Oppressive heat does funny things to people. In particular, wayward travelers who've just arrived in a somewhat desolate major metro center via long-haul bus, seeking only a highball glass of quenching booze at a stained-shirt bar in the short term.
It was a long time coming, but I knew I'd see the day/When you and I could sit down and have a drink of Tanqueray.
So ends famous local keyboardist Johnnie Johnson's melodiously blunt ode to a certain brand of gin founded in 1830 by Englishman Charles Tanqueray, the son of three generations of Bedfordshire clergy who ditched the family's white-clothed tradition for a career in grain-alcohol production.
Imagine, then, two gentlemen who bear uncanny resemblances to Tanqueray and Johnson stepping off a Greyhound in the no-man's-land north of downtown St. Louis on an ultrahumid mid-July day in 2003. Seasoned at the game of parachuting into Anytown, USA, via the Dirty Dog, they hoof it to the geographic epicenter of downtown in search of a tumbler of gin.
In St. Louis, that would be somewhere in the vicinity of Eighth and Olive, near the American Theatre and the old post office, relics of a more glamorous past when carousers bellied up early and often at bars like Dooley's Ltd. Requesting Tanqueray, our travelers are dismayed to learn that the establishment serves only Bombay and Beefeater. But the song on the jukebox -- in this instance, the Little River Band's "Cool Change" -- reminds them that they need a cool drink. A tumbler of Bombay on the rocks backed by Dooley's Special Famous Burger will have to do. This burger, according to Dooley's menu, was voted "best burger in the world by TWA." The friendly, middle-aged, mixed-race crowd may or may not know that the airline no longer exists.
A short but weary walk back toward the bus station lands the wanderlusters at the Missouri Bar & Grill, where they locate their elusive drink of Tanqueray just as the Midsummer Classic commences on the television set, enrapturing the patrons who line the rail. A photo of Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee with the Mo-Bar's Greek owner, vintage mid-1980s, is proudly positioned behind the bar, above the neatly organized liters of liquor.
Three Cardinals lead off for the National League in the top of the first. Was a long time coming, but I knew I'd see the day.
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