Hit Parade

"The question is to see or not to see/And they seldom travel to the near north side of town/On the radio the sixties are slithering/And every happy couple wants a house out in the county."
-- Langrehr, "The New St. Louis Blues" (1982)

FORMAT OF THE WEEK: Let's call this column the victim of post-vacation- attention-span-deficiency-disorder. Or just think of it as "idiosyncratic."

ON THE BUSINESS BEAT: It's possible that there's a trend in the city that doesn't involve the pell-mell destruction of businesses and buildings, one that may actually signal some positive signs that life is moving in the right direction down at one of the city's most-needed zones of improvement.

Last Friday afternoon, there was a subtle air of change on Washington Avenue. For one thing, Hullabaloo had opened its giant warehouse for a clearance sale, with dozens of folks scrambling for $2.25 hot pants and $1.50 Dukes of Hazzard notebooks. Wanna bring young people back into the city? Offer them cheap clothes and even cheaper nostalgic novelty items.

Other signs were more subtle. For example, the sandblasting truck parked outside the building that Washington University is developing for housing units. Or the fact that there weren't any tables at Tangerine for lunch, the entire restaurant full at midday. (Mmm, borscht.)

Some more signs were hidden. For example, at 1110 Washington, an interesting process is about to be set in motion, even as it may change the cultural landscape a dozen blocks away. Paul "Pablo" Weiss, operator of the Hot Locust Cantina, the Side Door Club and the Rocket Bar, will be divesting his interests in the first two while keeping the third. With the backing of a major investor, he'll be heading up efforts down at 1110, taking over a good-sized building and turning it into a variety of "hot button" uses.

"It's exactly what will push the hot buttons of what everybody wants," he says. "I can't see the faults in this."

The 1110 building will be transformed into 64 residential units, from 800-2,000 square feet, with monthly rents of $600-1,100. Downstairs will be two "hospitality concepts." The larger of the two will be the Express Noodle Bar, which will feature a large horseshoe-shaped bar, plus plenty of seating, with cooks preparing food in the open. That business will target a lunch crowd, plus try to keep folks around the area for dinner. Next door will be Express, featuring dairy products, bagels, newspapers and videos, plus big, comfy chairs.

"I know what the area needs, and I hope to be able to do that," says Weiss. Let's hope that the changes at his old haunts won't be too drastic. (Long live youth-fueled rock & roll!)

Down the street, another project is coming up for completion. The Bodega, a "New York neighborhood-style grocery," will open up just east of the Cheetah super-entertainment-mega-plex. Paul Fendler, the site's architect, says, "We're working on it right now; it should be about 30 days away, around the middle of June." He adds that the new shop, which will be owned by vendor Charlie Santangelo, "will be the first grocery going in down there."

This Sunday, the Washington Entertainment District Association (WEDA) will throw its annual, all-day music fest in the neighborhood. It's been a fairly successful event in the past, the clubs drawing on their usual nighttime crowd, who shuffle past the old, history-laden storefronts of the block with (perhaps) less than total focus. Maybe the integration of day-and-night concerns -- long discussed but never quite achieved -- is actually happening.

Hate to be all rah-rah, but these are very interesting steps, indeed.

THE END IS NIGH: Around a week ago, Charles Brennan and Carol Daniel interviewed St. Louis-raised comic Guy Torry on their KMOX (1120 AM) morning show. The Q&A was going along as planned, with the usual banter of an AM gabfest, the hosts tossing softballs, the guest lobbing thanks to Our God in Heaven. Then something unpredictable happened, something shocking and new. A phrase was uttered that probably (dare we say certainly?) had never been heard on the airwaves of 1120 before. Daniel indicated that she went to school with two of Torry's siblings. Torry was impressed with her knowledge of his family. Then Daniel said these very words: "I'm all up in your crew."

At this exact moment, 83 elderly people checked their hearing aids, 17 cars slid into ditches and six transistor radios combusted. The next, faint sound heard was the buzz of Robert Hyland's bones, spinning in their grave. Amazing: "I'm all up in your crew."

KMOX, in one sentence, entered Our Modern World.
Is that an altogether good thing?
(Postscript: The above note was written last week, yet on Monday morning, a bottle of Charles Brennan's BBQ Sauce arrived in the underutilized mail slot of "Hit Parade," compliments of Brennan's assistant, who noted that "I'm not sure why I'm sending it, but enjoy!" The omen-istic qualities of this random shipment are unsettling, to say the least. Is mind-reading somehow involved? Did Brennan sense a mild ribbing in print? No matter, the sauce will be gone by next Monday afternoon, slathered on some South Side tofu dogs.)

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