Farewell to Red Bones Den, North St. Louis' Home of the $6 Beer

"I can say I sold a $6 beer for three years. I think I was the only one doing that out of all the bars in town," Lytle says. "Charging that much made my clientele better. Everything was just better once we started doing that. People complained and hollered and screamed — but they bought that beer. Every time I looked down the bar at someone holding a beer, at least I knew I was getting a little back. Some people will sit all day long with one beer! You can't make any money that way."

Lytle looks down the length of the bar, now heaped with slave shackles, watermelon-eating figurines and the skulls of unidentified animals, and reminisces about customers from years gone by. "When I first opened up, I had a lot of people come in here who worked in factories and plants. They'd spend money. But you know, all that's left: no more General Motors, no more nothing. No more money. I've had enough of trying to run a business in this town. It's time to head out to the farm."


Excalibur
During the closing festivities, as Bonettes, Arkansas cousins and other visiting dignitaries take turns posing for photos next to the Bud Boat, the current Diane explains the origin of the long white limo parked across Kossuth on the Fairground Park side."Two years ago we drove all the way up to Minnesota to buy that pimpmobile," she says. "It's a 1927 Excalibur, tricked out with a lot of custom details — like his name, 'Red Bone,' done in chrome on the hood.

“Red Bone” Lytle with his lady, Diane, and the Budweiser Cruiser
Suzy Rust
“Red Bone” Lytle with his lady, Diane, and the Budweiser Cruiser

"It's a toy, really," she adds. "The man has worked hard all his life, and when he turned 65 he decided to reward himself. But except for special occasions like today, we just drive it around the farm."

On his barstool a week later, as the categorizing of his collectibles goes on around him, Lytle says of the Excalibur, "I have just always wanted my own personal limousine. It's got a bar and leather seats and room to stretch out your legs. The hood makes it look bigger than it really is. It only holds about five or six people inside.

"The first nice car I was able to buy after getting this place going was a yellow deuce-and-a-quarter convertible. A Buick Electra 225. Then I had the red Fleetwood Cadillac in the 1980s. Right now I'm driving a black Lexus. I don't drive the limousine anywhere, really. I think it's going to leave with all the rest of my stuff. I think we're going to put that on the list, too.

"Once you start to let some of it go, it gets easier to let all of it go."


Or Not
Or not. On Sunday, July 22, Red Bone canceled the sale of his "American Heritage" memorabilia collection. Lytle's accumulation of conversation pieces is now going into storage, to either be sold at a future date, or rented out along with the Den — if new management wants to offer customers something to talk about.

The online auction fizzled from the get-go when auctioneer Eric Iman listed the white Excalibur limo with an opening bid of $750 (or 10 percent of what Iman believed the vehicle could garner on the open market).

"We paid $32,000 for that car. It has not depreciated to $7,500 in two years, let alone $750!" snaps Diane. "The way this auction was set up, the prize goes to the highest bidder. Risk selling that car for $750? No way."

The "pimpmobile" was withdrawn from online bidding a day later.

Iman, who spent many hours tagging, categorizing and photographing 243 listings for uploading onto the Web, expresses equal frustration.

"We're not going to legally fight the fact that Red Bone's breaking the contract," he says. "It's out of my hands now. I spent two hours on the phone trying convince him not to cancel."

According to Lytle, that two-hour conversation only cemented his dissatisfaction with the online sale.

"I've spent years buying this stuff, and I know what it's all worth. More than a dollar," says Lytle, balking at the idea of his things being sold for a fraction of their value.

"When the auctioneer asked me how I was going to pay off my Lexus if I didn't sell up all my stuff, I knew it was time to get off the phone. That was getting too personal.

"I may be a black man living on the north side, but I paid for that car with cash."

See a slideshow from Red Bones Den closing party here.

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