Inside St. Louis
An original watercolor of O'Connell's Pub
One of the most mythical places in St. Louis has got to be the fabled O’Connell’s Pub where drinkers have drunk, diners have dined and dreamers have dreamt for 47 years and counting. An oddly considerable number of the current drinkers, diners and dreamers, such as your humble scribe, have benefitted from the solace and safe harbor of O’Connell’s since those earliest of days in the happy time of our “innocence” on Gaslight Square. Boniface Jack Parker poured the last drop of Irish at The Square location on the 8th of August in ’72; same year as the flick “Last Tango In Paris” was released, our 33rd President Harry S. Truman passed and American planes were bombing Hanoi and Haiphong in N. Vietnam. For the most part by the time of the lamented but understandable move to a more secure environment, Gaslight Square was as good as gone; almost decimated by insurmountable problems of greed, crime, the fear of crime, racial turmoil, being politically snubbed and strangest of all - having been too successful to succeed.
Even though the pall of impending doom had nearly enveloped Gaslight there were more than a small number of Square habitués who felt both that the departure of O’Connell’s would permanently bring to a close any hope of revival of the district and that the new Pub, set in an industrial, commercial landscape somewhat between neighborhoods, would not survive. They were on target on the first count but misjudged Parker’s paladin-like spirit to thrive in his new digs at Shaw and S. Kingshighway Boulevards on the other side of Kingshighway from The Hill and a block west of Vandeventer Avenue and the residential section of the Southwest Garden neighborhood.
O’Connell’s current circa 1905 location at 4652 Shaw Boulevard is housed in one of the many area buildings constructed for and owned by Anheuser-Busch to house taverns to promote their wares; in this case Budweiser. A-B’s competitors did the same until the Feds decided this was a no-no and the practice came to an end. One of the Griesedieck Brothers Brewery “tavern” edifices is what’s now commonly referred to as the former Pelican's Restaurant at the NE corner of Grand and Shenandoah. The great neon-porcelain Pelican's sign has until very recently been held for safe-keeping by a division of the city in a little visited structure little more than 3 blocks from its original home. Said sign is now in the custody and protection of Antique Warehouse where it’s undergoing restoration. Another A-B location is Favazza’s Restaurant On The Hill at 5201 Southwest Avenue at Marconi Avenue (formerly Cooper Avenue). It was built to promote A-B’s Faust brand and a terra-cotta likeness of Faust remains above their main entrance.
The O’Connell’s Pub spot used to have an address of 1900 S. Kingshighway and it housed various establishments such as Mario Columbo’s restaurant during Prohibition with G.F. Withrow’s gas station in front of said dining establishment. There’s an urban legend that when the viaduct was built to take Kingshighway over the Missouri Pacific railroad tracks between Shaw and Accomac and Bischoff Avenues that the O’Connell’s building was literally moved. This story is based on a photo that shows a curb in front of the building that looks to be on a street, but according to some long time residents who were around at the time, the curb was actually at an alley that led in and out of the Banner Iron Works between the O’Connell’s building and the gas station.
The principal place that was affected by taking Kingshighway “into the air” was Angelo Sala’s restaurant at 1931 Kingshighway at Daggett Avenue. Angelo, who lived with his family above, which not long ago was an eating and drinking place called “Space” has reopened as “Oliva” an events venue under the auspices of Mark Erker’s Catering St. Louis. Angelo sued the city for depriving him of his frontage on Kingshighway and he won a six-figure suit which was more than a substantial sum in those days, and come to think of it, it’s not chump change today. In what became a win-win situation the clever Mr. Sala started billing the place as Sala’s Under The Viaduct and his business became better than ever with most people using his Daggett door as the main entry. Sala’s in the teens was the first drive-up restaurant in town with angled parking on Daggett, and during prohibition ‘tis said by reliable sources that you could drive up and get a little verboten liquid refreshment with your order. They had many wonderful dishes, but their Sala Special sandwich was THE all-time great sandwich of St. Louis. In a future issue of Inside St. Louis we’ll provide you the original recipe that I got from Angelo himself. But for now we’d better scoot back to Jack at O’Connell’s.
Today the menu at Parker’s place is for the most part the same as it was on the Square. The 9 ounce char-broiled hamburger is king and it’s prepared to perfection…your perfection, not the cook’s. Is it the best burger in these here parts? All I can say is many have tried to dethrone the O’Connell’s hamburger but it’s still on top. Do your own taste test and be the judge. The roast beef, also cooked to order, with or without au jus is a tender, tasty treat, then there’s the Coney Island with a premium frankfurter grilled to perfection and the salad with “Mayfair” dressing is most refreshing. That’s the dressing that was created decades ago at our town’s Mayfair Hotel and the O’Connell’s recipe is the real thing. The salad is a must get item…but don’t ask for tomatoes ‘cause they don’t have ‘em as the quality of tomatoes is just too iffy. There are daily specials including fish and chips on Friday, a dish that’s hard to pass up. The soup of the day and chili always please and service is amazingly efficient in a place that oftentimes is packed. They don’t accept reservations, but there’s a roomy check-in and waiting area within reaching distance of the amazingly well stocked bar. And yes that’s Leonard Voelker who still tends to the bar just has he did since way back then on the Square. Patti Cook guides the genial Mr. Parker through the maze of paperwork required by today’s business and Jack’s nephew Fred Parker has been in charge of restaurant/bar operations for a dozen years now. He started as a busboy at age 15. Waitress, and O’Connell’s Mother Superior, Norah McDermott who had been an O’Connell’s fixture since 1967 retired in mid-2007. She will always be missed. But hold on. If Patti’s in charge of business affairs, Fred’s running the food and drink…where’s Jack Parker? Well, other than spotting him with iced-tea in hand on the first floor of the pub, with its pressed tin ceiling and chandeliers from the 1904 World’s Fair, you’ll usually need to climb the indoor stairs to the lofty reaches of his Jack Parker Fine Art and Antiques enterprise. In this space you’ll find a nice selection of Arts and Crafts furniture, Native American artifacts, Navajo rugs and pottery, paintings and prints…and Jack Parker himself.
In addition to Jack and Leonard just about everything that was at the Gaslight spot, including the aura, was whisked away to the new O’Connell’s where it all lives and enchants today. The only missing item of note is the stone fireplace that was at the back of the barroom and it’s six feet under, so to speak, as landfill at the old site. Have a Guinness, absorb the atmosphere and it’s easy to feel you’ve slid back to the sixties and are once again at 454 N. Boyle Avenue just south of Olive Street and Seventeen with his multitude of safety pins is purveying, hard-boiled eggs and boiled shrimp from his bike or later from the trunk of an old black Chevy. Seventeen, who started everything he said with the word Seventeen…and ended his sentence or statement the same way was a beloved character of the Square who told me that he took the name after being incarcerated in the State pen for 17 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Another highly individual personality who roamed The Square was Lady Charles, but he’s another person for a future article on The Square.
The characters, the regulars, the owners, the workers, the locals, the tourists, the conventioneers, the neighbors (mostly from south of Olive), the “squares” were as much a part of life in that block or so of St. Louis as the myriad eating, drinking and dancing establishments that took over from the many shops and stores that offered antiques, Oriental rugs, furniture repair, shoe repair, beauty shop services, etc. There were music teachers, dance instructors, a drug store, delicatessen, photography studios, grocery stores, a picture-framer, a mirror company and more. At the time the Square, ever so briefly called Greenwich Corners, was getting into gear with the Gaslight Bar and Smokey Joe Bayou’s Grecian Terrace there were two dozen antiques shops in the area.
The space that became home to O’Connell’s was occupied by many establishments over the years including Perry Brothers Printing and Louis Egi antique furniture repair. But entertainment things started happening around 1955-56 and really took off after the tornado slammed through there at 2 a.m. on February 10th, 1959. There are many stories related to this that could fill a book…but hold on, a book was filled by one Thomas Crone who 5 years ago released a hardback titled “Gaslight Square, an Oral History”. Many folks are represented in this work and I’m honored to be in the book with 7 pages of some of my meanderings and memories. I’m informed the book is out of print, but there’s always a free copy for you to read at any of the 17 branches of your St. Louis Public Library, the Mercantile Library or at the county libraries.
The picture that first comes to mind when I think of O’Connell’s Jack Parker is seeing him on many a Saturday noon, legs spread wide and feet firmly planted on the white tile floor dead center between steam table and bar at Garavelli’s Buffet, 3606 Olive Street, where he’d be devouring; sans plate, knife or fork, one of their Saturday Special turkey legs. I was witnessing a true gourmand in action and Junior Baldetti and Jay Re, proprietors of that legendary establishment agreed they could have had no better advertisement for the quality of their fare.
Before we take your
leave, let’s run through some of the places that combined to give
its ambiance and magnetic attraction. But honestly, if you weren’t
there, you’ll never really fully understand how fascinating,
wondrous, magical, exciting and unique it all was, though we’ll try
in another “Inside St. Louis” article. Each place deserves a good
description as they were all one of a kind establishments…but space
only provides our listing names. Here they are in random order as
they pop out of my memory bank. Gaslight Bar, Toy Theatre, Port St.
Louis, Ernie Heldman’s Magic Den, The Exit, Adams Hotel (later
Copacabana Hotel), La Margarita, Gaslight Theatre, Westminster Club,
Jack & Charlie Carl’s Two Cents Plain, Crystal Palace, Crystal
Palace Annex, Crystal Palace Garden, George Edick’s Roaring
Twenties, The Living Room, The Tarot, Butterscotch Lounge, Whiskey A
Go Go, Pepe’s A Go Go, Compass Theatre, Sir Edward’s, Musical Arts
Building, Sterling Bar, Kotobuki, KDNA, Tortilla Flats, Left Bank,
Silver Dollar, Three Fountains, Lorelei, Red Carpet, Mr. D’s,
Laughing Buddha, Dark Side (Of The Moon), The Other Side, Shipwreck,
Tiger’s Den, Bustles and Bows, Vanity Fair, Opera House, Golden
Eagle, Pino’s Pizza, Le Jazz Hot, Bella Rosa, Jorge’s and Jorge’s
Hip-Entertainment, Carriage House, Your Father’s Moustache,
Georgian, Smokey Joe’s Grecian Terrace, Marty’s, Cellar Door, Gilded
Cage, Montileone’s, Joe & Charlies, Columbus Corners, Jacks or
Better, Celebrity Club, Everyman Coffee House, Cantina Chica,
Insomniac, Frank Moskus In Exile, Du Shay’s, Gaiety Bar, Anadel’s,
Black Horse, Space Club, Prestige Lounge, Magnolia House, Natchez
Queen, Rooster Tail, Le Quartier Francais, Intermission 13, Spot On
The Square, Bennie’s Web, The Islander and of course O’Connell’s.
Plus there were about 20 more places that were either just outside
of the Square proper or only lasted for a few weeks. The better know
spots just off The Square to the west were: the Rex Café, Mike
D’Amico’s Chi-Chi Room, Page’s and Le Jazz Hot. A lot of fun and fun
times jam packed into a very small place on the planet. I’ll be
anxious to tell you more. You can really get the feel of what it was
all about at two places: Dressell’s on N. Euclid in the CWE,
especially their second floor called the Pub Above and of course
O’Connell’s Pub because at O’Connell’s what was on The Square…is
Written by: Ron (Johnny Rabbitt) Elz – Host of Route 66 Saturday nights on
News Radio 1120 KMOX & KMOX.com
|4652 Shaw Boulevard|
|St. Louis, MO 63110|
|Pub: 314 773-6600|
Hours of Operation
O’Connell’s Pub -
M-Th 11a.m.-1:30 a.m
F-Sa 11 a.m. - 3 a.m.
Sun – Noon to Midnight
Kitchen Hours -
M-Sa 11 a.m. -12 midnight
Sun Noon – 10 p.m.
Easy access for all
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