View Full Version : The St. Louis Stumble

08-28-2007, 08:47 AM
Not the Chiefs on Thursday, the Stumble in South St. Louis is an annual bar hopping event. Story from the Post-Dispatch:

17 years of stumbling along
By Michele Munz

St. Louis — Just like he has for the past 16 years, Andy Vogel looked down at his watch, cupped his hand to his mouth and bellowed as loud as he could: "Let's — get— ready — to — stumbuuuuuhle!"

The crowd of about 250 scrambled for the door of Tin Can Tavern and Grille, the first stop on the annual three-mile long Stumble that took place Saturday night.

Vogel started the Stumble with a few friends when he was 23. They bar-hopped for three miles along Morganford Road, which is narrower than major streets like Grand Boulevard. With just as many homes as businesses, it's like a Main Street for south St. Louis.

The street had 17 bars then — neighborhood bars where blue-collar workers claimed their stools, popped open cans and vented between drags on their cigarettes. Groceries, pharmacies, bakeries and hardware stores were nestled in between.

The picture has changed over the years. The old corner bars have nearly disappeared along the northern end of Morganford. New ones have popped up, but with a different attitude and feel. And midway through the stumblers' route, Bosnian cafes and markets now dot the landscape.

Vogel, who works for his father's painting company, doesn't even know most of the stumblers these days. The route is down to 11 bars and includes parts of Gravois Avenue, which Vogel added about seven years ago after too many places shut down. But this year — the 17th annual Stumble — saw its biggest crowd ever.

Many grew up in the neighborhoods along the way. And change will not keep them away.

"People like to come back to the south side," said Vogel's wife, Tricia, 34.

Vogel and his cousin came up with the idea for the Stumble while driving down Morganford Road in its prime.

"Man, look at all these bars," Vogel, who grew up near the street's beginning and attended the former Holy Family Church, recalls telling his cousin.

They thought it would be fun to hit the bars all the way down to Loughborough Avenue, near his cousin's house, where they could crash.

That first year, they gathered about 20 friends and made T-shirts. They vowed to do it again, holding it every Saturday before Labor Day weekend and always making T-shirts.

The next year, about 75 people joined in, Vogel said. "Then it just grew and grew."

Today, all the Vogels do is send an e-mail a few weeks before the event — a call to the mostly 20- and 30-somethings who have moved out of the local neighborhoods and want to reconnect.

The Stumble kicks off at noon and ends about 9 p.m. And the drinking is supposed to be responsible; many climb into taxis when the event ends or have friends pick them up.


The Stumble starts on the northern end of Morganford, in the Tower Grove South neighborhood. It's a reunion of sorts for those that attended local Catholic high schools: St. Elizabeth's, DuBourg, St. Mary's.

The older stumblers can reminisce about the old bars on that stretch of road — Freelancers, Dumbaby's and Mugs and Jugs. There was Claudia's, Silly Al's and Cap 'n Bottle. Steve's Bar wouldn't let the stumblers in because they were afraid the floor would break.

It felt like a block party all the time back then — the bars would set up karaoke, barbecue and fill kiddie pools for families when it was hot.

"We always had the mom-and-pop places," said Dawn Dodson, 36, whose mom owned a neighborhood bar. "During the day, we were in their playing pinball and Pac Man and pool, and they would give us hot dogs."

Then, in the late '90s, the corner bars got boarded up.

In their place, young couples and singles are now rehabbing historic homes. Trendier restaurant bars have recently opened, like Tin Can Tavern and Grille and Stella Blues.

Tin Can is the first stop on the Stumble. It was opened two years ago by bartenders from the upscale Central West End. They offer 50 different pop-top beers from around the world. The owners offer food like meat pot pies and crab cakes. A restaurant review called their menu "haute hoosier."

Stella Blues offers everything from nachos to beef tenderloin. Mike Russo, 27, and his partner Christ Vanhoogstraat, 28, looked at places in the county to open a bar but landed back in the city, where each had grown up — Russo in St. Louis Hills and Vanhoogstraat in Holly Hills.

Russo saw opportunity in the area's change.

"There's a lot of young folks, people our age," Russo said. "A lot of my friends are buying houses around here."

And he knew he had to cater to that change.

"If we had been your typical south city bar with frozen pizza," Russo said, "we would be in trouble."

One bar that has survived is Ron's Mighty Pub, which opened more than 20 years ago. But it just went up for sale last week.

"I better get out while the gettin' is good," said Ron's widow, Mary Carter. "Over the last three years, I've had 20 customers die. Pretty soon, they'll all die."


As the Stumble makes its way from Tower Grove South, it moves into the Bevo Mill neighborhood. The bars along this part of Morganford have given way to Bosnian businesses. The St. Louis area has the largest population of Bosnian refugees in the world, and the neighborhood around Bevo Mill is where many settled in the late '90s.

It's more evidence of how much the area has changed. But when the stumblers reach further south, heading into their home stretch in the Holly Hills neighborhood, the bars still have a familiar look and feel.

This is the heart of south city, where taverns are decorated with softball league trophies, picture collages of nights at the bar and light fixtures with Clydesdales galloping around the edges.

At these places, they know you from what Catholic parish you went to. Patrons come in with mud on their boots, and the owners don't mind.

It's perhaps a fitting way to end the Stumble. And everyone finishes at the Hilltop — the Stumble's traditional closer.

This is the best part for Tim Bottchen, 25. Vogel is grooming him to take over some day, knowing his days as Stumble leader will have to come to an end.

"You don't find many people my age doing it," Vogel said.

While at the Hilltop, Bottchen likes to slowly drink his beer and look out at the crowd sitting on the bar's sloping front lawn, scanning faces for people he mostly connects with only once a year.

"It's still a lot of people from the old neighborhood who would know me and my family," he said.

08-28-2007, 09:26 AM
Dont tell jared ROFL

08-28-2007, 10:25 AM
Dont tell jared ROFL
We aren't trading him to the Lambs. He doesn't have to time for the August Stumble / July Stressenfest / Octoberfest

08-28-2007, 10:32 AM
Being a 37 year old alcoholic in St. Louis, I'm surprised I had never heard of this.

I'll have to mark it on my calendar for next year.

Baby Lee
08-28-2007, 10:51 AM
I'm on the same block as Stella Blues, This passes right by the house.
They're right though, the strip is in a bit of a renaissance. A mini-Loop, vintage clothing stores, an organic grocer, bars/grills with outdoor seating, a vintage toy store, an upscale furniture site, an art gallery. And no effing parking anywhere in Friday night!!!

08-28-2007, 10:54 AM
Too far down there... for anything like this on a week nite.

I'll Just stick to Oktoberfest in Augusta. Microbrew sampling to the max with my DD.... :D

08-28-2007, 11:17 AM
I'm on the same block as Stella Blues

You don't play Thursday night softball at Tower Grove, do you?