Kae Edgcomb, Contributing Writer
Featured image from Yelp
In addition to being one of the greatest puns of all time, Shameless Grounds is a unique coffee shop. Calling them a coffee shop, however, does them no justice. Their claim to fame is being outside the “box” in nearly every way. It does not matter what box you try to categorize them into; they will find a way to defy it and in the best ways possible. They have some of the best coffee in St. Louis, but they also have a liquor license to serve you local beer and hand-crafted cocktails! Do not forget to check out their bakery items. There is the beloved gooey butter cake and other sweet treats. Maybe you want to have a full meal with your coffee. Not a problem! Order one of their vegan options or a delicious sandwich, which will also likely have a punny name like their LGBLTQ, a play on a BLT featuring queso wrapped in a warm pita, which happens to be my personal favorite sandwich on their menu!
Although they have great food and drinks, their true claim to fame and what makes them truly out-of-the-box is their sex-positive mission. Sex positivity is a “movement” of sorts that promotes tolerance for all aspects of human sexuality, including the idea that sex should be, and is meant to be, fun and pleasurable between consenting adults. This includes acceptance of respect for all people who fall under the gender and sexuality (GSM) minority umbrella, including, but not limited to, transgender individuals, gay/lesbian/queer identifying individuals, those who are in open-relationships, people who practice polyamory (having multiple relationships, intimate or romantic partners at one time, which is not to be confused with polygamy which is very different, often repressive/not sex-positive and frequently religious in nature).
Shameless actively invites and encourages people who are part of the GSM to feel safe and welcomed in their environment. They host many unique events that are meant specifically for sex-positive minded people or those curious to learn more in a public space. Some events are also educational in nature and are also set up to be 18+ or 21+ depending on the topic. Here is also a good place to point out that much of their décor does contain nudity and they are not shy about their sex-positive mission. Anyone under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. After all, this is an establishment with a liquor license and sex education “theme.”
This leads to what I personally think is their best asset. They have their own library packed on the walls of their cozy café space. Most of the books have some sort of sexuality aspect to them. Of course, my favorite section is on sexuality education. But if you ever wanted to flip through a book about sexuality without judgement, this is a great place to do exactly that! There are also many romance novels on nearly any topic you could imagine, if that is your jam. Some books on the shelves may be seen as a bit more scandalous, like graphic novels reviewing sex toys (shout-out to Erika Moen and Mathew Nolan for their web comic turned graphic novel) and educational books on rope bondage.
With the sex-positive mindset, there is a huge overlap of geek and nerd culture. Many events have geeky or nerdy themes on top of being sex positive. They host table-top gaming nights, SciFi Fridays, and show movies and TV shows like “Firefly” and “Star Wars.” In the summer, they open their patio and this doubles their relatively-small indoor space.
Shameless is located in St. Louis’s Benton Park neighborhood. You can find them on the corner of Lemp Ave and Withnell Ave, not far from Cherokee Street and the Anheuser-Busch Brewery.
Response to COVID-19
With their amazing mission, it is no surprise they were one of the first St. Louis businesses I personally noticed responding quickly and appropriately to the changes that came with response to COVID-19 in March 2020. They had always communicated almost daily on their Facebook page about events, drink specials, or just the goings-on to help advertise their business. I recently saw a thoughtful tweet from NPR journalist and co-host of “Morning Edition” in which Steve Inskeep marked March 11 as the day COVID-19 truly changed life as we know it in the US.
It was a few days before this, March 9, that Shameless first posted abut rescheduling an event for later in April. At this time, most people expected a few weeks of “self-quarantine” to handle the pandemic. We now know that is far from reality, with many expects saying it might be a year or more of limited social interaction and travel. However, my point here is that Shameless and those who hold events in their space were thinking about this before much of Missouri. The day after Everything-Changed-Day, Shameless posted on Facebook for all event organizers to get in touch with them to discuss any rescheduling. Again, this was before the county-wide “shelter-in-place” order was announced
On March 14, Shameless made their first Facebook post discussing COVID-19 specifically and encouraged patrons to purchase gift cards if they wanted to support the cafe during uncertain times. A day later, they released pre-orders of brand-new merchandise, which is kind of a big deal since they have been sold out of T-shirts at least since I moved back to the area in August 2018.
Things began to move quickly after that; on March 16, they announced a move to carry-out only and were going to use their café space as a place for a local business to use as a make-shift store front with appointment-only sales to limit the number of people in their cozy space. The switch was widely supported and the comments were almost all positive and supportive under this announcement.
Saturday, March 21 was the day the St. Louis County ordered shelter-in-place would begin the following Monday evening. Shameless acknowledges this order and states, “we will re-open as soon as it’s safe to do so.” I truly commend Shameless Grounds for their communication and response to these unprecedented events. Following their solemn post explaining that all of their refrigerators had been emptied and unplugged, the Wi-Fi turned off, and even had their awning lights turned off for the “first time in 8 years,” they shared plans to re-open as soon as they would be able to. Continuing in their typical geeky, lighthearted style they have created a “captain’s log” in the style of “Star Trek” with daily check-ins, updates and an hourly countdown to their currently planned re-opening. These have been very entertaining, but also give a lot of insight into what small business are facing during this pandemic.
Overall, Shameless Grounds is a treasure in St. Louis. There is nothing else like them in the city and I am thankful for their existence. They continue to support their local neighborhood by following COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders. Once they re-open and the world returns to some sort of normal routine, I encourage you to check-out Shameless Grounds if their mission speaks to you, or at least stop in to get the perfect latte to-go.