Springfield, Missouri. It’s the state’s third largest city, set in the foothills of the Ozarks and has the distinction of being the birthplace of Route 66. Its roots on the American frontier left Springfield with a unique blend of farmland and a vibrant downtown with freight and passenger trains intersecting at this centerfold of America, delivering people east to west. Three universities made their home in the city center and at the peak of the Gold Rush, the prominent Heer’s department store held its flagship on Springfield’s own Park Central Square.
About 100 years later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower transformed American road travel forever by constructing the Interstate Highway System. Route 66 was refashioned from a major thoroughfare into a scenic byway and Springfield too fell into disrepair as passenger trains soon stopped running, the industrial downtown emptied, and Heer’s flagship, abandoned. The late 1950s brought in new access highways that disconnected travelers from the towns on their routes. Springfield did however still rank third in the U.S. after New York and Hollywood for turning out nationally-broadcast television series. It remained a reservoir from the crossroads of the Middle West, the South and Great West in the face of a changing economic structure.
It should be no surprise that the heartbeat of Americana transmogrified again about ten years ago. An abundance of brick warehouses and retired theaters, an inexpensive cost of living, plus a devoted community of people who love their city and the surrounding mountains, horse-filled pastures and local farms, together, have created a full-on renaissance. Springfield has resurrected as a tech hub, artisanal coffee hub, craft beer and cocktail scene, organic food scene, with creative entrepreneurs, talented musicians and enough competitive beard trimmers and reclaimed wood to make any hipster swoon.
The once abandoned Heer’s is the new home to luxury apartments. The vacant Vandivort Theater was converted to Springfield’s first four diamond hotel, Hotel Vandivort. Park Central Square, once highly concentrated with methadone addicts, now attracts visitors to hip cafés, barber shops, and a museum. With three co-working spaces and the eFactory — a partnership between the city and Missouri State University which fosters startups and small business growth — Springfield is ripe with opportunity.
I’m a native New Yorker who can vouch for its “Brooklyn”-esque appeal. This is a town full of young visionaries who are enterprising enough in an environment that is affordable, malleable and receptive enough to make dreams happen. And that freedom is a distinct amalgam of Midwest entrepreneurship.
So go on, make a trip to Springfield and have one hell of a hipster time.
From Portland, OR to Brooklyn, NY to Springfield, MO industrious souls are pulling out their laptops. Here in Springfield, the square footage is wide, the walls are brick, the wifi is free and the coffee is fair trade.
The Coffee Ethic
124 Park Central Square
The Coffee Ethic were revolutionaries with a clover machine before Starbucks patented it. They’re still pouring delicious brews to nice tunes for productivity.
Brick & Mortar Coffee
1666 East St. Louis Street
Round the corner from the eFactory, this is the latest inviting caffeine hub downtown.
Scotch & Soda
310 South Avenue
If the sexy lighting and liquor library behind the bar doesn’t warm you up, the live music will.
Cherry Picker Package x Fare
601 South Pickwick Avenue
This is both a wine, beer and liquor shop and spot for sipping and snacking. Buy a bottle of wine and open it inside to drink by candlelight, or sit out by the fire pit.
507 West Walnut Street
Springfield’s only spirit house delivers tasty cocktails made with locally grown ingredients in locally made barrels… in an enormous space.
Mother’s Brewing Company
215 South Grant
This craft brewery is a beloved Springfield local. At the end of summer, Mother’s hosts Oktoberfest in their own backyard, complete with live music, pretzels and lederhosen.
5 Pound Apparel
412 South Avenue and Farmers Park
What started out as a tongue and cheek graphic tee company has evolved into a full collection of witty goods, in their sleek boutique shops which also carry brands like Toms and Herschel.
2816 South Ingram Mill Road
Self-dubbed home of the boot daddy and America’s Western store, you’ll swiftly understand why. Get yer boots here.
2814 Fremont Avenue
Clive Gray is the owner and visionary behind one of the most beautiful home stores I’ve ever set foot in, and as you can see pictured above, with a scattering of vintage menswear, candles and artisanal soaps. Clive was there when Andrew and I showed up for a third time in two days with a Penske truck “just looking” again at a barn wood dining table — which of course we took home with us back to Brooklyn.
And you thought people just drove in the Midwest. Well, that’s not untrue but once you get to where you’re parking there are plenty of places to amble and promenade in the Queen City of the Ozarks. Walk around Downtown and Commercial Street for shops, restaurants, bars, cafés, galleries et al. Check out Farmers Park where there’s both a farmer’s market and more dining and perusing to be had.
Springfield, MO for Amblers on Roadtrippers
For a uniquely Missourian experience, visit Springfield’s number one tourist destination: Bass Pro Shops’ flagship.
It’s a living natural history extravaganza store, and it’s incredible.
400 East Walnut Street and Farmers Park
This quaint bistro is rooted in classic French fare. Go for brunch or an afternoon cappuccino. Grab a pastry from their pâtisserie next door to their Farmers Park location.
234 East Commercial Street
You need not go far for a taste of Peru and the Andes Mountains at this healthy, South American inspired two-story restaurant. The ground floor is a converted pharmacy with glasswork over a century old and the upstairs has a dimly lit bar.
314 West Walnut Street
Midwesterners know how to savour in red meat and Flame whips up some of the finest steaks I’ve ever tasted. With a thorough menu of beef, including tartare (for all my francophiles), these folks are experts.
318 Park Central East
Competitive beard trimming is real. These guys also have a members-only underground bar accessed through a secret door, where you can stash your personal, private booze collection in your very own cabinet.
Hudson & Hawk
Multiple locations around Springfield
It wouldn’t be competitive beard trimming if there were just one.
Where to Stay
305 East Walnut Street
Hotel Vandivort is a stunning boutique hotel renovated from an old theater. The hotel features a sleek design and modern amenities while retaining exposed brick walls and high ceilings. You don’t need to be a guest to enjoy the bar and small restaurant whipping up delicious cocktails made with Coffee Ethic cold brew and rangoon made with goat cheese. Enjoy one of the long working tables or a glass of wine by a large fireplace in the lobby.
This is where my husband-to-be and I will be staying for our wedding weekend. Remember to take a #VandivortBathroomSelfie (or don’t).
There are so many great places I’ve missed, like the awesome organic food source MaMa Jean’s and there are plenty more cafés and boutiques that I just haven’t made it to yet. Springfield is happening, it’s hipster, and it’ll give you a warm welcome. See you soon!