Posted On: 11/03/2003
Mid-June. I’m cruising down 12th, admiring Soulard’s stunning century-old architecture –row after row of red brick Victorian townhouses and elegant corner mansions. I hit my block and turn down my alley, carefully avoiding the torched couch, alley cats and bald tires beside the dumpster. Immediately, I see the four neighborhood tweener punks hanging out by my steps. They immediately scatter as I approach. Worried they were trying to break into my apartment, I park and run to my door. No glass, door’s locked. Cool. Then, I notice the ground beneath my feet. Wet. Then I notice the smell. Gross. The goons peed on my steps.
Furious, I sprint in the direction they ran, cursing. Hitting 13th and Barton, I’m winded and hopeless. Realizing I’ll see them again, I drag myself toward Vincent’s Market, only wanting a mop bucket and six-pack. 8:03 p.m. Closed. Even more annoyed, I ignore a self-contained neighborhood’s worst traits (delinquents, closed stores, alley garbage) and head toward its best. It’s walking-distance, soothing best: the friendly, sympathetic corner tavern The Cat’s Meow. (“Try baking soda, hon.”)
The look …
Like the neighborhood, the building has been there a while and gone through several reincarnations. An “1885” and Star of David adorning the façade show its age and history. After serving as a synagogue, then butcher shop, 2600 S. 11th St. morphed into a bar, as it has been for decades. Outside, an illuminated Budweiser sign hangs above the caged windows. Inside, save for a few subtle touches and the 15-plus-foot tin ceiling, it’s as dive as a dive can be.
Some Formica tables (topped with huge ashtrays) line the walls. Well-worn circular stools file against the bar. A big screen and two small TVs show the game (and more lately, NASCAR … what the heck?)
The left wall is covered with countless handbills and posters: cat tapestries; “Favazza for Circuit Clerk;” funeral notices; “Drummer Needed, Call Carl;” Bud ads, “Ask About Our Chilled Shots;” “Rickshaw Rides, Call Eric.”
On the wall behind the bar is more of the same on a smaller scale: “If you’re drinking to forget, please pay in advance;” “No credit, No tabs.” Above the bar, and in front of the softball trophies, ceramic cats and fancy Budweiser sign, hang Mardi Gras beads, for sale year-round. Stock up now.
For entertainment – other than wisecracks from the patrons and barkeeps – feed dollars into the Megatouch, the Golden Tee, the pull-tab machine or jukebox that’s heavy on country and oldies.
The scene …
There is no “scene” here – people drink, smoke, talk and sometimes jimmy-leg to Elvis. That’s good. The female bartenders call you hon, honey and sweetie. Among the more than 20 stops on the recent Soulard Progressive Dinner, The Cat’s Meow wasn’t listed under “Salads” or “Entrées” or “Soups,” just “Beverages.”
Other than Sundays, it’s only closed five-and-a-half hours a day. Regulars and third-shifters arrive at 7 a.m. Owner and City Alderman Ken Ortmann gladly mixes with patrons. Ask him about that alley garbage.
In a mostly working-class, middle-aged crowd, the women drink beer and smoke Virginia Slims or cigarillos. Guys drink beer and smoke filterless Camels. Someone is sitting at the bar at all times. Weekend nights bring the music most loud, patrons most rowdy and crowd most young. Young and rowdy are not synonymous.
Wear whatever you want. No one cares.
The products …
Taverns make their living off beer sales, and the Cat’s Meow is no different. Sure, people down shots and whiskey, but they mostly pound drafts. It’s improper to drink anything other than a mug of beer at a place like this.
Like a tavern within earshot of the brewery should, this one sells only two beers on draft: Bud and Natural Light. A bargain at $1 each. Almost all bottles (AB products and some Miller products) run $1.75. The lone import (Heineken) and trend brew (Mich Ultra) run $2.25.
Rail cocktails cost $1.75, and a wide selection of shots run $1.75 to $4.50. The Cat’s Meow custom shot – the Panty Remover – runs $1, $3 per glass. It’s candy.
The Cat’s Meow is a virtual convenience store, saving my butt on late Friday nights more than once. Purchase single serving drugs for 75 cents (Tylenol, Advil, Alka-Seltzer), cigarettes ($3 for GPC, $4 for name), cans of Kodiak ($4), peanuts for 50 cents, chips for 50 cents (usual flavors, no Rap Snacks), Slim Jims for $1 and TJ’s pizza ($3.50 for small, $6.50 for large; usual toppings).
In a neighborhood godsend, they also have a package liquor license. Half pints of liquor are $5 (tolerable label), $3.75 and $2.50 (rotgut). To-go beer is sold at bulk discount. Six packs of bottles are $6. I’ve seen guys come in at 12:57 a.m. and buy five cases of Bud bottles.
The straight 411 …
For a completely stress-free night of cheap beer - and at least one “Whatcha need, hon?” - head to The Cat’s Meow.
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