Unreal Fouls Out of the Final Four

The beer-drinking, the game-watching, the east-side partying: We took it all in so you wouldn't have to

On the barroom floor at Pop's, three unskinny women are dry-humping one another to the strains of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," delivered by a cover band called The Real Me. The lyrics -- "Just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit" -- brim with profundity for "Chet Lemon" and "Larry Herndon," two Michigan State alums who 24 hours ago arrived at Unreal's doorstep after a synthetically enhanced daylong drive from their homes in the Mountain West to cheer on their beloved Spartans in the semifinals of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Chet and Larry (pseudonyms borrowed from 1984 World Champion Detroit Tigers outfielders) are unfazed by the soft-porn centipede on the dance floor. What they find mystifying are the dudes trying to pull the babes off the floor. Specifically, a guy in his forties who's a ringer for Pat O'Brien, television's Hollywood dirt disher who recently checked himself into rehab after attempting to coax a female companion into cocaine use and cunnilingus via eloquent messages ("You're so fuckin' hot, you're fuckin' hot!!!") on her cell phone. O'Brien's Pop's doppelganger stops short of vocal lewdness, instead grinding his denim-clad crotch into the worm's rear walrus, who sheds a white cardigan sweater to reveal a black sports bra.

"Fat, sweaty whores," observes Chet, a Hoosier State native who compares Pop's to "your average bar in Indiana," save for its round-the-clock operating hours, which strike him as "a brilliant concept." Evidently actor Vince "Dodgeball" Vaughn, spotted at the bar by Larry, and a cavalcade of orange-clad University of Illinois fans celebrating a blowout win over the Louisville Cardinals to propel their squad into the championship game, agree.

Before the fall: The University of Louisville's pep 
squad rallies in Kiener Plaza.
Jennifer Silverberg
Before the fall: The University of Louisville's pep squad rallies in Kiener Plaza.
Here's hoping: Illini coach Bruce Weber meets the 
Jennifer Silverberg
Here's hoping: Illini coach Bruce Weber meets the masses.

It's four in the morning with no end in sight. Sunlight may beckon a few revelers to the exit sometime soon, but right now at Pop's only two things are certain: Pat O'Brien's getting nowhere with Sports Bra, and (by Unreal's count) at least 137 patrons here are equipped with moustaches.

How many of those furry fellows once occupied dorm rooms in East Lansing, Champaign, Louisville or Chapel Hill is anyone's guess, but the predominance of college colors indicates that this ain't your average Saturday-night crowd at Pop's. Still, there's a charming obliviousness to the major fiesta taking place on the other side of the river, embodied by The Real Me's lead singer, who explains that his "great mood tonight" is due to "the beginning of Cardinals baseball season."

On the first weekend of April in any other year, such a comment would be de rigueur in St. Louis. But it's not every year that St. Louis hosts an event that relegates the Redbirds to the nether reaches of the daily sports dispatches and turns the city's moribund downtown upside down.

Naturally, Unreal took it all in so you wouldn't have to.

Very tall men outnumbered gals eight to one at the Slam Dunk and Three Point Championships afterparty at the Pepper Lounge Thursday night, where we stayed long enough to see three-point champ Drake Diener of DePaul working a sweaty with a J.Lo caboose out on the patio.

And to down a few. Unreal is partial to tequila, but we're a snob when it comes to our favorite potion and the Pepper was only comping Cuervo. So we switched it up, opting for Southern Comfort and lime juice. Not smart, but we won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say we were right back on the front lines the next morning, hoofing it to America's Center, where the National Association of Basketball Coaches was holding its annual convention. Haggard as Merle, we basked briefly in the glow of just-retired Purdue coach Gene Keady's Lego hair before heading off to take the city's early Final Four pulse.

The vibe downtown was decidedly rambunctious, though you wouldn't have guessed from within the tomb known as St. Louis Centre. University of Iowa coach Steve Alford was talking shop with Don Monson of the University of Minnesota over slices of pizza in the fourth-floor food court, but other than that you could have heard a pin drop.

God bless Laclede's Landing. For all the ribbing the party-hardy district takes from the bohemian set, the Landing is a conveniently located sponge for tourists and suburbanites seeking a faux Bourbon Street atmosphere to brand their Final Four experience like a temporary tattoo. On Friday night the locals met the yokels at the Landing's nexus, Mississippi Nights, where the Jack Daniel's-swilling Alabama five-piece known as the Drive-By Truckers came through with a set that bridged the gap between the brothers Allman and VanZant.

Truckers guitarist Patterson Hood, who entered the stage wearing a black-leather duster that was quickly soaked in sweat, expressed surprise at the wall-to-wall crowd. Somewhere around the sixth bottle of Busch, it struck Unreal that Hood's shock might have been for real: Given the Truckers' relentless tour schedule, it might not have occurred to him that the turnout, heavy on the Louisville red and Carolina powder-blue, coincided with college basketball's version of Bonnaroo.

Though we were loath to tear ourselves away from the inspiring sight of a colossal Tar Heel fan drinking his beer straight from the pitcher a few feet from the stage, Unreal was called away from the festivities by a phone call informing us that our weekend houseguests were incoming on I-70, within eyeshot of the Dome.

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