The Hill is one of St. Louis’ most sturdy working-class neighborhoods. It has maintained its Italian roots over many decades, even when ties to the mother country are now fading with time. The Hill‘s two most famous sons are baseball legends Joe Garagiola and the inimitable Yogi Berra. The two grew up on the same street and are celebrated as heroes, like so many other great St. Louis natives who went away.
Bisected by Interstate 44, which barreled through and destroyed many of St. Louis’ historic neighborhoods, the plucky Hill persevered, thanks primarily to its famous eateries. It is located just south of Forest Park and west of the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Compared to other historic St. Louis neighborhoods, it is a much lower-income area, without the elegant brick architecture and stately homes and churches that define classic late 1800s and early 1900s St. Louis. Instead it offers shotgun housing and walkable blocks that are carefully branded with the The Hill moniker and Italy’s national colors. It truly is a model in effective branding and identity building. The Hill also is typical of the racial divide in the city–this neighborhood is white in a city that has long promoted segregated neighborhoods.
I remember first coming here in the early 1970s for Italian celebrations with my family as a kid. I recall a lot of drunk St. Louisans eating food on a typically hot St. Louis summer day. It did not feel that special to me. In high school, my mother bought me a hero sandwich from one of the delis as a special birthday treat. It was delicious. I would occasionally visit the local stores with my mom over the years to buy Italian spices. I have even celebrated a wedding dinner at one of the classic family eateries. I am glad it keeps up its plucky ways.
In a city with so many historic and amazing sights, I probably would not put it in my top five places to visit, mainly because the competition is fierce in that city. But I would swing through if I had a weekend. The Hill is conveniently located, and you might enjoy a nice meal here as well. Buon appetito, amico.