Monday, March 12, 2018

Off The Road: Kerouac remembered at a St. Pete bar

The Flamingo Sports Bar, St. Petersburg, FL.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a Beatnik. I think I had seen some Nick at Night rerun of Dobie Gillis or something, and somehow my child brain interpreted that being a Beatnik was just a job a person could have, like a firefighter or bank teller, only it seemed like a much better job than any of those- and writing weird poems and making art that no one understands seemed as good of a way as any to serve my community. Later, as a teenager, I devoured the writings of the Beat Generation. Kerouac, in particular, set my adolescent imagination on fire, and his novels were the first books I loved to read that didn’t have a wizard or a robot on the cover (I specifically remember being 12 or 13 and polishing off Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, then immediately picking up The Dharma Bums).


I was in the thick of my Beat literature obsession when one of my high school English teachers told me about once meeting Kerouac in a bar called the Flamingo in St. Petersburg. The story goes that toward the end of his life, Kerouac was living with his mother in St. Pete. He had become a severe alcoholic, deeply uncomfortable with his fame and especially bitter about what had become of the counterculture movements he was credited with starting. Furthermore, the death of his hero, Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty in On The Road) had left him deeply depressed, and according to some, he was actively trying to kill himself with alcohol (I don’t buy this, myself, mainly because he was writing a new book when he died.) Most days, he would wake up, go down to the Flamingo Bar, sit on his stool (close to a back door so he could quickly disappear if he needed to) and drink whiskey shots with beer chasers until he couldn’t hold himself up anymore. He died In St. Petersburg on October 20, 1969, from a hemorrhage caused by cirrhosis. 

 The Kerouac Special


The Flamingo Bar, from what I’m told, hasn’t changed much since Jack’s time, other than the addition of a Mural of Kerouac on an outside wall, and some memorabilia inside. It’s a smoky little pool hall, one of the last of the dying breed of genuine dive bars, populated with a mix of old hippies, bikers, Vietnam vets, and few curious young hipsters. The Flamingo dedicates two nights a year to the memory of Jack Kerouac, his birthday, March 12, and his death day, October 20 (or the closest Saturday nights). Kerouac night features poets, Jazz musicians, and folk singers- and supports the preservation of Jack’s St. Pete home. Here are my photos from the recent Kerouac Night at the Flamingo. Click HERE for more information on the effort to help preserve Jack Kerouac's St. Petersburg home













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