By Sam Levin
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Blow Up Some LlamasA first encounter with Tony Twist can be intimidating at least, perhaps, for those who still remember his savagery in the hockey arena. Aware of the nervous awe he stirs, he'll quickly lighten the mood with a roguish comment.
"I don't want any dick-sucking in this interview," he says. "Go ahead and write it the way it is. I really don't care. I got nothing to hide. Well, I have a few things."
It is Friday before the Memorial Day holiday, and Twist and his fourteen-year-old son, Christian, are sealing the cut concrete that surrounds the family pool. As Twist applies solvent with an industrial sprayer, Christian spreads it with a roller. Both working shirtless, Christian lovingly refers to Dad as a "cracka," while Tony, with equal endearment, calls his son a "rat-fucker."
The 38-year-old Twist is tan, unshaven and, at 280 pounds, 20 pounds over his playing weight. His radiant smile is framed by scars on either side of his upper lip. As muscular as ever, he wears a sweat-soaked Bud bandana and gray shorts, which barely hide dozens of bruises, inflicted upon him by Christian's hockey team on a recent trip to Chicago. To create a "team-bonding experience," Twist permitted them to shoot a thousand paintballs at him, using only a hockey glove to protect the family jewels.
A handlebar-mustachioed man who identifies himself as "Buster Hymen" is also by the pool, shooting the breeze with Twist. Surveying the landscape beyond the property, Twist notes the fenced-in patch of grass where llamas from a neighbor's farm graze.
"You ever seen llamas mate?" Twist asks. "It's disgusting. It's incredible. They stick the female out there and they gang-bang her. I'm serious. I got up one morning and she's trying to run, and she's getting hit by every damn one."
"Let's blow up some llamas," suggests Hymen.
"We can. We have the technology," jokes Twist.
Located off a gravel road in the Defiance hills, the Twists' modern ranch-style house sits on five-and-a-half acres of land, with vistas of oak, hickory and evergreen trees as far as the eye can see. The family designed and built the house themselves, hauling in, says Twist, more than two million pounds of rock for the landscaping. The property is under constant construction. Next on the agenda is a controlled burn of the backyard grass to promote the growth of native wildflowers.
The home's main floor features a baby grand piano, a four-post bed with Roman pillars and a Kiel-style urinal in the bathroom. A full-size weight room and pool table are located downstairs and, in the garage, Twist parks his motorcycles and Kawasaki dirt bikes.
Twist says it's obvious why this pad is superior to the family's previous home in Holly Hills. "Would you rather live in the city, or would you rather overlook a valley with a bunch of trees, with no neighbors, where you can shoot your guns and beat your wife? I'm kidding."
In addition to the bruises and scars, Twist's body is decorated with tattoos. There's a white wolf, a Siberian tiger and a Native American tramp stamp, the same one he got for Don Schunk a few years back. Schunk, who recently sold his Bridgeton car dealerships, met Twist in the mid-'90s when his daughter and Christian played hockey together. A friendship and a veritable apprenticeship would emerge.
"I spent hundreds of hours sitting down at his car dealership," Twist says. "That guy is one of the most intelligent businessmen I've ever met."
"I come from a service-oriented background," says Schunk. "The environment he came from, it was kind of like, shoot first, and ask questions later. I would say I stirred a side of him that hadn't been stirred. He realized that if he was going to be in the business sector he was going to have to listen to other people involved whether he agreed with what they said or not and make sure that all parties were served in a fair way."
After his hockey career ended, Twist used his new-found business acumen to establish a mini-saloon empire. Not long after April opened the Havana Cigar Room in 2001, the couple debuted Twister's Iron Bar Saloon in Imperial, which Twist calls "a real testosterone fix," and Twister's Merchant Street Grill in Ste. Genevieve, which he describes as "softer, more local."
The Twists' business partner, Doug Walker, manages the Imperial and Ste. Genevieve joints, permitting Tony and April to focus on their latest undertaking: Twister's Pub and Grill, located at the intersection of Highway 94 and Wolfrum Road in Weldon Spring. The grill specializes in 16-ounce rib-eye steaks and pound-and-a-half pork steaks, grilled on a giant Southern Pride smoker.
Twist says his transition from hockey tough to saloon proprietor has been a cakewalk. "I always knew I'd be successful doing something [after I retired]. I just didn't know what that something was."
Says April Twist: "The challenge for him is not being out on the ice and hearing people chant, 'Twister.' Because he was an amazing athlete, and whenever you have however many thousands of people chanting your name, anyone would miss that."
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