Posted On: 05/11/2002
Mangia Italiano was one of the staples of South City beatnik culture prior to the days of the Way Out Club. The South Grand landmark business started out as a grocery store owned by Doc and Micci Parmely. Micci eventually turned the business into a restaurant and, with her unique style of decoration and engaging, genuine personality, gave the place its hipster vibe. Mangia attracted the funky southside element and it blossomed, becoming the place to go for a southside experience.
Micci sold the business about eight years ago. This past winter, the business changed hands again, purchased by a quartet of proprietors who take an active role in its operation. Long-time pasta maker Roscoe Davis is the pasta-ficio, former Balaban’s manager David Burmeister is the general manager, the chef is Landis Irvin, formerly of Tony’s and Grenache, and the bar manager is Paul Smith. Under this new management, Mangia has smoothly undergone a dramatic transformation. In fact, it has become what it always should have been.
During a two-month shutdown an entire new kitchen was built and the restaurant was completely overhauled and vast improvements were made, but Mangia retained its soul. The owners kept the eclectic décor, including the Wayne Saint Wayne mural and distinctive Formica dinner tables. They are placing renewed emphasis on making fresh pasta and serving consistently high quality and inexpensive food. The result: Mangia has gotten better, without losing its original charm or the funky vibe and diverse crowd that made it special.
While very much a restaurant, Mangia has definitely gained a place in the St. Louis bar scene. On entering, patrons encounter a distinctive marble-topped bar and striking red and green interior (a nod to the Italian roots of the business). Mangia’s funkiness has been updated with exposed brick walls and smart mood lighting that marries well with the original artsy feel. It’s all very cosmopolitan, even European. The bar feels “real” because of the atmosphere and the neighborhood crowd that gathers for drinks. Mangia has always been a refuge of sorts for artists and poets, not unlike the Venice or Way Out. (It’s a tradition that can be traced back to Micci, who held one of the few poetry nights in town.) The entertainment is still on the edge, with the popular avant-garde jazz sounds of Dave Stone and diverse, cutting edge music from pasta-ficio Roscoe Davis’ personal CD collection. A wide variety of coffee drinks add to the beatnik and artistic feel of the bar. (The stock also includes well chosen liquors and an impressive selection of Italian wines.)
The beer selection is eclectic - not ridiculously large, but including a lot of smartly-selected micro and import brews. This writer’s only criticism is that there is no low-cost domestic alternative beer (like Pabst or Lone Star), something that is found in most hipster clubs these days. Despite this lack, Mangia understands that more beer doesn’t guarantee the best beer. It offers a well-thought-out array of fine brews that really appeals to the discerning drinker. As would be expected, that means Mangia also attracts a heavy industry crowd.
Mangia embraces its neighborhood and also welcomes all who come from outside. It’s not necessarily a trend that started with Mangia Italiano, but Mangia is a fine example of it, and a positive sign for St. Louis’ newer neighborhood taverns.
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