UNGER UPFRONT: An ode to teenage drinking -- of coffee and whipped cream

2012-05-16T05:15:00Z 2012-06-18T09:09:52Z UNGER UPFRONT: An ode to teenage drinking -- of coffee and whipped creamBy Steve Unger stltoday.com
May 16, 2012 5:15 am  • 

It's spring in America, and that means prom season. Millions of high schoolers will get all dressed up for one night of silly or seemingly profound indulgences, possibly resulting in memories that last a lifetime. "Carrie" comes to mind.

Compared to my youthful experience, proms are a much bigger deal for kids now, based on what I've seen and heard. At least, they're more complicated. Limos. Pre- and post-parties. Hotel rooms. Ridiculously expensive dresses. Professional photographers. Cha-ching!

My own memories of proms are pretty vague, maybe because I went to a lot of them. I was one of those "nice guys" who got drafted to escort the dateless friends of my friends to their schools' proms, and now those faces and places are jumbled into a fuzzy mental image. Wearing a pastel-colored rented tux.

But as I was thinking about those nights, a very pleasant image flashed through my brain: Cyrano's coffee house. It was the after-prom nightcap for me on at least one occasion in 1970, and a great place for a lot of other special dates in my teen years back then.

If you personally remember going to Cyrano's, the mention of it will undoubtedly stir something for you. Maybe a whipped-cream craving.

Cyrano's was the first real "coffee house" in St. Louis, and it quickly became known as a hip place to go for decadent desserts and exotic-sounding drinks like espressos and cappuccinos. Today there's a coffee shop on almost every other corner, and lattes are part of our everyday conversation. But in the 1960s the concept was new, and Cyrano's defined the prototype in St. Louis.

Whether for its romantic ambiance, the quality of its desserts or simply the allure of its uniqueness, the place was extremely popular. It was perfect for impressing a date.

Cyrano's was at Clayton Road and DeMun, and as I recall, you entered through a side door. Then you went downstairs into a world that was dark, intimate and "bohemian," as we might have said then. Jazz was probably playing on the sound system.

As I reminisced about nights at Cyrano's, I also thought about two other coffee shops I frequented in the early 1970s. One of them was the Fleur de Lis, which was tucked away on the upper floor of an old brick building across from the Kirkwood train station.

That whole section of town has always had a distinctive charm of its own. When downtown Kirkwood is decorated for the holidays, I keep expecting to see Jimmy Stewart running down the median on East Argonne shouting, "Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!" Having a warm, atmosphere-laden coffee house up a flight of worn wooden steps was almost too perfect.

My friends and I went to the Fleur de Lis often, but it was seldom very crowded. That was actually nice for us, because it meant quick seating and better acoustics, but it also made us fear for the viability of the operation. I honestly don't know how long the Fleur de Lis lasted, but it probably couldn't have been more than a few years.

Another entry into the coffee house category around that same time was Louis IX in Webster Groves, but my memory of it is somewhat vague. I went there several times — a singer friend of mine even performed there once — but I'm having a tough time remembering the exact location. I'm almost sure it was on the south side of Big Bend near Rock Hill, but that's impossible because Highway 44 is right there. Then the realization hit me that I-44 didn't exist in Webster in the early 1970s. Duh.

There may have been more coffee houses in other parts of suburban St. Louis back then, but nothing that's accessible in my mental scrapbook. Do you remember any? It was a pioneering business concept — quiet, cozy venues where underage people could relax and converse and feel sophisticated, while eating swell desserts at the same time. Obviously, the modern coffee house genre has done quite well in its many contemporary forms.

Now Cyrano's is back, too. I think the original Clayton location had a fire decades ago and closed down, and then the franchise tried a revival in a converted Shakey's Pizza Den in Richmond Heights. The new Cyrano's is in the Old Orchard section of Webster, supposedly with much of its original dessert menu intact.

I should go visit the place and see if the éclairs are still as amazing as they used to be. Once the prom-season traffic has cleared out.


Steve Unger has been professionally writing for 30-plus years to help companies sell stuff. His Journal columns are a labor of love to salute the people, places and charm of St. Louis. If you'd like to share a memory of St. Louis or just drop him a line, he can be reached at stevethewordguy@aol.com.

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