I moved to St. Louis, Missouri from Michigan in the summer of 1988. I don’t get to go “up north” as much as I’d like, these days. Lake Michigan has become the secret place I visit in my imagination before I start making art. The Mississippi River , this enormous, powerful, muddy spine of America, runs right past St. Louis. This is not the pristine, inspirational north country. It is a real-life city, where things are easy for some people and hard for lots of other people. It’s not a big city like Chicago, or a small town like Alton. It’s just in the middle of everything. Accordingly, you can’t see two inches into the governing body of water that drives this town.
A hundred years ago, it was a different story. St. Louis threw the biggest party the Euro-centered world had ever seen – the 1904 World’s Fair. For a brief moment in history, people came from all over the world to St. Louis to see the latest technology, the coolest new toys and the most famous art. At the 1904 World’s Fair, ice cream cones, cotton candy, iced tea, Dr. Pepper, hot dogs, and air conditioning were introduced for the first time.
While there are plenty of good things about St. Louis today, I can’t say that it has hung on to that reputation for cutting-edge wonderfulness. You just have to know where to look, I guess.
Imagine my surprise at discovering Kayak’s Coffee, having seemingly sprung out of nowhere – overnight. Perfectly. It was as if someone had used a giant pair of scissors and snipped this place right out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming or Glen Arbor, Michigan and pasted it here in St. Louis, Missouri. This place does NOT have the look of a business that just opened a month ago. I am totally astounded.
Located at 276 North Skinker Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63130, Kayak’s became an instant hit with the Washington University crowd. The fleece-clad students seem to have it as a goal to cover every rustic table in the place with books, papers and backpacks. (I forgot – the world, like, belongs to you when you’re in college. Duh.)
My husband Gabriel and I had a slightly different reaction to Kayak’s when we first walked in. Right off, we needed to confirm its independence. No, Kayak’s is not secretly owned by Starbucks. Yes, it is an independent coffee house. Next, we marveled at the branding. (Art nerds that we are.) The gold lettered sign and the exploration-themed display window drew us in to the well-thought out, perfectly detailed snowboarding-lodge of happiness that is Kayak’s. Nothing was under construction. Actual used snowboards and kayaks hang from the ceiling. We ordered drinks at the counter. The Chocolate Coyote became my instant favorite. It’s your basic mocha, with chili powder. (Two kicks in the seat of the pants in one mug!) Gabriel is a big fan of the classic latte.
The barista started a KayakRewards Card for us. No paper card with stamps for these guys, though. You get what looks like a credit card with a magnetic strip that keeps track of your purchases and rewards you accordingly. Mine has a dog-sledding scene on the front and instructs me to “Explore our national parks” on the back.
I also ordered a dark chocolate-dipped macaroon. We are not talking about a silly little holiday cookie here. We are talking about a macaroon almost the size of a baseball dipped in dark chocolate. It took both of us to eat it.
Next, we moved down the line past the Habitat for Humanity donation box and the espresso machine covered with snowboarding stickers to wait for our drinks. The “pick up your drinks here” counter is, of course, made out of another snowboard. Our drinks arrived in beautifully printed paper cups sporting the Kayak’s slogan: Everything for the journey. These guys are good. And tasty. We’ve only visited 3 times, and we already have “favorite chairs”: the 2 super-comfy ones right next to the fireplace with the tree stump table between them where you can set your drinks. I swear, the chili powder is the only thing that got me out of that chair when it was time to leave. I sat there wondering who was responsible for Kayak’s excellent branding, where they got the money, when I could go wakeboarding next, and if I was really still in St. Louis.
Did I mention that Kayak’s has free wireless internet access?