Posted On: 12/14/2000
People go to bars where they feel comfortable. There are many different kinds of places because there are many different types of people. Some seek the simple places that have beer and no frills. Some look for a place that shows the big game. Other people feel comfortable in a dance club. Still others feel at home in a place with fancy martinis and fine furnishings. But where do the folks in that work in these tavernss drink?
The Rocket Bar is the rock and roll hangout of Saint Louis with a 3am license. The place becomes packed as the hour gets later. It is where bartenders go drink after they get off shift. It is where the members of bands meet up after a gig. It is where club owners go to chat with each other. These people got into the industry because they like bars. This core group of loyal and thirsty patrons attracts even more people to the bar: people that attend concerts, media folks, and some general riff raff. It is where the hip kids that are in the scene go for a late night sip.
The bar is located in the Locust side of the loft district at 20th street. It is down the street from the Tap Room and next door to the much-missed Hot Locust Cantina/Side Door Music Club, which is now a new place called Z. The Rocket Bar used to be called Pablo's, which was a trendy martini bar. Pablo's was voted the best new bar in Saint Louis in 1997, yet due to the fickle nature of the club going crowd, it was shut down little over a year after its grand opening. The crowds came to Pablo's in large, glamorous numbers. The club kids then abandoned this classy martini bar for the next big thing. The proprietor, Pablo Weiss, enlisted the manager Jen Medeiros to partner in the new concept of the Rocket Bar.
The bar is converted from an old storefront and the front windows were converted to curved glass brick from the floor to the pressed tin ceiling. The interior is very dark that is accentuated by black paint. The bar is in the center of the room and there is a stage for live music in the rear. The bar is unusually designed with a large unattached wall facade on the side that faces the entrance. Artists that are in the scene have painted pieces of their artwork directly on to the walls. Seating at formica tables is located in the front of the pub near the glass brick windows. There are low slung couches scattered about the bar. Pinball machines and Golden Tee line the side of the stage. It is always odd seeing rock and roll kids play a golfing video game.
The shots are poured heavy and often in the smoky bar. The center bar allows the crowd to circulate. The drinks are cheap, especially considering that it is not only a hip bar, but the bars in the area usually have downtown prices. Cheap beer starts at 2 bucks with Milwaukee's Best on tap and High Life and the Bellvillian favorite, Stag, in bottles. The music is of the rock flavor: Emo, punk, experimental and indie rock to be specific. Rocket Bar features both local and touring bands and has picked up many of the bands that played at the old basement Cicero's and now the Side Door. Some bigger names have played on the Rocket stage, such as Guided by Voices and At the Drive In. The music is more of the type of crowd that bobs their heads and listens to the music. There really is not much dancing, nor is there any moshing. There are early all age shows, but usually the live music stops well before midnight. There is live music only about once weekly, but it goes on no particular schedule. DJ Matt Hunt spins on Tuesday evenings.
Even larger national touring act bands will come to the Rocket late at night. One weekday evening, Tom Marello of Rage Against the Machine hung out at the bar during an unanticipated visit to the river city. Often national touring bands from the Galaxy, Mississippi Nights and other bars come down to the Rocket to socialize after an evening of performance.
The crowd is very loyal, unlike the beautiful crowd. Business has been consistently strong since its conversion from a martini bar. The bar has outlasted most of the trendy bars on Washington Avenue. The crowd is generally young and very diverse. They are the kind of kids that are pierced and have a distinct look. They can often look tough, but for the most part they are not; however, the Rocket Bar crowd can get rough late at night. The bartenders, Jimmy, Jen, Loyal and Maggie, have a strong relationship with the industry crowd. Regulars include such club owners as Blake Brokaw of Tangerine, Bob Putnam and Sheri Lucas of Way Out and Doug Morgan of The Delmar. The doormen know who to card and who is a friend of the bar.
The Rocket patrons had always complemented the Hot Locust and Side Door Club. Now the new neighbors, the glamor club Z, has the expected valet parking. So far there has been little cross over in the crowds. Recently one evening, after Z closed at 1:30, the rock and roll crowd started pouring into the late night Rocket Bar. Bob Putnam, owner of the Way Out, pulled up to the rock star parking in his vintage 1964 Cadillac Fleetwood directly in the front of Rocket Bar's doors. Even though Z had been closed for over a half hour, the valet company was still trying to lay claim to the premium spots on Locust. The lovable "Barroom Bob" tried reasoning with the valets, and then he started preaching to them about the freedom of the streets. The beginnings of a new rivalry between the rock kids and the disco club kids is brewing once again, like it was in the '70s. There is a definite attitude clash between the two different groups of music fans. I am curious if we would have a riot like in Chicago in the 70s if there was an anti-disco rally held between a double header at Busch Stadium.
Rocket Bar is the kind of place to hit on a night out if you have just seen a live music show. It is also a place to go to see the who's who in the music underground. The atmosphere is festive in this funky and wild bar.
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