Review: Southtown Pub in South City
Smoke is the secret ingredient at Southtown Pub. Except it’s not really a secret at all. Stepping inside, the pungent wood fire smell from a smoker out back is about as subtle as a freight train. It clings to your clothes and hair like campfire cologne. And it’s magnificent.
Hidden in plain sight on an unassuming strip of Kingshighway Boulevard, Southtown Pub is easy to miss. The low-key front patio is normally filled with locals milling around, nursing beers and smoking cigarettes under the neon Budweiser sign that throws light on the sidewalk. From the outside it’s as bland and forgettable as any corner bar. The inside, however, is a sharp-looking, well-oiled machine of a bar with two floors and a cabana-lined back patio, regularly packed with sports fans, South City locals, barbecue lovers, bikers, burned-out insurance salesmen, college kids and everybody in between.
In other words, Southtown is a little piece of South City hoosier heaven. Sports bar meets smokehouse, and the two share shots of bourbon. Expect the unexpected at this place, but do yourself a favor and leave the necktie at home. Sleeveless T-shirts, ball caps and jerseys, flip-flops and jeans (with a Skoal can ring on the back pocket) are the standard uniform in this joint. There’s a Duck Dynasty Big Buck Hunter arcade game inside and a permanent, gravel-lined washer pitching court on the back patio. Various ballgames emanate from strategically placed flat-screen TVs inside the bar and out; these barely compete with the earsplitting din of the crowd, loudest on weekends or during gametime. On Fridays and Saturdays, the less smoky upstairs bar plays host to popular and rambunctious late-night karaoke sessions (along with $1 shots).
Between their best attempts at belting out Bruce Springsteen or Toto, the partiers upstairs maneuver their way through the crowd to the wraparound bar outfitted with the standard liquor bottles – mainly whiskey and various flavored vodkas – as well as a stand-alone tap station with more than 30 draft selections, including a handful of local labels (Urban Chestnut, Six Row, Schlafly) for drinkers tired of, say, canned PBR. There’s also a collection of small-batch bourbon, including Four Roses, Basil Hayden’s and Bulleit. However, unless it’s an incredibly slow night, it can be tough to catch hold of one. The chink in Southtown’s armor is definitely the service, which can be excruciatingly slow, both at the bar and service tables.
Your best bet for quick service is out back. The high school keg party atmosphere spills over to the patio, complete with a fully stocked bar shack and a handful of covered, private cabanas with cushy lounges, individual TVs and table and bottle service.
Down-home cuisine has been appropriated even by the flashiest St. Louis restaurateurs, but the folks in the kitchen at Southtown aren’t interested in mind-blowingly elaborate barbecue. The straightforward, two-and-a-half page menu emphasizes pure, simple comfort food, where seemingly everything is smoked: brisket, turkey, pulled pork, ribs, sausage, even the corned beef and portabella mushrooms. The best of these offerings is the signature smoked chicken wings. At 90 cents apiece, the rich, smoky meat pairs well with a variety of sauces Southside offers from a self-service station. Worthy of a return trip, the wings are a meal in themselves. Another attention-grabber is the Hoosier Nachos, a smoky treat featuring pulled pork heaped on top of crisp house-made potato chips, dressed with baked beans, sour cream, pepper jack cheese and banana peppers. This dish fires on all cylinders – sweet, salty, hot, smoky and creamy all at once.
Still one of those truly local haunts that has yet to make the pages of any guidebooks, there is more substance than smoke at Southtown Pub. The menu is the biggest surprise, holding its own in a competitive and quickly growing St. Louis barbecue scene. It’s easy to see this blue-collar paradise continuing as a crowd favorite for years to come.
3707 S. Kingshighway Blvd., St. Louis, 314.832.9009, southtownpub.net
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