A Catalyst Closes
My history with Benton Park and Cherokee Street goes back a ways. Whether it was a board meeting in the neighborhood for the now defunct Metropolis St. Louis, a concert at Off Broadway, a trip to an antique shop, or a trip to Casa Loma, I first came down to the neighborhood circa 2006. But as I began to spend more time in the urban core of the city I’d grown up in, the place on Cherokee I discovered for myself in roughly 2008, rather than being taken there, was Black Bear Bakery.
It was very much of-the-earth, no frills but had damn good baked goods, a tasty vegetarian brunch on Saturdays, occasional concerts courtesy of KDHX and a fair amount of socialist and anarchist reading materials on a bookshelf. To say it was one-of-a-kind would be accurate.
It became one of the places I took friends and family to show them a less traveled part and to enjoy and meal all the while asking, “might this be one of the next big neighborhoods?” To me it symbolized the reemerging urban area I had begun to fall in love with. It was kitschy, grassroots and anything but cool. It was unapologetically itself.
Fast forward years later and there are now restaurants, bars, bottle shops, furniture shops, coffee shops, breweries and as of yesterday, a seasonal beach with tiki bar.
The Cherokee / greater Benton Park area is emerging in a big way. Not without occasional drama (RFT piece) but the change is hard to miss.
But as can happen over-time, Black Bear over the years faded from my greatest hits list and I right now couldn’t tell you the last time I was there. As I sit in my new home, just off Cherokee, what I can tell you I do remember is a couple years hearing the bakery was in hard financial times. On Friday night I was out with a friend and we were walking past the bakery's space and it was illuminated from inside, clearly vacant other than some of the seating and baking racks. Its been closed for well over a year and I didn’t even know it.
The space that first welcomed me to the neighborhood had been replaced by other more recent and flashier attractions. I regret not providing it with more attention and will miss it but even more will miss what it symbolized for me and opened me up to. Can’t forget the the anarchist book selection either ;)
Black Bear was one of several places that marked the city becoming personal and my desire to become a better steward and resident. Thank you Black Bear for opening my eyes to unknown parts of the city. I look forward to the future endeavor to always remember what got me to where I am.
Go Forth Boldly