Backyard | by Andrea Avery
Hidden Pulleys on Balcony Four | by Aaron Belz
The Bars of Our Fathers | by Thom Fletcher
This Way Chuck Berry | by Thomas R. Raber
Sonnet: PSA | by Tony Robinson
Stardust in a Phrygian Key | by Stefene Russell
Sophomores | by Julia Smillie
The Ghosts of Winifred Moore | by Mike Steinberg
Four Days Behind the Iron Curtain, or, I'm With the Band | by Mary Kaye Tonnies
Late Night Radio | by Brett Underwood
The Bars of Our Fathers | by Thom Fletcher
Bob & Patti's Photos: THOMAS CRONE
There was a time when the 905 Liquor Store stood beside the courthouses, factories and offices downtown. It helped trace a line from the Cathedral to City Hall. It was a parade landmark and was recognizable feature from the top of the Arch. I can tell you that as a child I knew the numbers 9-0-5 as readily as three wooden blocks, written in red in a big circle.
Of course, 905 was a chain and would pop up here and there throughout the area as a sort of staple, filling in street corners whenever it could. In fact, any given non-descript building was fairly likely to have some beer sign in the window, understated and blunt as a notary or fallout shelter sign. Most of these buildings are still with us and a good deal are still fulfilling their civic duty. Look in the industrial districts, by the warehouses and railroad tracks. Look where these factory workers live in neat grids of brownstones and shotguns. In short, look where weíre thirsty. Thereís a bar there but I canít remember its name, or maybe I never knew it. Maybe it never had one. You can buy a bottle of the local mainstay and itís wet. Thereíre pull-tabs there and somebody to put your punch-press floor boss into proper perspective. In this bar, you may find the barmaid with the maternal smile or the klaxon that signals closing time.
On the other hand, letís not have this anonymity allow us to neglect the tavernís capacity for heroic mythology. H. Allen Smith told a story in the days directly leading up to Pearl Harbor about a group of South St. Louis patriots and the statue of Ulysses S. Grant. Apparently there was a strong movement to have the statue taken from its place at City Hall and put in front of the bar they claimed Grant frequented on stays in St Louis. Another story tells about the time Stagger Lee welshed on a barroom wager and became the infamous and ubiquitous devil of Blues music. Tom Turpin made the Rosebud Bar not a neighborhood bar, but a bar that was a sprawling neighborhood for musicians and gamblers. I met, and later proposed to my wife at a bar. In this bar you may find sagacious graffiti to pass on to your kids or the ashes of the departed but never forgotten mascot.
However, both the nameless service bar and the legendary den of renown belong to the class we commonly refer to as the neighborhood bar. Iíve met wise men who as youths ran to the corner bar with buckets to fill for their fathers. Some can boast a second language learned there during childhood. The parish and the bar defined the neighborhood, though you were more liable to drink than pray with folks from the other side of the tracks. Social contract dictated that combatants were mollified with a beer since this was, after all, your neighborhood bar. If there was nothing happening at one corner you would cross the street or walk down the block to another corner establishment. In this way, you would meet your neighbors, and in more rhapsodic nights you could navigate across town the way John Cheeverís Swimmer used backyard swimming pools. In this bar your might find anything, but for the sake of comparison letís say you find pickled eggs and a new card trick.
The tavern has always been present in St Louis. I suppose the bottle served as a trade commodity when the settlement first sprang up. The Spanish trapper Manuel Lisaís stone house became a bar before it was eventually razed, and certainly duelists braced themselves with strong spirits before rowing out to Bloody Island. During the post-industrial era of urban sprawl the bar has held a shaky, somewhat vilified image of corruption and ruin. It could be said, though, that the barís presence in depressed neighborhoods is more significant of its resolution than its opportunism.
Now that the cityís hemorrhaging has seemingly stopped and real estate has proven fertile, the corner bar has enjoyed a comeback. No longer restricted to strips and spots, the bar now serves down the road again.