Monday, April 23, 2012 / 9:22 AM
It may’ve been true in the early 20th century, but we’ve moved well beyond the time of every city intersection having its own tavern. Though City neighborhoods still possess more corner pubs than the average, cul-de-sac-heavy ‘burb, liquor licensing restrictions, cultural mores and a tough economy have combined in easing out many of the classic corner spots throughout the City.
As the street dips down into a flatland, just south of Bates, a curious thing happens. Bars do seem to sprout up all around you. They’re not on every corner, but it’s a close call. From Elwood on the northern edge to Catalan on the south, there’re nine live bars in the zone. And this is without the old Slo-Tom’s, which is set for a liquor license hearing on April 24, with hopes of a May 9 opening; you’ve also got nearby haunts, just-off-of-Broadway venues like Frank’s First Alarm, Red’s 8th Inning, the Little Bar and the Halfway Haus, which are easily enough bar-hopped by more than a few South Broadway nightcrawlers. (And daycrawlers.)
This area’s one of the craziest blends of life that you can find in town, with a mix of heavy industry and residential homes of all stripes. You’ve got a new coffee shop, an old head shop and a middle-aged pawn shop. Community gardens and full-wall murals suggest a new vibrancy, while a barber shop, a laundromat and a bank hint at the everything-in-one nature of the block’s commercial past. That quirky mix is reflected in the barrooms, too, where you can wind up next to a cabbie, a metal company’s office manager, a scrapper or a retiree, depending on how early you drop by; and these are often bars that operate from early-to-late.
We couldn’t hit all nine venues in one day. But we could stop off at three of them, for three straight days, ordering the nectar of the realm, a single Budweiser, at each. (And we should note that Keith Richards’ wildly-entertaining, but very long, autobio “Life” was our company on each visit. Middle-aged white guys drinking alone, during the day? Not weird. When you add a book even about the Rolling Stone, things can sometimes get a bit more interesting...)
Day One: Tuesday, April 17, starting at 4:50 p.m.
The newest bar on the block, Highlights Bar and Grill (7301 South Broadway, 314-531-4345), offered an interesting seduction via the outdoor chalkboard: “come in and get kinky.” Deceptive advertising, we say, since what was playing out inside was a classic happy hour, with 10 to 12 people enjoying beers and hot wings, their spicy aroma dominating the room. Once called Kathleen’s (a day bar featuring the best frog legs in South City), Highlights still has that new-outta-the-box feel, with only some hints at a funky, South Side vibe, like the large, stuffed goat standing high on one wall. Even a massive, painted Bud sign on the side of the building’s been blasted away since the space was turned over by new ownership. If there’s one, real highpoint to Highlights, it’d be the front windows, a series of massive, almost-floor-to-ceiling lookers that allow you space out as the trains roll by, just 100-feet away. But there’s also not a complete, “go there” hook. Maybe, with time, the funkiness will arrive, too. On South Broadway, it almost has to. (Bud: $2.)You can’t help but feel self-conscious when the two customers in the place decide to leave within five-minutes of your arrival.
That’s just what happened at Korners (7107 South Broadway, 314-352-3088), a gay bar that seems to draw heavily on middle-aged gents and drag queens, both on- and off-duty. That’s fitting, as there’s a stage in back, with shows held on every Saturday and the first-and-third Fridays of the month. Four years ago, Korners moved from the corner of Broadway and Blow to this space, which was redone in a straightforward style, featuring lots of exposed brick and wood. The bartender, a nice chap, suggested that the weekends were the time to drop in, when the drag entertainment’s happening; that Tuesdays were bit a mixed bag, especially since there was no set entertainment for the night. As a TV silently played Glee, the room was quiet, save for another TV playing a tabloid news show. This seemed a good time to wander a few yards down the block, to the old home of Korners... (Bud: $3.)
Hummel’s Pub (7101 South Broadway, 314-353-5080) seems the kind of place, where, cliches be damned, everybody knows everyone. So when you walk in, a noob, the whole joint swings around for a hot second, before going back to their pre-existing conversation. Though featuring a fairly substantial backyard, the denizens were squeezed into the barroom, which was thick, even dense with cigarette smoke. As I huddled into a corner of the bar, tucked in between two bar-top games, my knees went right into the underbar wall, pretzling me sideways as I flew through some of Keith Richards’ early years. (He stole Anita Pallenberg from Brian Jones! Very naughty!) Reading was challenging, as the room was loud, both from conversation and from the jukebox, which kicked out (possibly for the first time ever, anywhere) the combo of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” and Li’l Wayne’s “Lollipop.” It’s always interesting to find gay-and-lesbian bars on the fringes, in nabes you wouldn’t exactly expect them. And here sit two, almost neighbors and with extremely different looks-and-feels. (Bud: $2.)
Day Two: Wednesday, April 18, starting at 5:20 p.m.
You don’t expect a bar like The Foundry (8528 South Broadway, 314-544-6111) to be quiet at happy hour. But what you don’t figure on is a mid-afternoon power mix of top 40 dance hits from the past two decades, played at a Landing-on-the-weekend volume. This was an odd stop-off. There was some type of secretive social architecture at work here and my presence upset whatever vie was happening amongst the regulars; you can tell that, sometimes, and it’s not a matter of paranoia. All that conjecture aside, the bar served the basic needs; basically, a barstool and a place to keep cranking on the book. The drop ceiling, the fake brick walls, the strange energy in the air... all revealed themselves as minutes passed. But not too many minutes. After all, there was another bar just a few paces down the block... (Bud: $2)
A hop-skip from The Foundry is Tucker’s Bar & Grill (8518 South Broadway, 314-544-6200), your basic, old-fashioned tavern with country music and smoke in the air, mixing naturally and plentifully. There’s no doubt that Tucker’s serves a steady corps of regulars, as evidenced by the long list of overdue bar tabs tacked up to the bar’s back wall. And then there’s Bob, someone who’s clearly comfortable in the space and who gives a running commentary on all topics, in language that’s equal parts salty and cranky. Every bar needs a house curmudgeon; they’ve got one. Tucker’s also has a house drum kit and someday, I want to walk in, order my Bud, sit down at the set, pound through whatever track’s on the jukebox, down the bottle in one, longswig and then walk out, into the sunlight and clear air. Someday this will happen. If not anytime soon. (Bud: $2.) There are times when tears hit me, a wave of a sadness overwhelming me with no particular cause determined. And then I realize: it’s because Bob & Patti’s No Wake Zone closed. A fishing-themed, three-room bar on the corner of Loughborough and South Broadway, the No Wake was owned by (as you’d expect) a Bob and a Patti and they built, possibly, my favorite South City corner bar ever.
So Jo-Netti’s (6901 South Broadway, 314-481-6657) will always be judged in relation to what came before. On this day, the space was as it usually is, with a half-dozen workingmen taking up residence at the bar, trading jokes. Often in a borderline off-color fashion. (And the rest of the time, it was purely racist and sexist, no borderline involved.) But, hey, you gotta consider where you are, at all times in life. At Jo-Netti’s, it’s an earthy sort of joint. Cheap drinks, the game playing on a scratchy pair of monitors, the conversation run by a rogue’s gallery of characters looking for the simple joys of life. In short: it’s no No Wake Zone. Even if that’s an impossible standard for anyone to meet. (Bud: $2.)
Day Three, Thursday, April 19, 1:10 p.m.
By this point, you have to appreciate that this kind of three-day run can only be undertaken by a professional, someone who knows that you start out a multi-stop drinking trip with Vitamin B’s and aspirin, taken before you even leave the house. Then, ideally, you lay down a solid base of food. Kicker’s Corner (6201 South Broadway, 314-832-7935), we’ll say it here, pretty much sets the gold standard for pub fare in South City, with a kitchen that puts out surprisingly good food at a price that’s more than fair. Though Kicker’s moved from the nearby Ivory Triangle a few years back, replacing The Lighthouse at this location, the building was, for years, Dieckmeyer’s. That one was a classic South Side haunt known for brain sandwiches and wild parties, with footage still existing via World Wide Magazine and YouTube. These days, the space can be relaxed, or can be crazy, solely depending on the day and time. They open early at Kicker’s and you can find somebody eating a burger and downing a beer in the serious a.m. hours. Or you can find a mini-crowd on Tuesday night’s, when what’s arguably the City’s best pizza goes for $5. On this afternoon, the mood was classic merchant’s lunch, with lots of talk about the neighborhood’s colorful pedestrian traffic. It’s almost a shame to reveal a hidden gem; you can’t keep it secret when singing praises on the web. But this bar’s worth hosannas and it’s probably your best landing spot for a first-time SoBro jaunt. (Bud: $2.25.)
Sometimes you get a little bit more than you expect. At Tesson Station (7928 South Broadway, 314-631-3141), a bartender and two patrons were the only folks on-hand. But it didn’t take long for discussions to start, with one of the old-hands noting that “South Broadway used to have 20-24 bars.” Pause. “It was like Gaslight Square down here.” Well, if there’s a classic St. Louis reference, this was the one. Since the bartender wants to write up her own piece about the history of the building (an interesting one, at that), we’ll leave the rich details to her. But the room is the clubhouse for the social crew The White Rabbits; thus, the punching white rabbit detailed on the outside of the building. And there’s a clubhouse next door, too, belonging to the well-known motorcycle club, the El Forasteros. Incidentally: they’re around the block, sure, but usually aren’t at the Tesson, in you wanna wear in your own MC colors. The time to drop in my just be on a weekday, when you can stretch your legs and get a bit of history about the block. Apparently, it used to be a lot weirder and nuttier. Wow. That’s a thought. (Bud: $1.75.)
By the time that my visit Crossbones Bar and Grill (5827 South Broadway, 314-353-2121) commenced, my will to drink (possibly even my will to live) was starting to wane. And my timing was well off. A half-dozen bikers were in the spot, of the mild, mid-40s type, and the Cardinals’ matinee was playing to a largely-indifferent, low-key audience. See, it’d be a few hours until the monthly spaghetti wrestling would be held and then the crowd would form; having attended that low-brow, low-cut affair once before, the scene’s a very different when entertainment’s involved. Barely made it out of that one alive, after a friends brought in a camera rig the size of a small car, but this visit was largely without incident, my Bud going down slowly and my desire to complete the mission almost all-encompassing. Spaghetti wrestling’s only another month away and, by then, all this will seem a glorious memory, dim memories from a far-away past... (Bud: $2.)
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