Every city has them: impossible-to-get-into bars, restaurants and clubs frequented by people who are much, much cooler than you. These joints aren’t advertised anywhere. Cool people hear about them from other cool people in cool conversations that occur while you’re watching Downton Abbey and slurping boxed chardonnay. And even if you know about these haughty hideaways, and even if you can locate their hallowed doors, there’s the matter of getting your name on the entry list. That’s right, places like these actively and unapologetically turn people away, which, according to the laws of supply and demand (and ninth grade), makes them even more attractive.
Now, I am the first to roll my eyes at any list-brandishing establishment that isn’t in the North Pole and manned by elves. But I wondered, how seriously do these places really take themselves? Could I work my way around the velvet ropes, even though my only club membership is Costco? With this challenge in mind, I threw on my Members Only jacket and hit some of St. Louis’ most exclusive spots to see if I could get inside. Turns out, I could, and here’s how you can, too.
First, some ground rules: For this mission, limit your party size to two. A few people can sneak in. Your entire Masterpiece fan club cannot. Secondly, be very polite and upbeat. Your smile and charming personality are your ticket to ride. Lastly, bring cash – for tipping the valet, paying for dinner or buying a drink for a perfect stranger.
Dining Society Twitter: @rudse
Rogue doesn’t have an address. Sometimes, it doesn’t even have a kitchen. But a dinner with the Rogue Underground Dining Society is an adventure worth the pursuit. Rogue events happen monthly or whenever the chefs feel like it. The location is ever-changing and so is their carefully orchestrated guest list. The themed, multi-course menu is a secret until you arrive, but you can be certain the food will be clever (think popcorn crusted, de-boned chicken wings and foie gras lollipops) and the drinks potent. Bring cash and an open mind – they don’t take credit cards or uptight attitudes.
How to get in Follow Rogue on Twitter and be on the lookout for information regarding future dinners, or better yet, have a current listee add you to the invite list. Once you’re on the list, you’ll receive an email with the date and time of the next event. Here’s where it gets tricky: You can reply and tell them you’re available, but only a small group (around 20 to 30) will be selected to attend. Who gets in? Preference goes to people who’ve helped with past events or who’ve never Rogued before. It might help to show you’re legitimately interested in the Society, so ask why they serve foie at every event, or mention a food pic you saw on Twitter. Prove you’re every bit as game as the Rogue chefs themselves.
Prohibition Thursdays, 1009 Olive St., St. Louis, 314.323.3146, thaxtonspeakeasy.com
By day, The Thaxton is an elegant event space, best suited for wedding receptions, office dinners and good behavior. But on some Thursday nights, it loosens its tie and moves the party below ground to the speak-easy in the basement. The Thaxton calls it Thaxton Speakeasy’s Prohibition Thursdays … you’ll call it a hoot. The place is swinging with live boogie-woogie music where dapper dandies and their best girls, many in flapper costumes, do the Lindy Hop with unabashed cheer. You can take a swing dance lesson or just sit back and soak in the bugle’s wah-wah wail. Be sure to order the peach-infused moonshine, but don’t let its yummy sweetness fool you into gulping it down. We’re talking grain alcohol here, people. It will mess you up.
How to get in (for less) Prohibition Thursdays don’t happen every week. Check Thaxton Speakeasy’s website to see when you can get your jive on – and take note of the week’s password. You’ll knock a few bucks off the cover charge if you whisper the word to the cool cat at the door.
Durango Cigar Lounge
at Brennan’s, 4659 Maryland Ave, St. Louis, 314.497.4449, cometobrennans.net
Durango Cigar Lounge, formerly known as Zino Platinum Cigar Lounge, is for members only. But the hardest part about initially getting in is simply finding it. First, look for the double doors to the left of Brennan’s front door. Open them and climb a spiral staircase where, at the top, you will find Maryland House, Brennan’s gritty, later-night, cigarette-friendly bar. Tucked off to the side is Durango’s locked door.
How to get in Choose a low-key Thursday night, and knock on Durango’s door. Jordan or Stephen, the lounge hosts, will invite you in and give you a tour and a membership sales pitch. Order the Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and make conversation with the hosts to prolong your stay. Sample topics include the eponymous Durango cigars created by owner Kevin Brennan himself. You can also chat about Durango’s plans for expansion into a larger space this year. Still at a loss for words? Inquire about Brennan’s personal collection of sneakers that are displayed in the way, way back.
The Back Room at the Cheshire
7036 Clayton Ave., St. Louis, 314.932.7830, backroom-stl.com
Hidden between The Restaurant and The Market is The Cheshire’s cigar lounge. It’s called The Back Room, but the dark-wood walls and soft leather chairs make it feel like home, particularly if your home is in Huntleigh. You can order food from both The Restaurant and Basso menus, but the real treat is a snifter of 17-year Balvenie DoubleWood from the carefully cultivated scotch collection. Thanks to an excellent ventilation system, the lounge has only a whispered scent of fine tobacco. It’s how I imagine Thurston Howell III smelled – if he lived in Huntleigh.
How to get in After dining at Basso or The Restaurant, ask to see the cigar room. You will be escorted to The Back Room where Logan Mann, the ever-gracious manager, will welcome you with a tour of the bar and lounge. (Resist the urge to steal one of the member’s engraved brass nameplates off a humidor.) The Back Room members – who go by the incongruently pedestrian name “package customers” – are warm and welcoming. Buy them a round of drinks, curl up in a leather chair and chat with your new best old friends.
Blood & Sand
1500 St. Charles St., St. Louis, 314.241.7263, bloodandsandstl.com
The strict members-only policy at Blood & Sand meant it was the only place I couldn’t crash with my chutzpah and good hair alone. I visited as my member-friend’s plus one, ready to be snarky if they were snobby. I could not have been more wrong. The vibe is Los Angeles-chic meets Midwestern-nice. Members are eclectic but not elitist. The food is tasty but not pretentious. And owners Adam Frager and T.J. Vytlacil dispense hugs and complimentary appetizers like doting dads. Special mention must be made of savant bartender Jayne Pellegrino. After swapping a few sentences, she can whip up a customized cocktail that is so completely you that you’d be spooked – if you weren’t so busy ordering a second one. And she names it after you. (Mine is Dangerous Dragon Lady – bourbon, champagne, chocolate bitters and magic.) Pellegrino keeps your recipe in a little book behind the bar, so you can order it every time you visit. How cool is that?
How to get in In all seriousness, just become a member. It’s only $10 a month for a weeknight membership, which will also put you on the waitlist for a $15 full membership that includes weekends. I signed up on the spot and keep going back. Sure, it was fun to sneak into the other places, but Blood & Sand’s food, drinks and sense of community turned this sarcastic dragon lady into an unapologetic joiner.
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