Selecting the Riverfront Times' Best of St. Louis 2011 was no picnic. Choosing the winner meant several worthy candidates would go unmentioned -- until now. In this RFT Music series, we're beeboping and scattin' our way through notable runners up in a number of categories.
There is no surer way of making us feel at home in a bar than having a good juke box. And as more and more places switch to satellite radio stations, calculated muzak and blinking computers masquerading as the real thing, we applaud those who've stuck with personal collections assembled with CDs and paper track lists. Here are our ten favorite juke boxes in St. Louis.
You see it spelled out above the bar as soon as you walk in: Retox Center. Sobriety, like elevator music, serves an essential function in life, but inside the Silver Ballroom it's hard to remember what that function is -- or, for that matter, why anyone bothers making elevator music when they could be playing punk rock instead. The Silver Ballroom pays homage to the Holy Trinity: Pabst, punk rock and pinball. It's got the only purely punk jukebox in town, and what better way to enjoy the satisfaction of getting your ball to orbit the moon on the Apollo 13 pinball machine than to let Black Flag assail your eardrums? The bar itself is hand-made and covered in a staggering amount of punk flyers from shows past that often mirror the contents of said jukebox, making for a fun history lesson wherein one can listen to the Dead Milkmen or the Adolescents or the Descendents while simultaneously staring at the promotional material for the last time said bands came to town -- oftentimes decades ago.
Don't call Claudia's Pub a dive bar. Sure, the cash-only joint may be located in south city and may serve exclusively Busch beer from its lone tap, but Claudia's is far too clean and welcoming to be a true dive. While the shuffleboard table seems to take up the length of the bar's south wall, it's the wall-mounted jukebox, located proudly in the front window, that deserves your attention (and your dollar bills). There are a few CDs by Bob Seger and Van Halen, and the collections by Steely Dan, Genesis and Fleetwood Mac make it possible to program your very own imaginary oldies station. But it's the random anomalies that make this juke a great source of music. Wilco's totemic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot will keep the hipsters satisfied, and Barry White's mid-'90s comeback The Icon Is Love has enough slow jams to get 'em grooving in the aisles.
The ubiquity of the search -- via cell phones, online directories and the far-too-trusted Wikipedia -- has overshadowed what we all used to do when we sought something special: browse. But if you take the power of search and integrate it into something that was made for browsing, you get a lazy bastardization of technology. Exhibit A: the Internet jukebox. ("There's no time for browsing 100 CDs -- I've got a bucket of Bud Lights to guzzle here!") That's why it's so refreshing to happen upon a jukebox whose owners have nurtured and cared for it, a grouping of albums and singles that's clearly an assembly of personal favorites. Tucked away in the corner of the bar, the Crow's Nest's jukebox is just such an animal: Its 100 CDs -- ranging from cult hits to weekend-warrior rap music -- demand your attention and your browsing. Ease in your dollar, slow down and pick your three songs. Forget about whatever conversation was going on at your table, because you could be standing in the yellow glow of this 'box for a while.
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