Tuesday, February 7, 2017

At Pat Connolly Tavern, Joe Jovanovich Is Thrilled to Be Back in the Family Business

Posted By on Tue, Feb 7, 2017 at 6:04 AM

click to enlarge Joe Jovanovich carries on his family's legacy at the Pat Connolly Tavern. - KELLY GLUECK
  • KELLY GLUECK
  • Joe Jovanovich carries on his family's legacy at the Pat Connolly Tavern.

Everything in Joe Jovanovich's life pointed to him one day taking over the Pat Connolly Tavern (6400 Oakland Avenue; 314-647-7287). His maternal grandfather founded the iconic Dogtown establishment 75 years ago, his mom and dad eventually took over the business, and he grew up in the place — which is precisely why, when he came of age, he wanted nothing to do with it.

"The whole experience of being raised there, your whole life revolves around the place," Jovanovich explains. "It just seemed so parochial to me. I was born in Dogtown, raised in the bar, went to St. James. I just wanted something different."

Though it didn't make him want to get into the business himself, Jovanovich loved growing up at the popular tavern. As a kid, he was its mascot, and spent his days getting razzed by the regulars about how tall he'd gotten or how grown-up he was starting to look. "In elementary school, it was like having this mini-celebrity status," Jovanovich laughs. "The school basketball team would have its post-game meals at the bar, and everyone knew my dad and was always coming in to see him. At the time, the Arena was right down the street, and my dad had a great relationship with some of the Blues players. I'd get to go to games, and my dad would take me into the locker room. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world."

Jovanovich's world came crashing down at the age of eleven when his dad passed away suddenly from an aneurism. The community rallied to support him and his mom, but things still weren't the same. Then, not even a year later, the Blues moved from the Arena to their new downtown digs. The business struggled, and though his mom was able to hang on for six years, she decided to sell it to a longtime employee so that she could begin a new chapter in her life.

Jovanovich began a new chapter too. The year his mom sold the bar, he entered college where he pursued studies in social work and nonprofit management. "I wanted to do something different and fulfilling, so nonprofit work fit that," Jovanovich explains. "I went for it and never looked back."

Thought it would occasionally come up in conversation with his mom, Jovanovich never considered buying back the bar. "No way," he says. "I was adamant that wasn't going to happen." However, as he and his mother witnessed the property, then called Pat's, struggle and decline, he felt a responsibility to step in. One day, during a conversation with is mom, he just threw the idea out there. "I think I wanted to do something that I knew would confuse everyone," Jovanovich laughs.

Last year, Jovanovich and his mom bought back the bar and restored its original name, the Pat Connolly Tavern. They gave the place a facelift, the menu some updates and recaptured the spirit of the place as it was when his grandfather first opened its doors — and while Jovanovich he had to give up his job in nonprofit management to do it, he still scratches that itch by hosting fundraisers and nonprofit meetings in the upstairs event space. On Tuesdays, he even gives a discount to anyone involved in public service.

"There's this misconception about Dogtown that it's not the most progressive or inclusive place," Jovanovich explains. "I don't think that's accurate, but we don't want to be perceived as that sort of old-school bar where people feel unwelcome. That's not us. We want to be an approachable and inclusive place."

Jovanovich took a break from the bar to share his thoughts on the St. Louis restaurant scene, his dream of never-ending oysters and the talent he'd most love to have.

What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I’m a social worker.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Reading the news.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Ear-splitting falsetto.

What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
We’re all still here.

What is something missing in the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you’d like to see?
Bottomless Manhattans.

Who is your St. Louis food crush?
I am a disciple of Steven Fitzpatrick Smith.

Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
Definitely not me.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Angostura bitters.

If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
Nonprofit management.

Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen.
Anything pre-breaded.

What is your after-work hangout?
Home with the family, usually.

What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
French 75, always cognac.

What would be your last meal on earth?
Unlimited oysters. ​

We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at cheryl.baehr@riverfronttimes.com.

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