"Where's Uncle Bill?"

(The Venice Café, Benton Park)

I haven't been here in a while — in this neighborhood or at the Venice Café. Although the Venice Café is in Benton Park, I associate it with Soulard — it has that otherworldly quality to it, a sort of magic that you don't find anywhere else. To most people Soulard is a drunk ricocheting off a barroom door with a bleary expression and a crooked hat, but I say that's missing the point. Soulard is the Greenwich Village or the French Quarter of St. Louis — but those are only loose comparisons, because, like Greenwich Village or the French Quarter, Soulard possesses a uniqueness and an authenticity that can't be compared to anything.

Now, tucked into a corner table next to the door that leads downstairs, amid the warm frivolity of the crowd, buried under the outrageous luminescence that is the Venice Café, I notice that there are as many women dancing as men who are not. To my immediate right, a woman tries to coax her date into dancing with her. He's not a dancer, apparently. Nor is his friend. Undiscouraged, she dances alone to the Zydeco antics of the Garbanzos, an all-male group wearing women's dresses and performing at the front of the bar, playing their version of the Who's "Squeeze Box." All of them are animated and lively except the drummer, whose sour expression looks comical beneath his floppy wig and captain's hat.

Eventually, voices shout: "Where's Uncle Bill?"

Who is Uncle Bill?

 
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