Review: El Leñador Mexican Restaurant & Bar in St. Louis
El Leñador Mexican Restaurant & Bar
3124 Cherokee St., St. Louis, 314.771.2222, lenador.com
Why go there? A throwback to the house parties of your youth
You don’t have to go out of your way to get a hold of some bad press about St. Louis: horrible crime stats, rampant STDs, insane levels of depression, job scarcity, high cancer rates, mocking articles in The Onion. You name it; we have it. There are, of course, a few perks of residing in the city that time forgot. Rather than being torn down and replaced by faceless franchises, our city’s aged, retro venues and nostalgic gin joints and dining rooms – once defunct – become frozen in time, shuttered and preserved for new generations to crack open and enjoy. Case in point: El Leñador, the new epicenter of the local underground music scene, perched on a nondescript corner in Gravois Park. This one, kids, you have to see to believe.
Originally Eisel’s Black Forest, a German restaurant (presumably closed in the 1980s), the venue was used as a banquet and meeting hall until its reincarnation as El Leñador – a Spanish term translated as “the woodcutter.” Staying true not just to its moniker, the new owners decided to retain the original décor: Bavarian forest murals, beer steins, lederhosen, wooden keg beer taps, horrible wallpaper and all. According to the website, the environment in the hip haunt “will inspire you as you contemplate its beautiful wooden design and its antique tinted glass.” Not exactly a German beer hall, the place is more of a musty, shag carpeted, basement hangout from yesterday adorned in a damp tackiness you thought was bulldozed over with your youth. Whether by quirky intention or by lack of funding for proper restoration, it’s hard to tell why nothing has changed. Regardless, it works. This fantastic, madcap joint sits as it does when piano key neckties were still the rage. As such, it’s a welcome diversion, a campy time capsule of blue-collar kitsch.
First timers are best advised to check the website and choose a specified music or event night to drop in. Otherwise, this place is a morgue. Seriously. On a Friday night at 10 o’clock, the crowd consisted of me, three of my buddies, a hapless bartender and a neighborhood regular who repeatedly strummed the first refrain of A Horse With No Name on his guitar for handouts of Marlboros. Thankfully, that is not the case when El Leñador has a music act in-house (And according to the calendar, it has a plethora.). On these evenings, indie rock enthused, slim-jeaned hipsters; friends of the band; and cool kids in the know (mostly in the mid to late 20s range) dart outside for a quick smoke then post up at the Bohemian bar, calling out for rounds of PBRs, Negra Modelos, whiskey sours, maybe even a house-made quesadilla (Mexican food dominates the small bar menu.). As the music starts, the crowd spills over into the main dining room – an equally shaggy, retro space – and the real night begins.
The eclectic bar-lounge is as simple (and inexpensive) as any functioning alcoholic needs. In addition to several full rows of call-brand liquors and a few cheap wines, El Leñador offers a Bud Light on tap as well as a decent range of cheap domestic bottles and a few imports: Bud, Bud Light, Select, Stag, Pabst, Miller Light, Stella Artois, Corona, Becks, Negra Modelo, Fat Tire, Modelo Especial.
Fans of Stag beer should take advantage of the $1 special every Wednesday night complete with a $5 cover and live bands/dollar beers until the early a.m. hours. Thursdays likewise get rowdy with open mic night.
Certainly an oddball place, this spot is definitely not suited for the unadventurous (One of the bulleted features of the restaurant is “lots of illuminated parking.”). But, whether they know it or not, the folks behind El Leñador are onto something superb. I probably won’t have to tell them this, but please don’t change.