The sad news arrived, like so much news today, via social media.
Guy Pierre Bour was dead. To most readers the name will mean nothing, for Guy was no celebrity, professional athlete or politician. It was as a proprietor that we knew him. For decades, he owned a small dive on Grand Boulevard in St. Louis. The bar was a refuge for the socially dispossessed — the former farm town freaks, artists, gays, and pseudo-intellectuals that did not quite fit in anywhere else. We had been patrons off and on since the early nineties, but only recently had we become regulars.
Perhaps no one knew Guy like his longtime bartender Matt. A week after his departure from this vale we were drinking to Guy’s memory at one of the picnic tables on the front patio. I had always assumed Guy was an artist of some sort.
“Not in the usual sense,” said Matt, knowingly.
Matt eagerly recalled the day fifteen years earlier that he first approached Guy for a job. His only interview question was: “You’re not a goddamn thief, are you?”
“Not in the usual sense,” replied Matt.
Matt then explained how the bar got its uncharacteristically imitative name — CBGB — not to be confused with the legendary Manhattan music club. “It was an acronym of [his then wife] Cynthia’s name and Guy’s name. It took the New York lawyers years to hear about the place, before they sent a cease and desist letter. The memo specifically ordered Guy to empty his warehouse of all brand name merchandise. Warehouse! We didn’t even have a phone! Anyway, by then the original club had closed.”
Guy’s philosophy of life as well as business was “less is more,” but that less had better be damned interesting. Though located in the heart of the city, his pub possessed no phone, no food, no wine, no craft beers, no website, no Facebook page, no jukebox, and no credit card machine. And there sure as hell wasn’t a television set. You were going to talk at Guy’s place. And you’d better have something interesting to say.
I suppose everyone has his or her idea of the perfect tavern. For some it is a sports bar and grill with two dozen giant-screen TVs, and buckets of Budweiser served by well-endowed blondes, and Whitesnake blasting from the jukebox.
Myself, I am more interested in George Orwell’s criteria, which happily he enumerated in his essay “The Moon Under Water”:
• The “architecture and fittings” must be “uncompromisingly Victorian.”
• Games, such as darts, are only played in the public part of the bar.
• The pub is quiet enough to talk, with the house possessing neither a radio nor a piano.
• The barmaids know the customers by name and take an interest in everyone.
• It sells tobacco and cigarettes, aspirins and stamps, and lets you use the phone.
• There is “a snack counter where you can get liver-sausage sandwiches, mussels (a specialty of the house), cheese, pickles and … large biscuits with caraway seeds.…”
• “[A] creamy sort of [draught] stout … and it goes better in a pewter pot.”
• “You go through a narrow passage leading out of the saloon, and find yourself in a fairly large garden.…”
For the most part, George and I see eye to eye. Except on the problem of music. Rock and roll was an essential element of Guy’s bar, and the music was always excellent, at moderate volume, and selected by Matt the bartender, whose tastes were eerily similar to mine.
Furnishing-wise, Guy’s bar was unremarkable. Graffiti chic, you might say. A dusty pinball machine, a neglected shuffleboard game and a beat up dartboard occupied the back room. My wife got a kick out of the ladies room with its two commodes facing each other, a low table between them. I suppose so you could play a hand of gin rummy while doing your business.
I had always supposed Guy was well into his seventies; in fact he was only 53 when he died. Most of those years were spent sitting stoically on the front patio, enjoying the scene, the talk, a Pall Mall and a Stag. A few nights before the end, Guy treated the wife and me to a round of Schlitz beers as we sat out front people-watching. It was a fine summer night. I wish now we would have stayed and chatted longer.
Some malcontents are forever seeking out new experiences and adventures, constantly on the prowl for something better. I am not averse to trying new things, but so often I find them wanting. My lifelong search for the perfect hangout stopped when I found Guy’s place.
Spoiler alert: at the end of Orwell’s essay we learn that there is in fact no pub called The Moon Under Water. But Guy’s bar does exist, though its future is currently in the hands of a probate judge. I hope to God the bar remains open. I am far too old to go in search of another.