Nightclubbing: Get Hip to Stag Nite at El Lenador, Cherokee Street's Best-Kept Secret

The Stag Nite crowd at El Leñador on Cherokee Street. - Diana Benanti
Diana Benanti
The Stag Nite crowd at El Leñador on Cherokee Street.

Stag Nite just might be one of South St. Louis's best kept secrets -- if you can call an event that's been going on for the past, oh, eight or nine years a secret.

Tonight, five bones grants you entrance to the place that may very well be Cherokee's best kept secret, El Leñador. (More on that in a minute.). Those hard-earned ones lining your pocketbook will buy you $1 Stags until midnight, or at least until Stag Nite organizer and resident rabble-rouser Johnny Vegas cuts you off. Which is not bloody likely, judging by Vegas's unfailing good humor while cracking open all those cans of delicious Stag beer.

Not only is there plenty of beer and good company, but tonight and "*almost* every Wednesday" you can catch live, local music from St. Louis's finest bluesmen and women, indie rockers, country folkers, punks, metal get the picture. Tonight's musical treats are Magic City and Theodore, and the Monads, Rum Drum Trio and Mississippi Gabe Carter play on August 25.

Stag Nite has made the rounds over the years, from the recently re-shuttered the Wedge and its humble beginnings at Magee's in Dogtown Central West End, to its solid two-year run at Off Broadway. Johnny Vegas said he's hosted a couple hundred bands since the inaugural Stag Nite, and the night has attracted more than one touring artist. Vegas keeps it interesting by putting on events like Ukulele Fight Club and once a year, he recruits as many bands as possible to recreate The Band's 1976 concert The Last Waltz. The crowd is diverse, from Cherokee Street residents to instantly recognizable local musicians. Fred Friction was at the bar on a recent Wednesday, ordering Stags from Vegas in Spanish and thanking him in German. "Dos cerveza por favor!...Danke schön!"

"You ask any musician in town, who's Johnny Vegas, and they'll tell you," said Ruben Alejandre, owner of El Leñador. The imposing white building on the corner of Cherokee and Michigan is bereft of windows or decoration, save for a large white sign, but inside is pure kitsch and character.

Alejandre has owned the banquet hall-turned-restaurant-and-bar for five years, but prior to that, it was a German restaurant called Eisieles' Black Forest Restaurant. The Black Forest interior remains, and it's a serious throwback to a bygone era: dim, smoky and as if preserved in amber. The culture clash is immediately evident: Stained glass windows feature decidedly Germanic imps clutching beer steins, yet the name of the place is Spanish for "The Woodcutter."

Walking into the bar, you may immediately start looking for one of two infamous TV characters, Special Agent Dale Cooper or Doctor Who -- did you time travel, or just walk into David Lynch's wet dream? The answer is, sort of both. The interior is an amber-preserved homage to the German Brewhaus of decades past: A hand-painted mural of the Black Forest and low-hanging chandeliers decorate the restaurant side, while kitschy petrified wood adorns the dim bar. One patron at El Lenador said it's the kind of place that "makes you want to slide your wedding ring off, like you're here for a secret rendezvous."

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