the dining room at olio in botanical heights photo by jonathan gayman

The Coolest Places to Eat: From dishes to decor, these 4 restaurants are chic af

Framing the compulsory riot of cocktails, attentive service and strange things done to vegetables at any good restaurant are elements – layout, lighting, din – that set the tempo from the door to the bill. Combining these imperceptibles to create a cool space is no small feat. Luckily, St. Louis is booming with designers, artists and startups, increasing demand for hip urban pleasures. Restaurant owners aren’t stopping with reclaimed wood and hanging Edison bulbs – they’re incorporating tropical plants to create privacy and nixing the once requisite flat-screen TVs (Cardinals games be damned!). Here, we collected some of St. Louis’ most eye-catching restaurants, where design and atmosphere are every bit as exciting and considered as the food.

the interior at bar les frères // photo by jonathan gayman

blinis and caviar at bar les frères // photo by jonathan gayman

Bar Les Frères
7637 Wydown Blvd., Clayton, 314.725.8880,

Bar Les Frères epitomizes savoir faire with two small adjoining rooms that inspire endless elegant Old World analogies. Cabinets and shelves are stuffed with books, glowing taper candlesticks, marble busts and objets d’art that would feel at home in an eccentric Parisian apartment. Saffron- and chartreuse-colored walls, terrazzo floors and an eclectic collection of portraits give the feeling of dining in a 19th-century Prussian home. A bench outside the bathroom is draped in a real leopard skin – complete with the animal’s tail. When the candles are lit and the evening has rolled well into later hours, a table by the back bookcase is straight out of a scene in War and Peace. Marble-topped tables coupled with upholstered settees invite guests to linger. The only chink in Bar Les Frères’ flawless movie set quality is the din, which can rise above pleasant levels due to soaring ceilings and so many hard surfaces. But you’ll barely notice while enjoying Champagne cocktails with superb blinis and caviar to complete your Catherine the Great experience.

the dining room at vista ramen // photo by jonathan gayman

Vista Ramen
2609 Cherokee St., St. Louis, 314.797.8250,

Dark, cozy and patterned tile-clad, the carefully cultivated mood is exactly right in this 34-seat temple of cool. It’s no wonder locals flock to Vista’s enormous 1930s neon sign like hungry, noodle-craving moths. Peanuts, cilantro and fish sauce dance to an upbeat soundtrack that makes you feel hip without requiring too much attention, in an Asian-inspired menu as fashionable as its surroundings. Dark walls and a soothing blue and green color scheme frame the open kitchen, which is always buzzing with a happy sort of energy. The small space is efficiently outfitted with narrow furniture to avoid feeling cramped, and you won’t be rushed through a meal by the stylish staff. Instagram-famous for its Vista ramen (a rich bowl of lust featuring pork shoulder, scallion, nori and egg) and incessantly changing imaginative small plates, this Cherokee Street staple will continue to be all over your feed. It’s nightlife-meets-noodle shop with a vibe as heady as its broth.

the bhive at brennan's // photo by jonathan gayman

The BHIVE at Brennan’s
4661 Maryland Ave., St. Louis, 314.497.4449,

If entering through a dimly lit, marble-clad foyer and up a wrought iron staircase (the likes of which Willy Loman would have dutifully climbed to sales meetings) doesn’t inspire curiosity, check your pulse. Just about every space at Brennan’s is inspired, but The BHIVE is a mastery of eclecticism: romantic and cool, retro and modern. A collaborative workspace by day, event space by night and host to the occasional This Is Not A Restaurant pop-up dinner, The BHIVE uses its historical Central West End building as a canvas for six distinctly designed rooms. Each has a different personality, but all are warm with mantles, locally crafted wood tables and chairs, midcentury-inspired geometric wallpaper and full bookshelves, creating layers of comfort. It’s as if a fashionable building in the West Village opened all its apartments to imbibers, allowing guests to float from one intimate space to another, while the bird’s-eye view of bustling Euclid and Maryland avenues add to the “Am I still in St. Louis?” vibe.

from left, the egg salad and charred tomato bruschetta // photo by jonathan gayman

1634 Tower Grove Ave., St. Louis, 314.932.1088,

Chic but unfussy, nothing is overwrought here. Original glazed tiles that graced the former Standard Oil filling station still line the walls, a record player scratches out tunes, and on warm evenings, the garage door is flung open to the delight of diners. Its smart seasonal menu and superior wine selection are worth attention (Don’t miss the anchovy-topped egg salad and charred tomato bruschetta.), but details make the memory at Olio: the pretty aperitif served in vintage crystal brought out on a scrolled silver tray, the well-trained staff that understand service is about nuance and privacy, the warm glow of the floor-to-ceiling windows at night that make you feel like you’re about to enter a hip snow globe. Technically, this is a casual setting, but it has all the perks of world-class dining. It’s a haiku of a restaurant – urban and sophisticated without being conceited and cold.