Review: The Shack Pubgrub in St. Louis
The Shack Pubgrub
3818 Laclede Ave., St. Louis, 314.533.7000, shackstl.com
Things have officially changed for the better at 3818 Laclede Ave. After a string of failed reincarnations, the space that formerly housed the infamous Laclede’s has been successfully overhauled – gutted, polished and recast for a new generation as The Shack. While it’s sad to think that Midtown’s house of late-night debauchery/douchebaggery has finally been wiped clean, I think we can all agree that it was time to pull the plug on the old format. The Shack proves an unpretentious antidote that holds its own, standing out from the shadow of sleazy days past.
The Shack is pretty much that: a simple, clean, working pub that has sandblasted and renovated everything you might remember about the former space. There’s a decidedly urban, industrial loft feel accented by the old tin ceiling and expansive bar (seemingly the only holdover) that runs nearly the entire length of the establishment. The dance floor and DJ space are history, replaced with an expanded kitchen that serves up gorgeous Shack-wiches, overstuffed with thick meats, cheeses, slaw and fries. The seedy wooden booths have likewise been torn out and replaced by a handful of communal high-top tables smartly fashioned out of old doors. The restrooms, still in the same location, are so clean it’s scary. And the venue (which now has very much a sports bar feel) now comes fully furnished with a spattering of oversized flat screens TVs and a nice little patio, which will join the main area when the sliding overhead garage doors go up come spring. Oh, and for some reason there’s a canoe outside.
In the early evenings, an older dinner crowd populates the space (Even a few toddlers are in tow.). After 9 p.m., the atmosphere becomes decidedly younger as the regular string of SLU undergrads begins to pile in. Yet, few of the older veteran drinkers actually depart. With The Shack enforcing the 21-and-up rule, the college kids blend in seamlessly, creating a congenial vibe that plays along to a steady soundtrack of memorable and inoffensive 1990s music.
Though the focus at The Shack definitely shifts towards the food, the booze selection has hardly been overlooked. Vodka and flavored shots predominate, but there’s also a surprising and much appreciated list of Bourbon Sippers to warm patrons up on wind-chilled nights. The staff is attractive, attentive and (overall) not unhandy with a cocktail shaker, but mixologists they are not. Most of their specialty drinks – i.e. “the Purple Drank,” or “the Kool Aid” – are little more than flavored vodka splashed with soda and an energy drink. However, the beer selection is more than adequate (21 drafts), the drinks are stiff and what the place lacks in style it makes up for in the substance of some serious nightly specials catered to the thrifty drinker. (Can you say $4 pitchers of Natty Light?)
And the food is, well, perfect for its setting. It’s no surprise that the owners – who are also the team behind wildly successful West County venues The Tavern Kitchen & Bar and The Corner Pub & Grill – have developed a menu that’s entirely approachable and fun. Aside from the aforementioned Shack-wich, patrons can also enjoy a selection of unpretentious pub grub with standouts like Baja fish tacos, pulled pork nachos, and massive portions of fresh-cut Boardwalk Fries smothered in imaginatively indulgent toppings like carne asada or green eggs and ham.
The Shack takes pleasure in catering to the casual beer drinkers who would rather lounge on a patio late in the afternoon than bump and grind to house club music until the wee hours. Only a few months old, it already has a strong following of college kids and young professionals primed for laid-back nights soaked in a few rounds of pitchers. Others may have come and gone, but The Shack is here to stay.