Warren Lytle died on Wednesday, June 19, from complications of diabetes. Lytle, better known as Red Bone, was the proprietor of Red Bones Den, a popular north St. Louis tavern whose logo featured the silhouette of a naked floozy reclining in a martini glass, her booty buttressed by a stem in the shape of a big stiff bone.
Born in 1948, Lytle had moved to St. Louis from West Memphis in the early 1960s and opened Red Bones Den in 1974. Last year he and the bar were the subject of a Riverfront Times feature, "Farewell to Red Bones Den." Out of respect for his privacy, no mention was made of his health problems in the article, but at the time Lytle was interviewed for the story, he was sick, and dying. Despite his declining strength, Red Bone reopened the Den at the end of last summer after a two-month hiatus.
Riverfront Times learned of his passing from his friend and fellow tavern keeper Steven Fitzpatrick Smith, owner of the Royale in south St. Louis.
On June 21, after the Royale's Friday-night dinner rush, Smith and four passengers piled into his well-maintained 1973 Buick Riviera and headed north on Vandeventer with the windows down and the Sonomatic AM radio playing a time-warped soundtrack of soul.
Red Bone's Den was closed. Lytle's white Excalibur limousine gleamed in the glare of the spots illuminating the parking lot in back, but those were the only lights on in the place. In those forlorn environs, the vehicle looked less like an extravagant 65th-birthday present and more like a hearse.
The Riviera motored east on Kossuth past Fairgrounds Park and across North Grand Boulevard, headed for Marcia's Limited Bar and Grill. Having been frisked and carded by a security guard at the door, Smith and crew made their way inside, where Snoop Dogg's romantic ballad, "I Wanna Fuck You," crooned overhead and the Bruins-Blackhawks Stanley Cup finals aired on a wide-screen. A sign behind the counter read, "Please Pay When Served." Reiterated underneath, in smaller type: "Please."
Smith, a natural host in any setting, ordered a paper bucket of iced-down Budweiser longnecks, then approached the DJ booth with five $1 bills and a song request: "My Cherie Amour" by Stevie Wonder. Scooter, the man in charge, had heard that Red Bone was gone but had no information beyond that fact. Manager Chris Jones and owner James Gurin, however, were able to provide the exact date of Lytle's passing and had heard there was to be a party in his honor at Starz Sports Bar, located further to the north in Jennings.
At the entrance to Starz, the pat-down was more unsmiling and professional, but the crowd waiting to enter was larger, and louder. Inside, the folding chairs at long white banquet tables were filling up with men smoking Newports and women tapping freshly manicured, rhinestone-studded nails. Smith and the two other men along for the Riviera ride were transfixed by a patron in a colorful knit skirt — or, more precisely, the improbably prominent butt therein. When a woman in the party suggested that the ass was padding and the heavily made-up person at the upper end looked more she-male than female, the search for a familiar face from Red Bones Den continued.
To no avail. Smith shelled out five more singles, requesting that Starz DJ Doughboy (who also spins at the Pink Slip in Brooklyn, Illinois) play David Banner's anthem, "Like a Pimp." Although Doughboy had visited the Den for a beer or two, he had no knowledge of any memorial taking place on the sports bar's premises that night.
The Royale contingent finished their beers, settled back into the Riviera's plush seats, then burned through two and a half gallons of gas on the fifteen-mile drive back to South Kingshighway.
The next day a text from Diane, Lytle's long-time lady, said the farewell party for Red Bone transpired last year, when his Den closed. His death ended his life as a public figure, she added, and the family preferred to mourn privately, at a simple post-cremation service at Reliable Funeral Home on Washington Boulevard.
"I know the Bone is smiling again somewhere," she said, "beyond everything he ever suffered."
Editor's note: RFT freelance contributor Suzy Rust's profile of Red Bones Den proprietor Warren "Red Bone" Lytle is a 2013 finalist for a National Association of Black Journalists Salute to Excellence award. The story is accessible online here.