Party Down

Tangerine. Lo. The Chocolate Bar. All of them brought to you by the genius of Blake Brokaw. All of them dead. The king of St. Louis nightlife reveals his dark side.

ST. LOUIS IS A FUCKING JOKE
--graffiti anonymously chalked on the
men's-room wall at Tangerine on closing night

Erin kneels down and bawls. A minute ago the Tangerine go-go dancer was perched above the drunk, dreary crowd in her skimpy outfit and knee-high white boots, her long blond tresses shimmying to the sweet soul sounds of Ray Charles. Now her tip jar overfloweth and so do her tear ducts. Saturday night is dead, and so is the restaurant and club that for eight years was as cutting edge as St. Louis could muster.

"First Sex and the City, then Friends, now Tangerine," a middle-aged gentleman had lamented earlier at the bar, as he plotted a course through the establishment's extensive martini menu.

Jennifer Silverberg
Blake Brokaw living the "rock star lifestyle" on Washington Avenue in 1998.
Jennifer Silverberg
Blake Brokaw living the "rock star lifestyle" on Washington Avenue in 1998.
As a kid Brokaw (pictured at about five years of age) was "too smart by half," says his mother.
As a kid Brokaw (pictured at about five years of age) was "too smart by half," says his mother.
"Blake had this concept of this club that wasn't going to make any money," says Shawn Collins, who managed Lo for most of its lifespan.
"Blake had this concept of this club that wasn't going to make any money," says Shawn Collins, who managed Lo for most of its lifespan.
In its day, Tangerine won awards for best vegetarian restaurant and best martini and was featured on the Food Network.
Jennifer Silverberg
In its day, Tangerine won awards for best vegetarian restaurant and best martini and was featured on the Food Network.
As manager of Tangerine, Matt McMullin served up martinis with enough booze to fill a one-pint shaker.
Jennifer Silverberg
As manager of Tangerine, Matt McMullin served up martinis with enough booze to fill a one-pint shaker.

While he was at it, the bent-on-a-bender gent might as well have bemoaned the demise nine days earlier of nearby nightclub Lo, and that of Lafayette Square's Chocolate Bar, which was taken off life-support the day before that. And, for that matter, the Hungry Buddha, a build-your-own-stir-fry-bar that passed away a year ago. And the nightclub Deep Deep Cool, which died in 1999. Even, possibly, ACME Java and Eats, and Traffic too, the both of them long gone but not forgotten on the downtown scene. A litany of the coolest St. Louis hangouts of the past decade, all of them founded by one man, Blake Brokaw. And all dead. If St. Louis suffered from a dearth of hip before Tangerine slammed its door for the last time in the wee hours of June 13, now it's a wasteland.

At dinnertime a few days previous, Brokaw had ambled into a nearly vacant Tangerine clad in his signature black skullcap set off by a small silver hoop earring in each ear. After consuming a kamikaze and a Camel Wide Light at the bar, he ordered a Corona and trudged outside to a table, where he took a seat and explained his tattoos, which include chili peppers, geckos, a thickly inked Marc Chagall design and, on his neck, a beet. As in the vegetable.

"I'm just a chef and I like food. I especially like beets," he said in the near-whisper he habitually employs even when telling a joke.

"I guess that makes me a beatnik."

The Tuesday-night foot traffic on Washington Avenue's recently widened sidewalks was minimal. Everyone who passed seemed to know the 38-year-old Brokaw personally. Which makes sense. He lived in a loft above Tangerine until late last year, when he moved out of downtown to Forest Park Southeast with his girlfriend, an aspiring model nearly two decades his junior. Then she left him.

But at the moment Brokaw had other troubles on his mind. He wasn't sure whether Tangerine would even make it to Saturday's eighth-anniversary bash/wake, when drinks would roll back to their original 1996 prices.

"It'll close when the state decides to do it. They're getting us on some back-taxes issues," he said. "When [Washington Avenue] closed down -- a year or so ago -- it kind of screwed everything up and we had to start juggling a lot of stuff. One of those things was our tax situation. There was no money coming in. We had a backhoe and three tons of gravel in front of my store."

But with the reputations of Brokaw's businesses Tangerine, Lo and the Chocolate Bar solidly intact, surely someone's interested in buying him out?

"Lots of people are interested in doing a lot of things, but coming across some cash..." Brokaw broke off briefly, then continued. "People say a lot of things. Most of the time I see people when they're drunk, so it's like: 'I want to buy your bar, I want to buy your bar,' and I give them my phone number and I never get a call."

To hear Brokaw tell it, his places close simply because interest falls off. At Tangerine and Lo, he says, the process was sped up by intrusive street repairs.

"Wash. Ave. has been just flattened by this street-renewal thing," he asserts, speaking of the initial stage of the boulevard's ongoing multimillion-dollar renovation. As further evidence of the impact, he cites the recent passing of Washington Avenue nightclub Deep Six, as well as the move by Velvet, another nightclub on the avenue, to allow in less-profitable eighteen- to twenty-year-olds on Fridays.

"The city said, 'Thanks for showing us an area that we should make happen, but now that it's happened, get out of here,'" affirms Scott Gilmartin, co-owner of Velvet and Rue 13. "'We don't want your nightclubs.'"


St. Louis has so much potential. It's not a very competitive market for what I do. You do something a little outside of the average and all of a sudden you're totally unique. It's almost impossible to fail here. You just have to have a good idea and be willing to work at it. There's a captive audience here. It's not like the rent is killing you. It's an easy place to live....I'm going to be here eight years from now.
--Blake Brokaw in a 2001 interview on www.thecommonspace.org

To see J.D. Salinger in his element, you'd have to fly to New Hampshire, pay off a guy at a gas station for directions to his house and then watch through a pair of binoculars as the reclusive author played chess with his dogs (or whatever it is he does). Up until a few weeks ago, to observe Blake Brokaw all you had to do was show up at Tangerine after he'd had a few.

Or talk to his mother.

Growing up in Kirkwood with two younger brothers, Blake always wanted to be different. "Too smart by half. I could never win an argument with him," says Sandy Martin, who now lives in Alton, having divorced Brokaw's dad in the early 1980s. "He was always very creative. He was in a few plays, loved music. He had a really good singing voice."

He also loved food. "Blake would eat anything, and his brothers too. Because of my German heritage, there was a lot of fried foods, and mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, but also pastas from my Italian [heritage]. Blake hung around while everybody else cooked," Martin remembers.

Brokaw attended Kirkwood High for two years, then transferred to the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in the city. His mom recalls him in a production of Damn Yankees! at the latter, in which he sang "You've Gotta Have Heart." Brokaw credits the school with fueling his interest in the bohemian/hipster crowd he went on to associate with.

For college, he put in brief stints at Meramec and at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, then moved to San Francisco to attend and eventually graduate from, in 1990, the California Culinary Academy.

"I was living the whole 'beat' thing, the whole lifestyle," says Brokaw. "That entailed drinking a lot and doing lots of other things and living in a tiny residency hotel in North Beach."

In 1991 he came back to St. Louis.

"San Francisco was one big temptation. It was hard to live there," he says. "I could have never done what I've done here there. Can't afford the land, it's so trendy. I'd rather be a little fish in a little pond than a little fish in a big huge ocean."

After stints as a chef at a few local restaurants, he signed on as head line cook at the storied downtown institution that is Tony's. He stayed for a year and a half before jumping to Harry's on Market for an eight-month stint. He opened his first restaurant, a lunch-only venture at Sixth and Pine streets called Traffic, in 1995. Financial backing for that first foray was supplied by his father's girlfriend.

Post-Dispatchfood writer Joe Pollack lauded Traffic's food, and other aspects of the restaurant as well. "The writer of the menu copy [Brokaw] is a person of great imagination -- the bill of fare involves Big Food (plate lunches), Little Food (appetizers), Wet Food (soup and chili), Green Food (salads), Noodle Food, Food on Bread and Sweet Food (rather self-explanatory). It's a wide-ranging selection, with lots of ethnic touches, too."

Nonetheless, it closed after about a year and a half.

"You just can't make it on lunches in this town," Brokaw explains. "Same as Hungry Buddha's demise. You have to go to dinner."

Next came ACME Java and Eats, located on Washington Avenue at the site now occupied by Studio Café. "I opened it pretty much on credit cards," says Brokaw. It died after only seven months.

Tangerine, which Brokaw says he opened on a loan of $35,000 from his mother, was next. Lauded with numerous Riverfront Times and citysearch.com awards for best vegetarian restaurant and best martini, it was also featured on a Food Network segment called The Best of Meatless Eats in 2002.

Deep Deep Cool, also on Washington Avenue, was perhaps the most ambitious of Brokaw's ventures.

"We had the Loser's Lounge up front -- you could get 40s of Colt 45. In the second room was live jazz. Up on the mezzanine was the Poodle Bar, with pictures of poodles and poodle figurines everywhere. That was a Champagne bar, and on the third floor was a pool hall and jukebox.

"Too big of a club. The market wasn't right," Brokaw sums up.

Like all of his explanations for his businesses' failures -- and, come to think of it, nearly all of his explanations for anything -- it's a short assessment. But there was more going on in Brokaw's life in the Deep Deep Cool era, which lasted roughly a year between 1998 and 1999. He was morbidly obese, tipping the scales at 325 pounds. (He'd been a vegetarian for eight years before culinary school, but, he says, "I would still maintain a high weight level because I would eat tons of cheese and sour cream.")

In 1998 he underwent bariatric surgery for weight loss. He has since gained back some of the pounds he shed with the surgery; at just over five-foot-seven, Brokaw weighs in at about 220.

"I've never really dieted at all," he says. "I just pretty much eat whatever I want to eat. That's why after the bariatric surgery I still gained weight." (Brokaw says that although he used to cook frequently when he lived with his girlfriend, he now mostly eats out at Pho Grand and the King & I.)

Food isn't the only thing he has overindulged in. Stints in rehab have taken Brokaw out of St. Louis three times during the past four years. The first was for a month in 2000 and came shortly after Lo opened. Another monthlong stay in 2003 was followed by two weeks in March of this year. Brokaw won't get specific and will say only that he was in drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation at a center in Missouri, somewhere outside St. Louis.

"I'm clean right now. I drink, but I don't use any illegal drugs since my last rehab," Brokaw says.


I MUST WORK 4 FREE
--anonymous graffiti,
Tangerine men's room

Though Tangerine was Blake Brokaw's best-known venture, the story of Lo, a small dance club that opened in May 2000, might better define his personality.

Lo rocked the asses of the hip and beautiful. Poppy Belinda Carlisle's beats mixed into Def Leppard anthems, Michael Jackson became Van Halen while you weren't paying attention. Other nights featured drum & bass, house and a wide swath of international beats, but on Wednesday, a.k.a. Dollar Sake Night, the '80s ruled. Good luck finding a place to hang your coat if it was cold out -- inside it was dripping hot.

"Blake had this concept of this club that wasn't going to make any money -- he just wanted to make a cool place to hang out at," recounts Shawn Collins, who ran Lo, located on 15th Street just off Washington Avenue, for most of its run. "When we first opened, we had this sign outside that said, 'No Ties, No Hippies, No Yuppies.' Just sarcastic. It covered the bases of everybody. We wanted to make a place that was exclusive, but not to an upscale crowd -- to the crowd we wanted to hang out with."

Destined for financial failure, Lo almost succeeded in spite of itself.

"Our drinks weren't expensive. If you're trying to make money, you don't open a place that has a legal capacity of 60," Collins posits.

Even if it didn't make money, Lo did alter the local electronic-music landscape.

"We started getting a reputation with DJs," says Collins. "All these people started wanting to play there all the time. We didn't start out being a showcase for DJs, but it turned out that there was a need for this: People aren't getting this anywhere else, and we can bring these total underground DJs here and they'll play for super-cheap."

Unlike many Washington Avenue clubs, which featured predictable beats for county residents who paid hefty cover charges, Lo was small and eccentric.

"I think every major city needs a place like Lo. It was one of the best clubs in the city," says Amit Dhawan, a managing partner of Synergy Productions, an event-marketing and promotions company, who is intimately familiar with the local club scene. Dollar Sake Night, says Dhawan, was "one of the busiest nights in the city."

But Brokaw was nowhere to be seen. "Right after it opened, he quit hanging out and starting doing his own thing or whatever after he got out of rehab," Collins recalls. "Blake never really came to Lo. Everybody thought it was mine."

"I'm not into the whole DJ scene. That's just not what I grew up with. I like bebop and Tom Waits," Brokaw explains. "I used to hang out when we first opened up, but then I went to rehab the first time, and I stopped drinking, so I really had no reason to be there."

Collins moved to New York City in September of last year. Though he continued to book Lo's DJs and design its fliers from the remote location, it was clear the bottom had fallen out. "Things just started drifting and getting fucked up, all at one time," he says. "Around the same time I was like, 'I've done what I can do in St. Louis, because places like [Lo] don't really do well there.'"

Regarding Lo's demise, Collins says simply: "It just ran its course."

Brokaw cites poor Washington Avenue foot traffic and demands posed by his other enterprises: "I spread myself out too much."

Some blame Brokaw's personal excesses for Lo's closing. But his partying has inspired so much talk that it's hard to know where rumor stops and truth begins.

One anecdote that has made the rounds is based in fact. That would be the one about the time Brokaw jumped off his girlfriend's car, shattering his left ankle and breaking his right knee.

He was drunk.

"I thought it would be really fun at the time," he says of the incident, which took place a year or so ago. "I was bedridden for four months."

To hear Brokaw tell it, though, the years 1997-99 had marked the height of his "rock-star lifestyle." But he declines to go into detail, saying only that he has since slowed down. Having a lot of people depending on you for their livelihoods can wreck the party.

"Something I've been wanting to do is get out from under the entrepreneurial game," he says. "I had 28 employees [at the Chocolate Bar, Lo and Tangerine]. You have to worry constantly about whether their paychecks are going to clear."

Lo closed on June 3. Within a week, Rue 13 and Velvet had absorbed many of Lo's and Tangerine's employees and theme nights. Scott Gilmartin reports a spike in business during the past month.


When the subject of Blake Brokaw arises among his admirers, the image of tortured genius is often bandied about. Shawn Collins doesn't hesitate to describe his former employer and colleague as a visionary.

"Blake is not afraid: He's not afraid of losing his money. He's not afraid of any idea. He's not afraid of failing. He could come up with a menu that serves endangered species. You never know what he might come up with," Collins says. "Me and him were partners at the Hungry Buddha. Originally, when Tangerine was at the height of its vegetarian phase, he wanted to open a hamburger place next door that was just called 'Moo' and only served hamburgers."

In fact, Collins says, Brokaw had too many ideas.

"Once he comes up with an idea, you have to slow him down. We had all the places open, and we're kind of struggling, doing construction, and he comes up with an idea and is kind of moving forward. And you have to be like, 'No, we're not doing anything else.'"

Collins, who now attends culinary school in New York and co-owns a house-music label called Muzique Boutique, knows as much about Brokaw's business ventures as anyone. But when it comes to the question of what Brokaw is trying to accomplish with them, he's at a total loss.

"If anybody knew that, I think he wouldn't be in the situation he's in, personally. He wouldn't be a mess. I don't think he really knows what he wants. I think that Blake is one of those tortured souls who are always trying to move on to something new, trying to get something that doesn't necessarily exist. I think a lot of creative people are kind of like that."

Fellow visionary Bob Cassilly, co-founder of the City Museum, thinks Brokaw simply gets bored easily.

"He's a highly creative guy. But after he opens it up, it's tedium. One thing after another. I think he's just burned out. He's had restaurants that closed before and always come back again. You get up on the hill, and then roll back down. He likes to climb back up, I guess."

Others aren't so generous in their characterizations.

"I found him to be sexist and authoritarian," says 25-year-old Andy Jones, who worked at the Chocolate Bar last summer. "There were a lot of women that worked there. One time at a staff meeting he was going on about that the women were catty. Somebody had complained about an employee, and he basically blamed it on the fact that they were women."

"I have really no response to that," Brokaw says. "I probably said that. I don't think I'm sexist, at all. It's my job to be kind of authoritarian at times. I'm not an authoritarian most times, but when we're in a staff meeting an authoritarian presence has to be there."

A Lafayette Square chocolatier and café that sometimes featured DJs, the Chocolate Bar received a glowing review in the Post-Dispatch when it opened in January 2002, followed by a packed house. "We had to close [briefly] because we sold all of our inventory in the first day," recalls Brokaw. "When we started out, we used to bring in more than Tangerine on Friday and Saturday nights."

Restaurants go out of business all the time, of course, and ones that pay top dollar to import chocolate from Indonesia, New Guinea and Tanzania may have an especially difficult time. But in the Chocolate Bar's case, it doesn't seem to have been for a lack of demand.

"It was definitely packed during the weekends," says Jake Hafner, proprietor of the neighboring 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar. "I think sometimes consumers get odd impressions of how businesses are doing just because they're packed," Hafner adds. "There's nights here that I'm packed and I don't really make much money. There's other nights I'm not that packed and I make money."

The Chocolate Bar's abrupt closing left a bitter taste in the mouths of many who were involved. Brokaw confirms that as the end drew near, employees' paychecks began to bounce. Before officially shutting down, the Chocolate Bar was closed during business hours at least once because irate employees didn't show up. "It's kinda hard to pay people when we're closed a lot of the time because they don't feel like working," says Brokaw. "They had a group collective and decided that since they were going to lose their jobs anyway -- or so they thought -- they wouldn't work there anymore."

Brokaw also suspects a female employee stole from him but declines to elaborate. "The interest waned," he concludes, sounding a familiar note. "I thought I'd get a lot of residential business, but nobody leaves their houses. They live in these million-dollar houses but they never leave. We tried doing lunch, breakfast, but the residents just don't come out."


Brokaw recently returned to square one, signing on with Anthony's, sibling to renowned Tony's. Until recently the swanky wine bar offered only drinks and a scaled-down food selection. But on this night a new menu makes its debut.

And Matt McMullin -- for eight years the man responsible for Tangerine's day-to-day operations -- has come to see what his former boss has come up with in his newest culinary reincarnation. "I'm probably not going to eat," he tells his wife, Kim, as they join the opening-night pre-ballgame crowd. "I really want the steak tartare, but that sounds like a bad idea on a touchy stomach. I've been so stressed out lately with everything going on that it's been really hard to eat."

The closing of Tangerine dealt a blow to the 36-year-old McMullin, who's still looking for a new job. (And, sentimentally, to Kim, who previously worked as a server at many of Brokaw's restaurants and as his bookkeeper for a number of years.) But a couple of Buds lift his spirits, and soon he's reminiscing about Tangerine's halcyon days.

"It was mad-busy those first three years," recalls McMullin, who's rockabilly from his greased-back hair down to his white-and-black wingtip shoes. "We'd do 400 people a night through that place. Blake bought a Porsche on layaway. He just brought cash in and said, 'I want that Porsche.' It was a Speedster. He'd just bring some cash in at the end of the week and thunk it down towards his car. It didn't take him that long to buy it. It was insane." (Brokaw says he sold the car a few years back. "I don't own anything except my dogs," he says.)

Emigrés from Boulder, Colorado, during Washington Avenue's pre-boom days of the mid-'90s, the McMullins paid $375 a month for their loft back in the day. In their time they worked at almost all of Brokaw's businesses. It started back in the days of Sanctuary (which subsequently changed its name to Velvet), when they ran with Brokaw's crowd.

"I was already a bartender and Blake said he wanted to open a martini bar," Matt McMullin recalls. "I said I had a lot of fantastic recipes for different flavored martinis. We knew the martini-retro thing was going to break big. We pretty much brought the modern martini to St. Louis.

"Once Tangerine opened, it pretty much occupied our entire existence," he goes on. "There were hundred-hour weeks: Just have a beer as we were closing, go home, go to sleep, get up and do it again."

A similar buzz is in the air tonight at Anthony's. Brokaw, who created the menu along with head chef Vince Bommarito Jr., stays out of sight in the kitchen despite requests from his friends that he come out and talk. But his presence is here, in everything from a spinach-and-mushroom tamale appetizer to chocolate truffles served three flavors to a plate: peanut butter, raspberry and cayenne pepper. Godfather-esque, Tony's patriarch Vince Sr. makes the rounds. He compliments Brokaw's rapport with his son and indulges in a brief stroll down memory lane: "Blake worked for me for a long time, back before he started his restaurants. He understands what we're trying to do."

By the time Bommarito moves on, the Cardinals game has started at nearby Busch Stadium and Anthony's has nearly emptied.

"We made a classic business blunder," McMullin says, getting back to Tangerine's downfall. "What is Blake's biggest strength is also his biggest weakness -- that he loves to open businesses and he's fantastic about it. He can bring so many factors together so fast, it was really brilliant.

"Hungry Buddha was great, but it was probably a decision we shouldn't have made," McMullin continues. "It was a cannibalization of our own lunch customers at Tangerine. When we opened Lo as well, that drew more customers away from Tangerine. What we probably should have done in retrospect is funnel all that money back into Tangerine -- creating it again, expanding it, making it new. But there were a lot of factors that made that kind of tricky to do, and we made the classic business blunder of overexpansion, which was compounded by bad luck.

That bad luck, McMullin contends, came in the form of the tanking of Washington Avenue.

"It seemed to Blake and us at the time that the street would be able to support these multiple businesses. The expansion was to anticipate the street's explosion when all the [construction] work was done. We really expected the street to take off."


TOO BAD FRANCIS SLAY FUCKED THIS PLACE
--anonymous graffiti,
Tangerine men's room

Paul "Pablo" Weiss's Kitchen K, which opened in August of last year, is currently being affected by stage two of the Washington Avenue renovation. Weiss says the St. Louis Development Corporation learned from its mistakes the first time around and is handling this stage of the project better. But he says stage one was a disaster.

"It was like the lunar surface: No traffic, nothing. It was a death knell to all the businesses, in that you couldn't get there by car," says Weiss.

"The fact that you couldn't get to the area just to eat killed Hungry Buddha," echoes Velvet and Rue 13 co-owner Scott Gilmartin.

Jennifer Tretter, who worked as Brokaw's bookkeeper, goes further.

"Basically, downtown is dead," Tretter argues. "I feel like they closed the street for a year and a half for nothing. Parking is a nightmare. Nobody's going out. It hurt everybody down there." Another factor: Until recently Washington Avenue's nightclubs were among the only local establishments of their kind that stayed open until 3 a.m. "Now with South Grand being open until 3 a.m. as well, along with U. City, there's just not enough people to go around," says Tretter.

She cites other ills, as well: The economy is bad. Downtown lofts are too expensive. And homelessness downtown is out of control. "Larry Rice's minions panhandling, 'Give me liquor, give me cigarettes,' every day," Tretter says, echoing a frequent Washington Avenue complaint. "I don't think I would want to live down there, personally. I don't know who they think is going to live down there. Fifty-year-old couples? The bars are the only reason to live down there."

Still, people do seem to be relocating to St. Louis' core. Nearly 2,000 residents moved into new condos, lofts and apartments downtown in the past three years, according to statistics from the Downtown St. Louis Partnership. Occupancy rates for those properties stand at 86 percent for new rentals and about 81 percent for new condos.

Tom Reeves, executive director of the nonprofit Downtown Now! begs to differ with Brokaw and his naysaying ilk.

"The Washington Avenue redevelopment was certainly an inconvenience for a number of businesses down here, but that was over a year ago. I think most of the businesses have said that their business is tremendous today and are looking forward to very bright futures," Reeves says, pointing to successful new eateries such as Wasabi. "I think the market is very strong, and a number of operators are starting to come in. I don't see the street construction as an excuse today. I think that's pretty weak."

But Scott Gilmartin speculates that the city, along with tenants who have purchased lofts, would prefer to see the nightclubs off Washington Avenue altogether.

Not so, claims Reeves.

"I think the small operators and the clubs add the personality and the funk that really creates this district, and we need all the diversity, both from simple to complex, to make this whole thing work. I think that's why most of them chose to live down here. The streetscape improvements have really taken the activity level on Washington Avenue to a new level that is terrific.

"Smith & Slay's closed too, and that's not a reflection of the market in Clayton," Reeves concludes.

There's little reason to suggest that Brokaw didn't give it the old college try on Washington Avenue. Besides taking up residence there, he served as president of the Washington Entertainment District Association, a self-described "collective of restaurant, bar and nightclub venues dedicated to presenting and preserving urban culture and nightlife in downtown St. Louis" that has since disbanded.

"It was just frustrating. We just couldn't get a lot of people. Nobody would join the association," Brokaw says. "It was just a kind of 'take the money and run' thing. Nobody wanted to take any civic responsibility."


GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD
--anonymous graffiti,
Tangerine men's room

"We're gonna party like rock stars!" DJ John "The JB" Bauer hollers again and again from his lofted position above Tangerine's kitchen.

The restaurant's long, narrow main corridor, wedged between the bar and the wall, is jam packed. Brokaw warned earlier that he'd be hard-pressed to free up any time on Tangerine's last night -- he'd be too busy partying and picking up women. The women, for their part, seem unusually excitable. Back rubs are freely given, phone numbers generously distributed. The entire evening has had a night-before-the-apocalypse feel, and rather than fret about the end of life as they know it, the assembled free spirits aim to go out with a bang.

But for a while now Brokaw's been quietly, somberly nursing a Tsing Tao, reflecting on the impending premature death of his bar.

Behind the counter in a sailor's cap, Matt McMullin is focused on serving giant cocktails. On sale for five bucks a pop (1996 prices!) on this final night, his repertoire includes the Burroughs (Crown Royal and Chambord), the Ginsberg (a cosmo with Grey Goose Orange and blue Curaçao) and the Kerouac (a Maker's Mark manhattan), each of which comes with enough booze to fill a one-pint shaker and is served with a strainer.

As the night lurches on, the looting veers toward the outrageous. Bob Cassilly takes back loaned paintings, ripping them off the wall. Wine flutes and ornate martini glasses are repossessed by patrons, and former employees help themselves to free beer. By the end, nearly all the booze is gone.

At 3 a.m. a beautiful girl comes up and plants a big kiss on Brokaw's forlorn lips. He looks tired.

The evening ends with Frank Sinatra's "Tangerine," the Mercer/Schertzinger song for which the bar was named:

Tangerine, she is all they claim
With her eyes of night and lips as bright as flame
Tangerine, when she dances by, señoritas stare and caballeros sigh
And I've seen toasts to Tangerine
Raised in every bar across the Argentine
Yes, she has them all on the run, but her heart belongs to just one
Her heart belongs to Tangerine

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