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 stlmag.com 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 insidestl.com to stlmag.com, 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; thomascrone314@gmail.com

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: steveshotdogsstl.com.

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 riverfronttimes.com.
* 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; thomascrone314@gmail.com.

-30-

UE&Me

Just over a month ago, a couple friends and I went into the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in North St. Louis. The trip inside was a first for each of us, despite this place being on the local urban exploration “map” for a long time. Only a few weeks before that, while sitting on a portfolio review committee at Webster, a former of student of mine presented photos taken in the same space, artful shots of fashion in this long-abandoned space. All the proverbial signs were in place to finally make the trip to Hyde Park.

The exterior of this North Side church was impressive enough, a big, strong, brick building visible for blocks around. Walking around the building’s interior, though, was really quite amazing. The church had taken a considerable beating from the elements over the years, though the once-evident beauty still (at times successfully) fought to shine through. A recent snowfall had left ice liberally scattered throughout the building, including some stairwells that lead up to the steeple. Gaping holes were visible in the roof. Post-congregant human beings had made appearances and left marks, too, in the form of graffiti writings of varying degrees of sympathy towards the building’s plight. The big stained glass windows existed, still pretty much intact. And what a gorgeous collection they were!

Unfortunately, this is being written in the past tense. Over the past weekend, the building suffered a wall collapse and demolition is now a certainty, instead of a foregone conclusion. The best hope, at this point, is that some of the details could be saved, though that’s even doubtful, considering the wreckage that’s visible in photos this Monday morning.

On our trip, we all chatted about the fact that none of us had ever really been hurt on one of these day trips. We’d never had a shoe punctured by a nail. We’d never suffered cuts on a rusted window panes. While friends and fellow travelers had fallen through floorboards, even that likelihood had been something we’d never experienced first-hand. For some reason, we were really talkative about this subject on that afternoon; it’s something that we’d talked about before, but it seemed to dominate our conversation this time out. Maybe the old building was speaking to us on that Sunday afternoon, telling us that we had this trip only and that we’d better enjoy it. And that we better enjoy our health on these journeys.

The North Side’s lost a real landmark, a victim of changing demographics, of weather, of civic neglect and of the simple fact that a building this big, this open, this centered in a still-disinvested community will always be a challenging fixer-upper. It was a good to see it one first/last time. With respect: RIP, Bethlehem Lutheran Church.

Pics from our visit here.

April 1, 2014 x 2

I.

Considerable news to share today, so forgive the extra words; brevity in written expression’s not my strong point, as is. I’m hopeful that comments here, if not supportive, are at least understanding of my situation.

After a full dozen years of the freelance/adjunct lifestyle, I’ve decided to accept a late-arriving, but quickly-moving job offer as social media director/online media buyer for SSM St. Joseph West in Lake St. Louis. This is a three-part decision, which will kick-in around five weeks from now, with considerable planning in-between.

One. Though I’ve publicly not been a fan of deep-suburban living, I’ll have to become at least tacitly okay with it; that much is understood. My truck’s a beater and I’m not hip to 50-minute commutes, so I’ll be looking for a place to lay my head in the greater Lake St. Louis area. If someone knows of an affordable condo/apartment for rent in the Westplex, please let me know.

Two. I woke up today open to the idea of selling my spot on Connecticut. So there’s another real estate concern. It’s a nice pad: big, open floor plan unlike other houses on my street; an extremely short walk to South Grand and a very reasonable walk/ride/drive to Cherokee; big garden space and a chicken yard; exterior murals. “Very nice hippie family house”; I can almost imagine the one-sheet flyer saying that.

Three. With tuition remission accrued from my time at Webster, I plan to take advantage of what free classes I can use, with my plan being the start of an MBA, doing the night/weekends thing at the WU WingHaven campus. This will allow me greater flexibility in future job hunts, with my media skills augmented by some business coursework. For sure, the classes will be even more challenging than the socially-tinged, but very real, life turnover of the above items.

If you’re this far into the post, thanks for taking an interest. Please understand that I tried to make the city/bohemian thing work, but that might have been a job best left to the younger me. The peaks/valleys of self-employment have been a bit severe lately and this seems like the choice to make, clear and probably a bit overdue. Cheers to you (and a big, deep breath for me), TC.

(Culled at 165 Facebook Likes, 67 Comments  and 1 Share.)

II.

Was just reminded of this: exactly two years ago, I was in my backyard, tending to my own business, when a large bird of prey flew into the chicken yard and startled the flock. When I turned to see about the commotion, the attacker came right at me, flying to within a foot of my ample skull. It bent away at the last second, sat on a neighbor’s roofline and mean-mugged me for a cool minute, until some rocks were sent in that direction.

In posting about the incident, I got a few different clusters of response. The first one was that I was pulling off a prank post, that the event never actually happened, that I’d made it up. Then, I learned that every 15th FB friend is a bird expert; within minutes, I was getting Googled photos of undersized animals the size of starlings and chippies, whereas this bird had a yard-wide wingspan, for sure. So it goes.

Post thoughts, stories, anecdotes or dreams publicly and you never know what you’ll get back. Especially on a day like today. I want to thank everyone who Liked or commented on a post I offered up earlier today. Those responses were quite intriguing, really. And all over the map, wow! At times, I even thought, “Thomas, you don’t deserve all this good-natured love.” (Chris King’s comment notwithstanding.) But I do. I really do.

I deserve everything I got comin’ to me.

(Culled at 27 Likes and 11 Comments.)

 

“Old Dog” Goes Digital

“Old Dog, New Trick,” co-produced by Mike Steinberg, Jon Scorfina and I has been added to the popular video-sharing service, YouTube. You can watch it here:

The companion piece, “The Pride of Saint Louis,” will go live soon.