Night Hawks

Two South Grand joints get 3 a.m. liquor licenses, changing the face of after-hours partying in St. Louis

"With that policy," says Anderson, "anyone who comes in and says they want a 3 a.m. [license], I can pull out this document and say, 'This is what works for us. You meet these qualifications, and we'll support you.' It's as simple as that."

The stipulations are basic, although one's a tad confusing: Live performances and recorded amplified music (i.e., the records and CDs that DJs spin) are allowed until 2 a.m. Between that hour and 3 a.m., only "background music" at an acceptable decibel level is allowed. But if people aren't dancing to the DJ's music -- merely lounging and talking -- is what he or she is playing considered "background music?" Or does this stipulation merely prohibit a human being from picking records and allow a 100 CD-changer to do the selecting?

The other rules cause no confusion: Owners must pick up litter nightly along their blocks and in their alleyways; off-duty St. Louis police officers must be hired to patrol the area.

Excise commissioner Bob Kraiberg, who's seen his share of liquor disputes, says that the cooperation on South Grand is unique. Most 3 a.m. licenses are held by hotels and areas with few residents -- neither Soulard nor the Central West End has a 3 a.m. bar.

"The fact that the business community, the South Grand neighborhood association, the alderman and the other groups came together to say, 'Hey, this may be beneficial to businesses, but it needs to be controlled,' is a big step forward," he says.

Even though South Grand's change is only on paper -- the bars aren't open late yet -- the reverberations of the new 3 a.m. licenses will be felt throughout the city. "I see a lot of the people going downtown," says David Burmeister, co-owner of Mangia Italiano, when asked where his clientele winds up after he closes. "Some people who drive as far as the Delmar [Restaurant & Lounge] are residents of South City. There are 15,000 people that live just in our backyard, and a lot of those people want to drink at 1:30, and [they're] driving, getting in the car and going downtown and such."

Anyone with a notion to keep drinking after any of the 700-odd bars in the city that close at 1:30 a.m. can find booze. Commissioner Kraiberg estimates that 50 establishments have 3 a.m. licenses. But until now, the South Grand neighborhood has been an island of early closing. When that changes, South Grand night life will also change.

"It'll mean fewer DUIs," says one official, who declined to be named.

"More ibuprofen," adds Mangia customer Jason Hutto, drinking his noontime cup of coffee at the restaurant.

Most people say that the Rocket Bar will be the hardest hit by the new late-night clubs, but owner Pablo Weiss isn't worried. He says his main feeder clubs are the Way Out Club, the Hi-Pointe and Frederick's Music Lounge.

"I think the market's big enough for everyone," he says. "We're more of a rock & roll crowd, and the Upstairs Lounge is more of a DJ-oriented club. Mangia's more of a restaurant, has more of a bar scene. We're rock & roll, pool table, drinking."

Matt Wagner, manager of CBGB, says the change will help the entire area. "A lot of the customer base for me is local, and now they don't have to have a bunch of idiots back in their cars," he says. "A lot of my friends live on the street, so they can walk. I can get people out of my place easier, and I can go and get a drink when I'm done here, if I want."

The obvious question for Wagner is whether CBGB will follow suit.

"Oh, hell no," he says.

When it's 1:45, you've tied one on and your consciousness is delicate but you want to keep going, does it really matter where you end up?

"More than ever!" says Brett Underwood -- writer, Tap Room bartender, host of KDHX-FM's No Show and frequent occupier of one of Mangia's stools. "I'm pickier when I just want one or two more than I am when I am starting out. I'm not going out to 'pick up' -- well, hardly ever. It's like that final frame or two at the bowling alley or that last six months of life: You want to end it in an impressive manner."

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