Rehabbed Industrial Site Caters to Meeting and Event Industry
By Kristi Ruggles
Making the old new again is hip in St. Louis. Streets and neighborhoods formerly considered places you don’t go after dark have morphed into see-and-be-seen nightspots.
Among neighborhoods enjoying this urban renaissance—perhaps even a leader in it—is Lafayette Square, an architectural and historical gem near downtown St. Louis.
Of course, it takes more than architecture and history for a neighborhood to thrive in this decade; we need great food and fun places to gather, too, and Lafayette Square has both.
Enter SqWires Restaurant & Market, part of a renovated complex that used to house the Western Wire Manufacturing Co. This factory-turned-restaurant-and-residential-living space opened in 2001. SqWires includes an Annex, an event space whose industrial history makes for an environment in which a party or business meeting is anything but ordinary.
The 18-foot walls, for example, came in handy for a winter wonderland party, where the hosts hung tall pine trees from the ceiling. Throwing a Hawaiian party? The Annex has room for palm trees, too.
The quirky spelling of SqWires is a blend of two words—the “Sq” drawn from “Square,” as in the name of the neighborhood—and “Wires” as a nod to the name of the business that previously occupied the space. (As a reminder of the building’s history, its employees occasionally still receive a wrongly routed shipment of wire.)
Much like the name of the place, the scene itself is a bit of blend. Those who know industry can see the remnants of a spin wheel system above them. Those who don’t know industry can enjoy the modern artwork on the old brick walls and watch the blades spin on fans housed in industrial cages. There are white linen cloths on the tables, and fresh flowers. Tall windows throw light onto a glistening interior.
“They really did a fantastic job,” SqWires general manager Rick Hastey says of the developers. “We’ve got a great warehouse look, very open and spacious, and it’s been great as a restaurant and event space.”
The Annex can accommodate up to 150 for a sit-down meal and as many as 225 for a reception. The space includes an iron stairwell that leads to a balcony. Hastey said the balcony has been put to creative use for parties (for an Arabian-themed party, hosts transformed the balcony into a Moroccan king’s court!) or simply used as a fun space for kids to gather. The Annex also is equipped to meet whatever technical needs guests have for business presentations.
Lafayette Square is situated close enough to downtown to be convenient to conventiongoers and far enough to provide a break from 18-story buildings and one-way streets. Hastey says SqWires often works with downtown hotels to host groups for meals or to prepare meals to go.
In addition to an event menu that includes options such as hors d’oeuvres, multi-course meals and buffets, SqWires also offers a box-it-up menu. The restaurant features an urban market and coffee shop that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The SqWires Web site claims that the market is the only source for fresh fish and seafood downtown, and visitors can get it grilled or steamed. Another option is to walk away with raw fish and directions on turning it into a great dish!
The urban market sells wines, cheeses, breads and far rarer finds such as king crab legs. For groups, the chef prepares gourmet entrees and side dishes, and the restaurant packages them to go. Delivery, however, is only available to residents of the attached living community.
For out-of-town guests, a visit to SqWires and the attached Annex is a visit to a neighborhood with a distinctive chapter in the history of St. Louis. At the center of the community is Lafayette Park, a lovely 30-acre green space that is distinguished as the first park west of the Mississippi River and the only land in St. Louis that never has been privately owned.
The neighborhood, after prospering in the years following the Civil War, was devastated by a tornado in 1896, which only aggravated the existing challenge of urban sprawl. The Victorian-era homes that characterize the neighborhood became victims of neglect by the early 1920s.
Circumstances began to change in the 1960s, when a handful of enthusiasts formed the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee. That set the stage for a renewal that author Thomas Keay describes in A Walk Around the Park as “a resurgence unparalleled in St. Louis during an era of mass exodus to the suburbs.”
Today, Lafayette Park is a bright and vibrant neighborhood, and SqWires is a staple in its success.
If you’d like to find out more about SqWires Restaurant & Market, log on to www.sqwires.com. The site contains complete event menus and a calendar of available dates for booking. You also can contact catering coordinator Christy Augustin for more information. Augustin’s email address is [email protected] and her phone number is (314) 865-3522.
(Kristi Ruggles is a contributor from St. Louis, MO)
For Meetings on the Sweeter Side – We’ve Got the Place for You
You want fries with that?
So asks the menu at a throwback-to-the 1950s diner across the street from SqWires Restaurant & Market. Bethany Budde, proprietor of SqWires, recently opened Soda Fountain Square, also in the Lafayette Square neighborhood.
The newer location offers party planners a lower price point and a playful alternative for an event. The party room accommodates up to 40 people and offers groups the options of ordering from the menu or building a menu with the chefs. (Or the soda jerk – this place actually has one!)
A sampling of menu items includes a slinger for breakfast (although it’s on the menu all day), a patty melt and tater tots for lunch, and for dessert, go crazy. Soda Fountain Square features four ice cream floats, four banana splits, eight one-scoop sundaes and four “special” sundaes. Ice cream party, perhaps?
To find out more about Soda Fountain Square, call (314) 241-0099, or go to www.sodafountainsquare.com.