By Steven Brawley
October 30, 2016: St. Louis' Herbies' was legendary. No account of St. Louis' LGBT history is completed without the wild stories of the bar, its staff, and patrons. Herbies' was the epicenter of St. Louis' CWE and its early 1970s Halloween celebrations.
During 2016, a group of former Herbies' staff and patrons began a Facebook group to recall remembrances of the storied bar. The following history was posted to the group along with several memories from Herbies' staff. Thanks to the entire group for sharing their recollections.
Herbies’ History: Edited by Richard Schulte
Having successfully opened Balaban's in 1972. Herbie Balaban Carp (he later dropped the Carp on the death of his stepfather I.L.Carp) felt he had more to achieve. What he had set out to do was restoring the Central West End, a once tony area with shops, tea rooms, luxury housing, and tons of fading charm.
With Saks, Montaldo's, Peck and Peck, and other stores leaving Maryland Plaza, the popular Woman's Exchange, a charming lunch and retail business at the corner of Maryland and Euclid, also made the exodus and this opened up a huge opportunity to the ambitious developer.The impressive Art Deco building would make a top rate restaurant with great style and panache as only Herbie could do.
Along with his bar manager from Balaban's, Herb Glazier, they would open Herbies’. Employing former St. Louisan Jimmy Miller, a designer and artist, Patsy Degener, and a full gamut of additional St. Louis talent - including Sam Langley who designed and painted the iconic Art Deco penguin windows, their project grew into probably the most unique eatery in the country.
The publicity was instantaneous.The menu items included New Orleans style BBQ shrimp, Steak Diane, and Bananas Foster. The wait staff wore pleated grey striped trousers, pale green shirts, and burgundy sweater vests. The hostess was the stunning African American model Carmen Davis and Ernst Trova style planters were placed along brushed chrome railings and brimmed with fresh flowers.
No expenses were spared. The reception locally was mixed with people expecting a new Balaban’s. Herb Glazier installed top of the line bar equipment including a drink "gun" that gave a one ounce shot of liquor, the proper amount, but locals were used to a good full hand poured shots, and the place got a reputation as an expensive bar with weak drinks.
The food while interesting, but wasn’t as drop dead over the top wonderful as Adalaide Balaban and Lady Charles had down the street at Balaban’s, and the crowds thinned.
Glazier, a well intentioned man was no Herbie, and as a host had no panache. He would never buy anyone a drink, and all this fantasia seemed hopelessly wasted. Things went from bad to worse when it was found that a Herbies' waiter had hepatitis and died. The place was dying on the vine. Glazier got antsy and wanted to be bought out within the first year and a half of business.
Herbie’s wife Adalaide, who didn't want the place at all initially, was thrown in as Herbie was needed full-time at the ever booming, ever expanding Balaban’s. New dining rooms could not be opened fast enough. Adalaide was close friends with employee John Sullivan, a young gay man, delighted with the world of grown ups and his very open sexuality. He had traveled to San Francisco and New York and was thrilled with the disco bars and the in your face openness of Castro Street and Greenwich Village.
Several adventurous St. Louis businessmen hoping to capture that type of excitement opened a bar (the Bijou) at the very East end of Maryland Avenue at Boyle in a loft warehouse space with a disco booth featuring a big personality DJ named Byron Boone, a young beautiful black drag queen who had worked worked at Helen Schrader's in East St Louis.
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.
By James Hawkins
October 15, 2016: As Sophia Petrillo would say, “Picture This” 1970 East St. Louis, two young fellas open a gay bar two years earlier. The place grew from nothing into a successful business. It had all the amenities a gay bar needed at that time - a top of the line drag show and go go boys dancing on the bar (sometimes naked). A small dance floor was actually the biggest draw.
They were always looking for new avenues of entertainment to keep their small business on top. There was a young man who came to work at this establishment, he tended bar, worked security, did ad layouts, and whatever was needed to keep this bar called The Red Bull a success. This was Charles Robert Welsh Jr. One weekend they hired a Spinner which was very popular in Black nightclubs at that time.
Their equipment consisted of two turn tables a couple of speakers and a mike. The Spinner would some how mixed the music being played while adding different beats which only added to the enthusiasm to the people dancing. Charles became infatuated with this new concept of entertainment.
The Spinner instructed Charles how this system worked. History was now in the making. Charles became the in house Spinner always adding new innovations and equipment to this new form of entertainment which in turn started the business to grow beyond it's wildest expectations. They opened three places in St. Louis, and had to open a second Red Bull to accommodate the growing crowd of new customers.
There seem to be no end to this growing business finally the decision was made to open a massive complex that was Faces Nightclub. So much of the credit and hard work goes to my friend Charles or as you may know him, Chuck Charleston. Thank you.
Chuck died on April 21, 1988 and is remembered in our community for his involvement—both public and private—in many causes and charities. He worked with many among us, lending his support and resources to numerous local events, and often doing so quietly behind the scenes, receiving little credit. He won two Billboard Magazine "Best Regional DJ" awards.
In June 1988, Pride St. Louis created the Chuck Charleston Award to acknowledge individuals who, in the example of its namesake, demonstrate significant involvement and service promoting LGBT pride in our community. The Chuck Charleston Award is now presented to a former or current member of Pride St. Louis, Inc. who demonstrates these qualities.
A Look at a Black Lesbian Community in 1960s St. Louis: Ethel Sawyer’s Pioneering Sociological Research
October 9, 2016: In 1965, Washington University graduate student Ethel Sawyer completed work on an essay titled “A Study of a Public Lesbian Community.”
Based on fieldwork that she conducted in St. Louis, Sawyer’s essay is the earliest known sociological study of a Black lesbian community anywhere in the United States.
Sawyer was born in Mississippi and graduated from Tougaloo College, where she became involved in civil rights activism. In 1961, she and other members of the "Tougaloo Nine" were jailed after holding a "read-in” at a segregated public library in Jackson, Mississippi. Sawyer came to St. Louis to pursue graduate study in the cutting-edge sociology department at Washington University.
Although heterosexually identified herself, Sawyer chose to focus on homosexuality. At this time this was still a taboo topic for social science research.
After meeting her initial contact outside of the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects, Sawyer befriended a group of African-American lesbians who lived in North St. Louis. Sawyer spent time with them at a bar they frequented and she interviewed them about their lives, identities, and relationships.
Sawyer’s serious and sympathetic study broke new ground in sociology, and today it serves as an invaluable window on the Black lesbian experience in 1960s St. Louis.
Image source: elsiechenier.com