Posted On: 01/01/2002
This bar reviewer is automatically suspicious of any tavern that is located in a strip mall. I am admittedly biased against the antiseptic nature of such places, considering that they are a direct contradiction to the organic and personal tavern.
But where there’s a rule, there’s an exception. Gene Lynn’s is located in a mall in the heart of the city’s central corridor, just east of the New Cathedral on Sarah, surprisingly surrounded by one of St. Louis’ historic districts.
What’s important about the place isn’t where it is. It’s what. The bar is home to the legendary Tres Bien Quartet, and is the epitome of “cool.”
Although the bar’s location is significant in one way. You’ll find it just a few blocks south of the old Gaslight Square. The Square was where the resident quartet earned its early popularity in the 1960s (and also where artists such as Barbara Streisand and Miles Davis went on stage for the first time). The heyday of Gaslight Square’s block and a half of bars, coffee houses, performance spaces and fine restaurants still resonates in the musical soul of the nation.
Now, nothing much is really left in the old Gaslight district, but the spirit of the place is still alive, having sprawled across the city to establishments such as Frank Moskus’, Fred Boetcher Senior’s, O’Connel’s, and–of course–Gene Lynn’s, where the Tres Bien Quartet continues to play.
Hearing the jazz group is a unique experience. Frontman and club owner Lynn croons along as effortlessly as the most polished Vegas singer. The first-class, upright bass player wears a fedora and sunglasses to set off a fastidiously-trimmed beard. The drummer keeps the beat, seamlessly, with a sharp snap of the snare. The keyboard player’s versatility shows in the use of an unusual mix of sounds, including one that mimics scatting. They’re cool, without ever trying.
Few bars maintain the kind of atmosphere you find at Gene Lynn’s. The interior is luxuriant, with a tropical aquarium behind the bar that establishes the tone of the lounge. The relatively small interior houses an intimate brass-railed stage, and a scattering of tables. The walls are covered with mood-setting art that ranges from abstraction to a velvet painting of Stevie Wonder; new age chandeliers give the room a glow, though it’s the people who brighten the place the most.
Most popular “in” bars have an “on the edge” feeling. But, owner Lynn has been perfecting the art of public entertaining for over 30 years. Here, the atmosphere is amiable. Lynn personally welcomes first-timers to his lounge; a cocktail waitress graciously seats incoming customers while a spicy, redheaded female bartender mixes the drinks. Customers tend to dress in a style that leans toward the hip side of formal, sporting fedora hats, fancy suits, evening gowns and strategically-placed jewels. The patrons drink martinis with sophisticated ease, or sip Stag or the locally-brewed-Schlafly-on-tap without haughtiness or pretension. It’s the kind of place where Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and Mohammed Ali–all class acts–would feel at ease. It’s cool.
Tres Bien often plays around town, gigs ranging from “Jazz in June” at the Botanical Garden to various upscale jazz series. But Gene Lynn’s is its natural habitat.
Don’t miss the group or what may be one of the world’s coolest bars. Never mind that it’s in a mall.
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