The Billy McKeone

King Louie's, 3800 Chouteau Avenue, 314-865-3662.

Jun 14, 2006 at 4:00 am
These days the best route to King Louie's is via helicopter or jetpack. So circuitous is the way — bridge construction has rendered the most direct route impassable — you'd think maybe it was bin Laden's Missouri hideout. You could also hop a freight train, in which case you'd need to do a jump-and-roll beneath the Chouteau bridge near the Vandeventer White Castle. Climb the ragged eastern slope of the chasm, directly beneath a humming electrical tower, and bingo: You're on the heavenly patio at King Louie's. The less adventurous obey the detour signs and reach this midtown oasis via automobile.

Up front: Drink of the Week has written about King Louie's often. (Maybe too often.) We've eaten there more times than we can count. If owner Matt McGuire held a gun to our head and demanded a number, we'd guess maybe 400 times in the past nine years.

(Enter string section.) But every lover of food and/or drink has that one place, that perfect little haven for winding down and eating up. Nine times out of ten, Louie's patriarch and retired Post-Dispatch scribe John McGuire — who deserves a statue beneath the Arch — is sitting at the bar with a story to tell.

We've heard tales of Georgia Frontiere dancing on tables here, of the late Mel Carnahan whooping it up, of secret Sheryl Crow acoustic shows at big-dollar Democratic fundraisers. Of Philip Glass, Ellsworth Kelly, Cedric the Entertainer and the Kronos Quartet. The Donnybrook cartel winds down here weekly. On the back patio Duggan, Hartmann, McClellan, Brennan and Weiss plot the week's talking points over whiskey and wine, then report to their respective news outlets and concoct the first version of history.

Tonight, while sitting at the bar, our friend Lucy has decided she wants to make history, but she's not sure how. We've assured her that we'll take care of it. Hopefully one hundred years from now, some researcher — eager to learn of the mundane events of war-era, early-millennial America — will consult this column in search of clues. Here's one: A woman named Lucy ate a red pepper stuffed with couscous, black olives, goat cheese, diced tomato, cucumber and red onion. She drank a glass of merlot.

In another stunning turn of historical events, Drink of the Week drank a Billy McKeone cocktail and ate a hickory-grilled top sirloin, cooked medium, with overnight tomato, fingerling potato and arugula.

Bartender Jeff Ward mixed an exquisite, well-balanced Billy McKeone — a perfect Maker's Mark Manhattan: Maker's Mark Kentucky bourbon, equal parts sweet and dry vermouth, a drop of Frangelico and a maraschino cherry. It hits the palate with a gentle bourbon tingle leavened by the Frangelico and the maraschino. Billy lingers for at least a minute, resonating like a bell through the mouth and windpipe.

This classic cocktail's namesake is a former Anheuser-Busch executive and legendary Soulard character who spent much time at McGurk's. "He would set the time pieces in the pub," wrote John McGuire in McKeone's 1996 Post obit, "all the while loudly proclaiming that he hated the Irish.... He was also fond of wearing a boxer's warm-up robe with ‘Billy the Kid' emblazoned on the back." Here's to history's characters, and the places that enable them. By hook or by crook, hit King Louie's to soak them in.