Billiken Extra & Backstory

billikenextra2For around a decade, I found myself in a deeply-patterned work life, splitting time between teaching appointments at a local college and freelance writing assignments. On some levels, these were worthy ways to make a living. But the lack of certainty in both fields eventually lead me to leave teaching, while continuing to write for a few local publications and sites. Turning to a completely new career (co-owning and operating a South Side tavern, The Tick Tock) ensured that I’d spend every day of the last 13-months learning something new. Freelance writing on the side’s been doable, but challenging.

My current goal is to transition from daily operations of the place within 2015, now that good business patterns and habits have been established, though I’ll still have a direct, near-daily impact on the workings of the bar, through booking events, purchasing, promotions and my marathon Tuesday shift behind the bar (4-7 p.m, donchaknow).

Freelancing through this process, though, has taken a toll, in its own way. While I enjoy some really great editors, there’s still a stress level involved in the story-to-story pitch process, let alone the pursuit of national clips. Even longer-term ideas have suffered; a project that I undertook this year, the “Ax to Table” experiment for Feast, has listed. Other ideas never found funding or a green light with editors. (And here I’ll note that Stefene Russell, culture editor at, gets my lifelong respect for her continued support of my work, in its various forms.) The idea of forming a tight circle of independent, individually-run projects has been my goal for a few months now and the first step in this direction comes with Billiken Extra, which is launching today.

The site’s live. The impish mascot, courtesy of Kevin Belford, is secured. A complementary side project, a weekly feature story for, is set begin today. And, yes, here comes the money part: the Indiegogo campaign is underway.

My hope with this is that a hunch pays off. The idea’s this: SLU sports are under-represented in local media coverage. I go to my share of SLU sports games. I write. Hey, I could write about SLU sports! While I’m not going to say “no” to anyone’s contributions, my target for contributions to this site are primarily the people who enjoy the program, but feel it could be better-presented in local media.

So. Here’s another media experiment. And another public can-shake.

The creative process is well-underway. The stories are going up, interviews are arranged and my own life is being reorganized. If you wanna help the latter go a bit more-smoothly, your tip of a dollar is welcome. I hope my hunch don’t go sideways. Thanks for reading.


A Gn’R Flashback

Last night, I spent 14-minutes on 920 AM, discussing the Guns n’ Roses riot, which is now 24 years deep in the history books. It’s a night I’ll never forget and one that I’m happy rambling out at any opportunity. After being invited to the show, I did some research, falling into an hour-long Google bender. Found some wonderful old clips and a few surprises along the way.

Links below.

The conversation on The Brian Stull Show.

A piece from the on catalyst Stump Stevenson.

Daniel Durchholz’ recollections of the event, from 1991.

A shockingly-comprehensive clip history of the night via a Gn’R bulletin board.

Today, I’m trying to live the present. Yesterday was plenty fun, though. Hope to be around in another 24 to *really* embellish things.

Hitler Reacts to the Peacock-Blitz Stadium Plan

Reposted from FB:

Okay, here’s the deal: I dedicatd most of 1-4 a.m. last night building my first “Hitler Reacts” video. Interesting experience on three levels.

One: My family fought on the wrong side of war and there’s still something inside me that says “too soon” in respect to “Hitler Reacts” videos. Feel that way about many Ken Burns’ war-porn projects and “Hitler cat” photos, too.

Two: They’re tougher to write and edit than you might expect. Tweaks here, edits there. Hours were spent. Yet I’m still missing the use of “is” in one instance, after re-uploading no less than a dozen times and proofing more seriously than I do for paid gigs.

Three: No one, if honest, puts up a video and doesn’t think, “This could go viral.” Thought it, yes, though I’m sure this one won’t. And, yet, getting a couple “Likes” on it through Facebook doesn’t satisfy. Not no way, not no how. So here you go, again.

3 Minute Record Podcast: Wow

It’s not that I necessarily want to hear myself talk for 89-minutes, but I have to say that a recent conversation with 3 Minute Record’s podcast team was maybe the most “me” thing I’ve seen/heard/read ever. Four guys, four microphones, the back room of the Tick Tock Tavern and a host of conversation topics and… hey, an interesting listen emerges. At least if you’re into hearing me talk for 89-minutes. Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that.

When Tiny Worlds Collide

A few years back, a group of students arrived at The Royale for an overnight shoot, including director Jordan Bowlin, who’d created a few memorable videos for my Intro to Media Writing class, used for years later as example. Bowlin and his large crew brought with them an arsenal of cameras, microphones, lights and everything else needed to support a pro-quality, nighttime shoot. At the time, I was teaching at Webster University and a good chunk of the now-junior-and-senior students taking part in the shoot had been in classes of mine as freshmen or sophs. As they poured into the place, just before close, they began to set up gear, even with customers still in the place and prior to the nightly cleaning. It wasn’t a little bit awkward, then, to kick all of them out of the patio to chill for a bit, as we finished the night’s operation; adding to the moment, I somehow managed to snag the mop bucket, spilling gallons of mop water all over the exterior entry. Nice.

The situation was probably a bit of unusual for them, too. After all, a year, or two, before I’d been grading their papers, trying to educate them to the world of mass communications to the degree that I could as an adjunct. As time on and more students turned 21, I ran into more of them in that bar setting, as I idled outside the building checking IDs, or ran to the cold boxes in the garage, schlepping beer boxes. I imagine a few of them wondered what the hell this was all about; had they asked, I’d have told them about the racket that is academia, how most adjuncts work second gigs to support themselves. All those nights mopping and stocking and checking on cars eventually allowed me to save enough money (just enough) to buy into my own space, the Tick Tock. It worked out, though awkward moments of my various jobs colliding were becoming more common.

(The other component, of course: students working on these projects are usually pretty certain that the world will be theirs and that the shoots they’re on will lead to future, full-time employment in the industry of their choice; for some, that works out exactly and life it good. More likely, folks wind up doing what I’ve done, which is: piecing together a life in media by doing lots of different things, with the final prize a bit elusive. That’s the kind of message you can say in class a million times, a million different ways, but it doesn’t always stick, no matter how well-intentioned or passionately-delivered. Anyway, I wish them all success and fat paychecks, too. Back to our story.)

Another shoot took place about a year back; it was during winter, that’s for sure, with the brutal cold a really memorable aspect of the night. I was asked if I wanted to stay after shift and make a nice piece of coin for watching the store as a film crew set-up and shot another short film; guess word had gotten around the Webster undergrad community that The Royale had a good nocturnal look and reasonable rates. As with the first film, this one was also helmed by another of my former students, Zach Nuernberger, who I think took two classes with me in the years prior. And now I was accepting a five-pack of $20 bills from him to watch a bar on my weekend job, as he and his crew soldiered through a long night, a seven-hour experience that took us all the way into morning drive time, the sun peeking through all those glass block windows.

As with any shoot, there were rehearsed moments, then the shoot of the scene itself, followed by countless reshoots. Cameras were moved, mics adjusted, bodies placed an inch to the left or right. At some point around 4 a.m., the dynamics changed and I was asked if I would take part in the shoot. Though I didn’t have a script or know about the storyline, really, I was given a couple of lines; amusingly, I was given a couple of obscenities and I kept thinking about more former students, watching this in campus settings, a former prof of theirs dropping f-bombs onscreen. It was fun enough and broke up the evening for me.

After asking Zach a couple weeks back if the film was online anywhere, he sent along the following clip. I scanned it on my phone, seeing myself behind the bar, without really watching or listening to “Wish You Were Here.”

I’ll post it here, watching it here.

For a long time, this is the kind of story I’d wax on about in front of a group. Don’t have that option right now, so here you go.

The Value of $19.61

A few weeks ago, I took a spill off of my bicycle, breaking my wrist for the trouble. Further back, in 2012, I wrote a column called “Second Set” for the late, re-examining the St. Louis rock music scene of the ’80s/’90s, a project that bled into 2013 with the “Encore” sub-series. I wouldn’t have sensed any connection between these experiences until I saw that bills from my surgery were landing at my doorstep. It struck me that an e-book based on those 2012/’13 writings, released as “Second Set: Encore” in November of 2013, had never resulted in a payout. Put the idea of needing money together with a tiny rivulet of cash flow, well, you see where this is going.

My guess was the e-book hadn’t sold a ton, though it’d been out for roughly a year, with a few ads running in Eleven Magazine the sum total of the non-Beacon marketing effort. (Ads worked off in writing, I might add, rather than cash.) My math went like this: I figured that around 200 e-books had sold over the year, priced at $2.99 on Amazon, and that my one-third cut per sale would mean a check of $200, or so. And this was working with a very conservative estimate of how many I’d assumed were sold. Considering some of the bands and artists and clubs and shows covered in the book, that seemed kinda-realistic.

Yeah, well.

After contacting my editor, now in the employ of 90.7 fm, I was passed along to another member of STL Public Radio’s staff. We exchanged a few bits of info. The first feedback indicated that the Beacon’s account had been closed since March, and that any payout would’ve/should’ve happened before then. My indignation chilled as we kept in touch throughout yesterday and another former Becaonite was able to pass along the codes to Amazon. Turns out that the account was live, but was essentially now in the control of the University of Missouri system, which owns KWMU, which, in turn, owns the rights to the Beacon. As someone who knows the reality of media melds, this wasn’t something to get upset about; sending an invoice to the University of Missouri or a local website doesn’t really make a difference.

And I wasn’t upset at the end result of sales, which netted me, as you might guess from the title, the grand sum of $19.61. Meaning those 200 sales were a serious pipe dream. And I have a witness to this, but my first response when getting the number was: to laugh. I mean, what else can you do when $19.61 presents itself to you like that?

Once upon a time, in the ancient days of a year ago, I thought that there could be some value in a press that specialized in local-only titles, released exclusively on digital formats. My experience with the “Second Set: Encore” project made me think that the micro-niche model of publishing was the real way to go. A book on the Spirits of St. Louis basketball team? How about an e-book? An oral history of St. Louis brewing. E-book! A look back at the clubs and restaurants of our town, from Gaslight-to-today? Gotta come as an e-book!

Screw you, e-books.

Yesterday’s experience reminded me that even in a world in which the most-specialized content can find life online, we’re also in a world in which no one wants to pay for anything, at least not in any substantial amount. (So says the guy listening to Spotify at this very second.) The project was fun, with about 70 pieces emerging from the year-and-change of writing. The experience allowed me to reconnect with a ton of people from my old tribe. It allowed for, I think, some good writing to emerge, a bunch of cool stories to be shared and allowed some old wrongs to be righted. On a personal level, “Second Set” worked for me and it was received favorably by the folks that were meant to read it.

The $19.61, well, let’s just call it a modest tip.

(The pre-book series you can read for free:

The Summer of Stop II: Jobs In, Jobs Out

Strange thing happened this week.

On Monday, I was thinking to myself that I’d missed out on certain opportunities in life, relating to music. Very specifically, I remembered declining a chance to join Judge Nothing on a short tour. Even though I was on-staff at the RFT at the time, I’d likely have been able to get a story out of the experience, making it a doubly-enriching chance to get outta town and live life. But I passed, for reasons long since forgotten. A couple other bands, over time, gave me the same offer: come on tour, drive a bit, sell shirts at gigs, hang-out, write what you wanna. The same result came with every offer: I didn’t go along.

Again, these thoughts were running through my head on Monday, just two days ago. Yesterday, on Tuesday, I met with Jimmy Tebeau, who heads up The Schwag, a group that’s rebranding itself as Grateful Dead Experience, while retooling for a big year of touring and festival play. I walked into an interview with Jimmy thinking that I’d do a journalistic side-job, writing an updated bio for the group, maybe a press release, too. The conversation, almost from jump, was heading in a different direction. Leaving 80-minutes later, I’d signed on to do the publicity duties of the group going forward: typing up releases, bios, Q/A’s and some social media stuff, fielding some interview requests, ghost-writing, what-have-you. Jimmy views The Schwag as an organization, one that takes on all the needs of a major touring act and this was a slot he saw as a need.

While not a full-time gig, by any means, it will offer a chance to make a bit of scratch, do some light travel and write some interesting pieces on a subculture that’s as strong as it’s ever been. While I didn’t grow up with Deadheads, I’m about to get pretty familiar with a whole bunch. Thinking that I’m up for the experience.

Interesting is that the opportunity to latch-on with the group came not long after walking away from some other gigs. After 17 years of adjunct work at Webster University, my last class is currently winding down; only the final’s left. And after a couple years of proofing/editing work for the OnLine Writing Center, at the same school, that side gig’s coming to a close in about 10 days. The amount of time freed up for new projects is significant. The opening up of mental space is even more important. While trying to do these jobs to my best ability, the last few months have been challenging, balancing these responsibilities with others. Writing. Opening a tavern. Exploring freelance options of various media stripes. All have been pulling at me, with stress often overriding satisfaction.

That phrase of “one door closes, another opens” ran through my head when posting a note to FB about the new Schwag arrangement. Right about the moment I thought that, an FB friend typed something almost exactly the same on that thread.

There’s something funny happening right now, as in “funny-good-kinda-funny.” I’m cool with that.


The Season of Stop, I: Bar Reviewing

This story begins, as all good ones do, with a visit to see minor-league professional wrestling.

Some months back, winter still with us, I decided to catch a pro show in East Carondelet, IL. It was held in a strangely-clean community hall and featured the usual assortment of tag bouts, pimpings of coming matches and an appearance by former WWF star Hillbilly Jim. It was a fun night and I wrote about and photographed it for the blog, Look/Listen.

For the same blog, I’d been doing a recurring series called “The Bars Of…” It was a continuation of the bar reviewing I’d be doing around town, for a variety of publications, for about a decade. These, though, typically were based on geography or type. So, five reviews of bars on far-flung Manchester, or five bars founded in just the past month. It was a fun series to execute on a mostly-monthly basis and it typically drew a good number of readers. The bars were usually enjoyable to visit, but equally interesting was the chance to run through a lot of different neighborhoods or municipalities. Without the conceit of the column, I’d never have jetted up-and-down St. Charles Rock Road with a mission; I’d certainly not have hit a bunch of suburban chain bars for a first-time visit, not that my visit to Joe’s Crab Shack was a life’s highlight.

By driving to East Carondelet for wrestling that night, I passed through Dupo, noticing a few bars along the way. These looked like classic corner taverns, the kind that still offer $1.50 drafts and $2 you-call-’ems. After a bit of time passed, I went back to Dupo and found that my basic assumptions were correct. These were old-school affairs, the types of places where everybody knows your name; unless, of course, you’ve driven in from the big city on a random night, looking to write a piece of quick-take, online journalism. At the three places I visited, I sat alone, ignored, unbothered by the usual social norms. It was kinda, to be honest, depressing.

Already thinking of buying into a bar with friends, it struck me that the day we’d go official with a contract was the day I’d be forced for make an easy decision: you can’t write bar reviews and run one yourself. Bad policy, bad idea. But the fun stopped that night in Dupo. Like air rushing out of a balloon, I sat at a place called Judy’s Corner and knew it was over. It was a fun run, which went from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to to, where the idea went into that multi-bar mode.

The Tick Tock Tavern will be a amalgam of ideas borrowed and stolen from all those visits. Luckily, the memories are written down for easy recall.

Press Release: Tick Tock Tavern & Steve’s Hot Dogs

Coming, Summer 2014: The Rebirth of the Tick Tock Tavern
South City Bar to Team With The Second Location of Steve’s Hot Dogs

For Immediate Release
Contact: Thomas Crone, 314.77x.x929;

A classic South City bar, the Tick Tock Tavern closed on May 12, 1994. (How we know: the signs still-hanging on the walls say so.) Twenty years later, this corner venue will be reborn with the same name, but with new ownership and an accompanying restaurant: the second location of Steve’s Hot Dogs. Both sides of the business will look to serve the immediate Tower Grove East neighborhood, a few minutes from the heart of South Grand’s business/dining district.

The Tick Tock Tavern, 3459 Magnolia (63118), will be owned-and-operated by a partnership trio involving Fred Hessel, Thomas Crone and Steven Fitzpatrick Smith. Steve’s Hot Dogs will be a conjoined business, at 3457 Magnolia, operated by longtime local musician Steve Ewing, who runs the popular Steve’s Hot Dogs on The Hill (2131 Marconi, 63110).

The businesses are currently working through various strands of City-wide and neighborhood licensing processes. With these benchmarks in mind, the anticipated opening of the Tick Tock will be summer of 2014, official opening date TBD. Working in tandem, the Tick Tock and Steve’s Hot Dogs will complement one another, in the style of The Dam/Amsterdam Pub on Morganford and the International Tap House/Epic Pizza in Soulard.

Though not operating as a bar since 1994, the Tick Tock’s still-in-place interior retains the touches that defined South City corner bars from the 1970s-’90s, a time when the room was running under proprietor Charlotte Horvath. Keeping a number of the original touches intact, the bar will be updated for 2014 sensibilities, while keeping the best, quirkiest aspects of the original look’n’feel.

WHO we are:

Fred Hessel is the newly-appointed executive director of the Carondelet Community Betterment Federation and has worked with Beyond Housing and the Grand Oak Hill Community Corporation in prior years. He has extensive experience in residential and mixed use neighborhood spaces; in fact, he owns two, storefront/apartment buildings in Tower Grove South, where he lives with his wife and two children. He’s a recently-retired, 21-year veteran of the Missouri Air National Guard.

Steven Fitzpatrick Smith is the owner/operator of the Royale Food & Spirits at Kingshighway and Juniata, where he currently resides. The Royale has just enjoyed a ninth-anniversary this spring. The Royale’s won multiple awards for food, drinks and ambiance and has been named “best neighborhood tavern” in various publications. Members of his family, also active in the Royale business operations, have begun a food touring business called Savor St. Louis, which currently operates specialty tours in the West End.

Thomas Crone is a Tower Grove East neighborhood resident, with deep ties in the immediate area, dating back to his days as a student at nearby Rose Fanning and St. Pius V schools. He’s been a freelance writer around town since 1999, after a decade writing and editing for the Riverfront Times. He currently writes for St. Louis Magazine. He’s been an adjunct professor of communications at Webster University for 17 years. Since his teens, he’s worked at a variety of nightclubs and restaurants in St. Louis, including O’Connell’s Pub, the Webster Grill & Cafe, Frederick’s Music Lounge, Pablo’s, the Side Door and The Royale.

Steve Ewing is the lead vocalist of The Urge, which remains one of the most-popular bands in St. Louis, now two-and-a-half decades into its still-vibrant career. He also gigs dozens of shows a year with his solo project, the Steve Ewing Band. He landed upon a perfect complement to his music career by founding Steve’s Hot Dogs on The Hill, a lunch-only restaurant featuring hot dogs and sandwiches in a family-friendly setting. Steve’s Hot Dogs will launch its second location in tandem with the neighboring Tick Tock Tavern. He lives with his family nearby, just across Tower Grove Park in the City’s Shaw neighborhood.

WHERE we are:

The Tick Tock Tavern and Steve’s Hot Dogs will be located at the corner of Magnolia and Arkansas, one block east of Tower Grove Park. The buildings are catty-corner from the longtime home of KDHX (as well as the current home of our attorney, Jonathan Beck).

WHAT we’ll offer:

As far as Steve’s Hot Dogs, you can get a full feel of the operation from its website:

In terms of the Tick Tock Tavern, alone, let’s touch on some basics, some wills-and-wont’s:

* We will offer a select batch of handcrafted, classic, Sou’Side-style, backbar foods, such as: pickled eggs, beer-brined pickles, jams, jellies and jerky. These will be prepared by Robin Wheeler, who operates her culinary efforts under the tag of Subterranean Homemade Foods. She’s been a food writer for a variety of local publications, including time penning the Dive Bomber column for
* We will feature wines selected by Civil Life Brewing Company’s Jake Hafner, founder of 33 Wine Bar.
* We will offer a wide selection of local craft beers, along with selections from the macro-brewery down the block. Lots of familiar-and-niche bottles, a rotating quartet of tap handles, and a standing selection of popular and niche brews, including a goodly number via environmentally-friendly cans.
* We will offer a few signature cocktails, a small’n’funky list that’ll recall some mid-century tastes.
* That said, we will not feature mixology, ever.
* We won’t be “sorta like the Shaved Duck,” or “kinda like Riley’s,” since our new neighbors are already succeeding with their own concepts. We will encourage our out-of-neighborhood guests to make a night of it in TGE when they visit the Tick Tock.
* We will rock the drop ceiling and disco ball. With style to spare.
* We won’t be The Royale, Jr., despite family ties. Think of the Tick Tock as The Royale’s quirky cousin.
* We will never make-or-let a customer feel invisible.

WHAT else do you need to know?

Contact: Thomas Crone, 314.77x.x929;