jon: It's pretty fantastic when you can take a weekend trip with your buddies to cover hockey with the pros. It's also pretty fantastic that our hometown organization lets us do that.

Jason: Yes, a big thumbs up to the Preds and Blues for allowing us to cover the game. And also major props to the Lumiere for being so terrible at blackjack.


EPILOGUE

Dan: My lasting impression of St. Louis is possibly going to be different than others' experiences. We didn't really do anything to tick anybody off (until the game was over when we were stopping Preds fans to take pictures of them with the program) and no one said an ill word to us. But we were sitting in the lower level, near the glass. The upper level had a completely different feel, and my friends from WKU said they got a couple cat-calls, but nothing too emotionally scarring. (They're really pretty, not like that excuses anything, but they laughed it off.)

The Game Night guys do a great job for their fan base. If you ever do attend a game there, grab a paper and tip the vendor.

On the day home, Jason reintroduced us to The Donnas. Thanks, I now need to see a doctor for the earworms I've developed.

We found some very good food on both Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday morning we managed to find a portal to East Nashville at some hipster place that served all-natural farm food or whatever. Their biscuits and gravy were very good, and they had a Finnish pancake. (Not like I was needing carbs or anything) Cab rates weren't terrible, the sidewalks were huge and decently lit. I'd make the trip again.

Jason: I went to college pretty close to St. Louis, and have never really liked it. I have to say though, this trip was really fun. We got to see the Preds win, met some great people, and ate some delicious food. Can't ask for too much else.

Jon: My night was a little different than Jason and Dan's, but there wasn't anything about it that I found unpleasant. The city itself is nice enough for a weekend, as long as you're with good people and find the right spots. Thankfully, Jason whittled down the bad from the good over years of trial an error, so we had a bead on the better places. I'm with Dan, though. I'd definitely do that trip again.

From my perch several stories above the ice, the game experience seemed incredibly fun and Blues fans were loud when it counted... even though it took them about halfway through the first period to show up. But being able to sit up there while knocking another arena off my list is about all you can ask for as a blogger.

Overall, we ate great, we drank great, we watched great hockey and have a great time. #Great. There's just one thing I learned: don't buy the beef jerky from Love's.

Dan: That thing was built like a prison shiv.