Inside St. Louis

An original water color painting of J&A's by local artist Marilynne Bradley.


     J&A’s Bar & Grill has been a popular St. Louis institution since 1907. Thirsty customers come to J&A's for a cold beer, great food, and friendly conversation. Located in the Central West End, the tavern is favored by university students, employees from local businesses ready to wind down, and long time regulars who think of J&As as their “living room” making this watering hole the heart of the neighborhood. As soon as you walk in the door you get the feeling that it’s a thriving remnant of yesterday’s culture.

     Located next to the former 9th district police station known for its alleged hauntings and just across the street from one of the best known examples of an original Standard Oil station in existence, J&A's welcomes you in with the old-time sidewalk sandwich board out front. An extravagant, mahogany wood carved Brunswick Balke back bar (pictured below) is the focal point of the tavern and tells the story of days gone by. The back bar was built in 1907 on South Broadway and has been in this building since the doors opened. Carved cherubs adorn the columns and a wire can still be seen strung high across the length of the bar which was used to hang a curtain to hide liquor from view on Election Days in the days before the law was changed.


     Near the front door on one end of the back bar is a liquor cabinet with the original wavy glass framed in rich, oak wood which still displays packaged liquor for sale.  At the other end of the back bar burgers and other favorites are sizzling on the char broiler grill. Prior to offering food in 1985, that corner housed a walk-in cooler where regulars proudly claim that they’d help themselves if the owner was busy.  In

addition to the cook area in sight, a prep kitchen, coolers, and storage area can all be found in the basement which is accessible by an old trap door in the floor just past the dining area.

     The wall is packed with photos of local sports teams and individuals and trophies from area slow pitch softball teams sponsored by J&A's are proudly displayed on a high shelf in the rear of the bar.  An antique clock hangs high on the north wall with the name “Dearborn”.  This whiskey advertising clock is ironically the last name of the original proprietor.  Back when Dearborn ran the place there were hitching posts outside for the horses and spittoons along the bar.  You’ll no longer see that, but the bar really hasn’t changed a lot over the years, although you can now enjoy creature comforts such as 2 televisions, the popular “Attack From Mars” pinball, 2007 Golden Tee video game, Galaga/Pac Man 20 year reunion class of 1981 video game, and a Touch Tunes internet jukebox with an endless selection.

     The rich history of this classic neighborhood bar is what makes it pass the test of time.  During prohibition the original owner, Mr. Dearborn, had a tobacco shop up front with a partition of leaded glass and swinging doors.  If you knew the right people you could get in and get some Chicago moonshine which was trucked in regularly.  At the end of prohibition this partition was relocated to the rear of the building and is still there to this day.  Armond Pacini bought the distressed business from the Dearborn family after prohibition in 1936 and Pacini operated the saloon until 1942 at which time he sold it to James (Jimmy) Castellano and his friend, Andy Pohl, (thus, J&A's)

who became co-owners and operators.  Interestingly, the two friends went on to marry sisters.  Jimmy married Marie Pacini and Andy married Jeannette Pacini (daughters of the former owner).  Marie passed away early in the marriage and Jimmy later married another sister, Leona Pacini.  J&A sold the bar to Hank Orf    in 1982.


     There are plenty of stories to tell about the place. Beginning back in the 1940s, a long time patron, J. S. Watson, had a fascinating hobby of making charcoal drawings (pictured below) of the regulars.  The pile of drawings accumulated at the bar over the years and when a patron died a black border would be added to the edge of the original drawing with the date of death.  Pulling out the pile immediately starts the stories flowing about the old days.

     Jack Fagan has been a permanent fixture at J&A's since 1961.  One of his favorite recollections is when he and another memorable regular, Otto, were known to help stock the bar on Saturday nights and return early on Sunday mornings to sweep up and have a cold beverage or two with the owners.

     Leona Castellano, wife of the late Jimmy Castellano, recalls the time the bar was held up.  As one of the stick up men jumped behind the bar to take the money out of the cash register, 2 others demanded the customers’ wallets and jewelry.  They approached a customer playing the pinball machine but he was so caught up with the game that he didn’t realize what was going on and was trying to shoo them away, but quickly caught on when a gun was jammed in his side!  In all the confusion, the robbers missed a hidden bag of money behind the bar which lessened the blow to the owner somewhat. Leona also reminiscences fondly of the many holiday parties attended by family, friends and patrons who considered J&A's their home.



     Hank, the current owner, proudly states that 97% of the customers are on a first name basis with each other, but that doesn’t mean it’s one of those bars where new faces aren’t welcome.  If you visit J&A's you’ll have new best friends by the end of the night!  The place is so popular with the regulars that wedding parties stop in J&A’s on wedding

day and employees getting off duty from night shift at the Post-Dispatch and other nearby businesses can be seen standing at the front door of the bar waiting for it to open. Back in the 1960s, St. Louis University’s hockey team made it their regular meeting place and even held their reunions at the tavern years later.  Another sign of the family atmosphere is the mop propped up against a corner wall.  It has been a custom for years that if a customer spills a drink, everyone yells out “Mop’s in the corner!” and the customer cleans it up themselves, the story goes.


     Another old story that the old timers talk about is the one about the well publicized Greenlease kidnapping case in 1953. The ransom was paid to the kidnappers right in front of the tavern and caused quite a stir with the patrons sitting in the bar at the time.


     Our curator here at the Antique Warehouse recalls a story about his brother, Jeff “Jeffro” Rhomberg and friend Daniel “Danno” Signorelli, who got the boot for six months after trying to nab a beer in their teen years.


     So what’s the best thing to order at J&A's? We checked with Cory Moran, our server, and were told “ya gotta get the burger”. This was the consistent answer from everyone asked. The enormous char broiled ½ pounder can be ordered with pepper jack, Swiss, cheddar, or American cheese, comes with all the trimmings, and is served on an onion bun. Sandy Myers whipped up the perfect burger:  a juicy masterpiece that was a delight to eat. Cory and Sandy, along with Svetlana and long-term employee Sean Brennan, share in cooking, waiting tables, and bartending.

     Beyond the burgers, the menu (pictured left) includes a variety of choices that will keep anyone from going hungry from appetizers to the popular ribeye. Another favorite is the homemade pizza which comes with the combination of provel and mozzarella cheeses. The chili’s also made from scratch and gets rave reviews by patrons.  In 2004, J&A’s wings, which are served “naked” with the sauce on the side, were voted best in St. Louis by Riverfront Times.  And check out the J&A Special: salami, beef, ham, pepperocini, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle all piled high on a 7-inch hoagie bun.

     When it comes to quenching your thirst, you can get a cold bottle of beer at a reasonable $2.50 at the time of publication as well as the other usual libations. It’s a great place to cool your throat on a hot summer day.

     Sonny Peppers, sales rep for Lohr Distributing, says that independent taverns such as J&A’s with a consistent client base are the bread & butter of the brewery business. It’s an impressive sight when a beer delivery is made. Cases of longnecks line the back wall 13 cases wide and 9 cases high and 15 half barrels can be found in the walk-in cooler downstairs. J&As have an ingenious slide that folds down over the basement stairway enabling the delivery driver to simply slide the half barrels down to the lower level.

     If you want to experience a true piece of St. Louis history and get some great food while you’re at it, this is the place.

     J&A's menu is available until 11:00 pm.



Written By: Judy Hartman

Below are a few character drawings as mentioned above.  Click on the thumbnail for a larger view.








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