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Aug 22, 2014
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Lucas Park Grille Exemplifies the New “Older, Wiser” Washington Avenue
By Sean Hixson - Photo by Allyson Mace
Posted On: 12/03/2004   

Stand and face east around the 1700 block of Washington Avenue, atop the huge stone zipper teeth that split this portion of the avenue. Take in the canyon – the dense eight blocks of four- to eight-story warehouse-now-lofts and, at the end, the taller convention center hotels. At night, decorative street lamps light the zipper and the fabric-patterned pavement. Restaurant, bar and loft neon signs give color. From street level, this is how a downtown –
the non-city-specific, abstract idea – is supposed to look.

Unless you’ve somehow withstood the ad nauseam, decade-long hype, you know Washington Avenue is phase one of Downtown St. Louis’ residential rebirth. The thing is, it’s actually happening, and increasingly so. Despite perpetual rumors of new club openings, lofts now regulate the Ave. There’s even a hint of sober foot traffic, day and night. Neighborhoods need places for residents to eat, drink coffee, buy some prepared groceries, hang out and socially imbibe.

The look …
Housed in the century-old Rudman Building, Lucas Park Grille & Market anchors the bottom floor of a McGowan Brothers loft development. It’s is a visually stunning addition to this block of the Ave. The loud and dirty bars that formerly ruled Washington Avenue have nothing on this 10,000-square-foot gem. Upon entering, you’re greeted and asked for preferred dining placement: private booths to the left, middle-of-it-all bar or social tables to the right.

Under 15-plus-foot cedar ceilings, browns, coppers, tans and limestone accent everything above the concrete floor. The north wall, facing Washington, and west wall, barely peeking onto the namesake Lucas Garden, are nearly all glass. On the west wall, cushioned benches with huge pillows make inviting side-by-side seating for couples. Tall and handsome, the bistro tables come in small to huge.

One corner channels a ski lodge, with a fireplace, flat-screen television and bookshelves of coffee table tomes (i.e., Shel Silversteins) and games (i.e., Old Maid, chess). In the opposite corner, a raised section is likewise cozy with fireplace and flat-screen. Hidden behind the booths is a large, overflow dining room/banquet space. Opposite the bar is the market.

The centerpiece bar sits under what looks like an oversized rose arbor, sans roses. More than 35 tiny glass lamps and four small flat screens shine onto the polished-granite bar top.

The scene …
Just two months ago, I spoke of the Ave.’s relative demise as the late-night club destination. With redevelopment comes evolution. The Grille is unlike anything that’s been on Washington, and, because it’s so fresh, the scene is still developing. There’s no club kids crunching X, no tatted-down bartenders and no overbearing techno beats. With all the money dropped in decorating, there’s no way in heck the Grille becomes another Deep 6. It’s just too good looking.

The crowd fits the yuppie tag with many patrons living in the neighborhood, so while valet parking is free, few seem to use it. Anyone below the age of 27 is rare. It’s an even mix of couples and small-to-large groups. Typically, females outnumber the males and the people are pretty. Dress is casual yet stylish.

With live jazz from 7 p.m. to midnight, weekend nights are most popular, but the comfortable space is ideal for Sunday brunch. Patio dining, coming this spring, will further increase the appeal.

When word of the Grille gets out, huge social-scene success is inevitable. While they have a 3 a.m. liquor license, crowds haven’t dictated staying open that late, although dining room manager Chris Heisler predicted that by the time you read this that will have changed. So hang about late and give the Grille a reason to remain open. There isn’t a nicer 3 a.m. bar in town.

The products …
With quality service, product and presentation, Lucas Park has a bright future. The lunch menu of upscale salad, soups and sandwiches ($5 to $9) is served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (The grilled chicken sandwich is magnificent.) From 2 to 4 p.m., buy prepared items like cheese and crackers from the market. Offered 5 to 11 p.m., the seasonal dinner menu is divided into small plates (i.e., carpaccio, fried artichoke hearts, $5 to $14) and full entrées (i.e., St. Louis strip, yellowfin tuna, most in the $17 to $22 range). Executive chef Kevin Willmann calls it “Midwestern” cuisine –
heavy on meats and fishes.

The moderately priced 150-selection wine list goes around the world, offering standard sparklings, whites, reds and desserts.

The specialty drink menu offers loud and sweet cocktails and martinis, $7 each. Standard cocktails run about $4. No draughts. Customary domestic and imported beers are only sold by the bottle, $3.50 to $5.25. Wine is the most popular choice. Fifteen are offered by the glass, $5 to $9.

The straight 411 …
For the new Washington Avenue social scene – older, wiser and completely unrelated to obnoxiously loud music – head to Lucas Park Grille.

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