Did you know there is a place in St. Louis where you can view rarely seen Michelangelos and Giottos while savoring gourmet flatbreads and wines? No, it’s not the Art Museum—but it is nearby. The Missouri History Museum, which has over the years brought St. Louisans closer to such vital events as the 1904 World’s Fair and the achievements of Charles Lindbergh, is one of only three U.S. destinations for the exhibit ‘Vatican Splendors.’
On display through Sept. 12, ‘Vatican Splendors’ features approximately 170 rare works of art and historically significant objects, many of which have never left the Vatican before. Visitors can see uniforms of the Papal Swiss Guard, some of the tools Michelangelo used when working on the Sistine Chapel, venerated relics of Saints Peter and Paul, and a series of papal portraits throughout the Vatican’s history. And just in time for this once-in-a-lifetime event, a new gourmet restaurant is making its debut at the museum.
Opened in April after a complete renovation of the second-floor space formerly occupied by Meriwether’s, Bixby’s emphasizes local food in a nod to the museum’s focus on local history. The menu will change six to nine times per year, according to general manager John McGuire, and currently features St. Louis-area favorites like Baetje farms goat cheese, Bethlehem Valley Norton wine and G&W sausage and Black Forest ham, plus lots of fresh, locally sourced produce. In creating Bixby’s, McGuire says he and his team wanted to get away from the institutional food that has often characterized museum cafeterias in the past. “Museums have figured out that food can be as much a draw as the actual show itself,” he says. “Our first, primary focus is food.”
The restaurant is titled in honor of William Bixby, a leading St. Louis philanthropist who died in 1931. After making his fortune as a lumber buyer for American Car & Foundry Company, Bixby retired at age 48 and spent the rest of his life collecting autographs, manuscripts and rare books, including papers of leading figures from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, many of which are now owned by the History Museum.
When the museum stays open late for live music on ‘Twilight Tuesdays,’ the restaurant offers ‘Bixby’s on the Piazza,’ a selection of Italian antipasto, small plates, beers and wines in tribute to ‘Vatican Splendors.’ From 4 to 7 p.m., guests can enjoy bruschetta, rustic flatbreads, crostini, shrimp, and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, plus live music in front of the museum from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Later this year, when the museum hosts an exhibit of artifacts from Napoleon, Bixby’s plans a corresponding French wine and dinner series.
Menu ideas at the restaurant also look to the past for inspiration. The staff has been taking advantage of their access to the History Museum library’s extensive collection of old menus from now-defunct restaurants and notable galas in St. Louis, according to McGuire. “Some of it, the sound of it I’m afraid might scare people off,” he says. But other dishes could wind up on diners’ plates—bringing history to life at the table as well as at the museum.