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Cherokee Street's Western Wear Night Draws Out St. Louis' Inner Cowboy Fashionistas

Ryan Koenig and the Goldenrods performed Tuesday at the latest Western Wear Night at the Whiskey Ring on Cherokee Street.
Emily Woodbury | St. Louis Public Radio
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Ryan Koenig and the Goldenrods performed Tuesday at the latest Western Wear Night at the Whiskey Ring on Cherokee Street.

John Joern, the co-owner of the Whiskey Ring, has watched Western Wear Night quickly grow into quite the bonanza at his Cherokee Street establishment. It all started less than a year ago with what he describes as “band practice” — local musician Ryan Koenig regularly bringing collaborators to the Whiskey Ring for live entertainment.

“He’d just kind of play for a couple hours while everybody meandered in and out,” Joern recalled during a St. Louis on the Air segment, “and [Lucas Hanner] and a few other folks, some friends of his, decided to take it upon themselves to start dressing the part, to sort of celebrate the evening, and it caught on like wildfire.”

With more and more St. Louisans joining in on the shenanigans, Western Wear Night has become a regular third-Tuesday-of-the-month festivity, despite the gathering’s decidedly Midwest, not-in-the-West, location.

“There’s something kind of uniquely Missouri about it for me,” first-time attendee Olivia Bleitz said. “I grew up west of the city, and, I don’t know, there’s something like very Missouri about it for me, [and] you can really embrace stereotypes. I don’t feel like there’s strong baggage associated with Western stereotypes. You can just go all in.”

Western Wear Night enthusiasts Lucas Hanner, left, and Ryan Koenig joined Thursday's program.
Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
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Western Wear Night enthusiasts Lucas Hanner, left, and Ryan Koenig joined Thursday's program.

During Thursday’s talk show, host Sarah Fenske sat down with Koenig and Hanner, two of the brains behind the concept, which lately has attracted hundreds of attendees over the course of an evening.

Koenig, whose everyday attire fits into the Western genre, said the turnout has been a very pleasant surprise.

Seeing so many other attendees has led to a realization. “So other people are as serious about this as I am?” he said, laughing.

Hanner said that along with the venue, the live music and local artistry, the appeal has a lot to do with vibrant upcycling and thrift industries in the Gateway City.

“All of us really embrace the thrifting culture in St. Louis,” he explained, “so there’s a lot of vendors, a lot of shops … and a lot of us have clothing from our grandparents, and so I think you put all that together and it’s like, ‘Wow, this is fun.’”

Western Wear Night organizers insist on an inclusive and safe atmosphere, which is in keeping with the general vibe of the neighborhood, Ron Strawbridge said. He’s a Whiskey Ring regular and a member of the Cherokee Street Community Improvement District board.

“One of the cool things about this whole thing is that Cherokee Street is one of those places that everyone is welcome,” he said. “We rail against people being hateful and people just being that way. And one of the things I love about this place, and that I love about this street, is that I felt at home here. I felt like I could be who I wanted to be and that there was respect for that, and there was understanding for that. And even sometimes you run into these conversations where you talk about it, which makes it even better.”

In the words of Western Wear Night attendee Magdalene Linck, it’s also “an excuse to wear something interesting.”

“I do wear a lot of vintage clothing, so it is a bit different, and [this] is one of the few times a week where I kind of wear whatever I want, and no one really questions my motives, so that’s kind of nice,” she said.

Related Event

What: Western Wear Night

When: 6 p.m. every third Tuesday of the month

Where: The Whiskey Ring (2651 Cherokee St., St. Louis 63118)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Alexis Moore. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Evie Hemphill joined the St. Louis on the Air team in February 2018. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 2005, she started her career as a reporter for the Westminster Window in Colorado. Several years later she went on to pursue graduate work in creative writing at the University of Wyoming and moved to St. Louis upon earning an MFA in the spring of 2010. She worked as writer and editor for Washington University Libraries until 2014 and then spent several more years in public relations for the University of Missouri–St. Louis before making the shift to St. Louis Public Radio.