By James Hawkins
October 23, 2016: I realized many years ago that I thrived off the many bizarre characters that I crossed paths with in my daily life. None was more outstanding or intriguing than Jimmy Briscoe. I had no idea at the time what a great influence he had over me, or the ideas he seemed to implant in my subconscious so easily - which he was damn good at.
His number one rule to accomplish something you want done was to quietly put that idea in someone else's mind just stay in the background and enjoy the hell out of the outcome. I can't count the times I witnessed him accomplish this feat, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes it seemed outright dangerous, but always funny.
I remember when my partner and I first opened The Red Bull bar in East St. Louis, Briscoe and his friend Mother Earl Hand became permanent fixtures. Briscoe would tell me if we were to become a success we needed to attract as many characters - and the more unusual the better.
On those Sundays when I was not working, he would invite me to go with him to The Club J Lounge, which was also a notorious whore house full of various characters. Then there were the many trips he invited me on to New Orleans, always showing me different ways to make The Red Bull even more successful. What was so unusual was that everything he showed me actually worked beyond my expectations.
In a few short years, I knew it was time to open a gay bar in St. Louis. In 1971, I opened The French Market bar and restaurant in Soulard. We designed the place to look like a street in the French Quarter in New Orleans. Every day by 5 pm, Briscoe would be sitting at the bar. He would constantly remind me not to change anything and to leave the place just as it is. The place started attracting the attention of Mayor Cervantes, who was wanting to attract redevelopers and new residents to the Soulard neighborhood. We even hosted one of Mrs. Cervantes’ birthday parties at The French Market.
My friend Larry bought a home just a few blocks up from The French Market, and I was now living Soulard too. To my surprise, one evening Briscoe came in the bar and informed me that he and his friend Ted had bought a house on Ninth Street, right around the corner from where I was living.
He was sure the area was turning around and that property values would rise tremendously and that maybe in a few years he might open a bar too. I guess I was somewhat skeptical back then, I had no idea that Soulard would rebound the way it did.
By 1976 I was tired and moved to Florida. Thirty years later I was looking around on the Internet I found Clementine’s bar photos. I knew at a moment’s notice that Briscoe had to be involved. Then, I found videos of Soulard’s Mardi Gras, and again I knew Briscoe had to play a part. Thank you Jimmy Briscoe - you probably helped created the greatest event St. Louis will ever experience. Briscoe died October 7, 2003 at the age of 72.
Photo coutesy Scott Lokitz.