Q: I seem to remember a story about the old crooner/comedian Eddie Cantor, who, on a visit to Belleville, described Main Street as a “long, endless bar rail” because of the numerous taverns. Some friends, over a couple of cold ones, of course, wondered how many bars, taverns or inns have closed within city limits since, say, 1960.
Tom Whittey, Belleville
A: Wasn’t your question part of a discarded verse from Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”?
Well, if it wasn’t, it should have been. When I was growing up, I remember being often told that besides having the nation’s longest Main Street (although it really doesn’t), Belleville allegedly had the most taverns per capita, what with the Stag Brewery and all.
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So I likely would have to work until the day I retire going through 60 years of city directories block by block to find every last pub that has shut its doors or changed hands over the years. Because people didn’t wet their whistles in bars just along Main Street but in neighborhood establishments that dotted countless side streets as well.
To illustrate this nearly impossible task, let me rattle off a dozen that I remember from my old neighborhood and as I walked home from Central Junior High School in the ’60s. I particularly remember Tony’s Tavern at 1618 W. Main, because my family used to go there for its great hamburgers. (It’s now a parking lot.) The Top Hat Tavern at 1321 W. Main always impressed me because of its name and logo of hat and cane on the window. (It’s now a parking lot.) There was also the Chuck Inn at 1704 W. Main St., which was razed as South 17th Street was widened.
You can still see the painted wall sign on Edler’s Tavern at 1018 W. Main, although the bar is long closed. Closer to downtown as I strolled home were the Carnival Room at 18 Public Square, Club 114 (at 114 W. Main), Sir Arthur’s at 124, Grace’s at 304 and Jack Peters at 722.
As I said, though, not all the pubs were on the main drag. I remember my dad heading off to Johnnie Stoeber’s at 333 Centerville Avenue for an hour or so on Sunday afternoons for a brew or two with friends as they played pool. (It’s been deserted for years). And, on Friday nights, my family occasionally would indulge in the fish at Gantner’s, first at 118 S. 2nd and then 619 South Belt West.
Of course, we could go from the sublime to the ridiculous by noting all the name changes as well. For example what is now the League Lounge at 1501 W. Main St. I fondly remember as Patsy Meyer’s. It was where Dad often would treat me to an orange “sodie” along with peanuts from a dispenser in which you inserted a penny and turned a crank to make the salty treats slide down a chute into your hand.
And while we’re at it, why not add defunct liquor stores to the quest? Somewhere I think I still have the Huber beer glasses that my dad was given as a promotion when the Econo Liquor Store opened at 1406 W. Main (most recently a church).
I can only imagine the dozens of other establishments that came and went through the years (Lyle Fischer’s at 1203 E. Main and the 1260 Tavern at 1260 Lebanon Ave. come quickly to mind) so I’d suggest you and your buddies sneak a case into the library and spend a rainy week or two paging through those directories.