Think much? Drink more.

October 18, 2010

The website of The Atlantic magazine recently published an interesting chart having to do with the correlative relationship between the levels at which people’s brains function and how much they drink. The gist is surprising: on average, the smarter you are, the more you drink.

Drink_graphThe chart is based on years of research into British schoolchildren: “very bright” students participating in the study grew up to drink substantially more than their “very dull” classmates. The study controlled for “both income and education, as well as childhood social class and parents’ education.”

The logic behind the surprising results might be what English philosopher Michael Oakeshott called “the ordeal of consciousness”: the smarter the adult, the greater his need to occasionally disengage: high-functioning brains might sometimes need to unplug in the way that racehorses need to be walked off a track and back to the stables… they can’t run everywhere, all the time.

Watering Holes: O’Connell’s Pub

May 7, 2010

4652 Shaw Avenue, St. Louis, MO

(314) 773-6600

As local pubs steeped in antiquity go, O’Connell’s is spot-on: located in mid-town Saint Louis, the business traces its ancestry to that city’s Gaslight Square neighborhood, which once played host and haven to local notables Ernie Trova (sculptor of Falling Man) and symphony conductor Leonard Slatkin. The walls are stained, the floors are dirty, the pictures are dusty, and a pair of giant buffalo heads are held precariously up on small nails, which are stuck in walls quickly shedding plaster.  

Gaslight Square took its name from the Gaslight Bar, which belonged to Dick Mutrux and which, a century ago, anchored a street filled with jazz clubs, dance halls, gambling rooms, taverns, playhouses, and most every variety of thief, pickpocket, strong-armer, gambler, drunk, cardsharp and reveler. Some gaslights were there also. By 1972, Gaslight Square’s star was sinking in equal proportion to the national fashion sense, and O’Connell’s proprietor Jack Parker sought greener pastures in midtown.

The bar at O'Connell's.

When Parker moved, he took his furniture and furnishings with him, down to the beveled-glass windows and two brass chandeliers which had been cast in England for the 1904 World’s Fair, during which event they hung in Belgium’s exhibition hall. The only piece not saved was an enormous fieldstone fireplace, which had heated the original rooms through an intricate rat-maze of iron pipes and vents. The pipes were kept in good repair by the bartenders, each of whom ended his O’Connell’s service as something of a journeyman welder and mechanic.

Parker’s new bar took up space formerly occupied by an Anheuser-Busch company tavern, which had closed up in 1905, but to which August Busch III returned in June of 1997 to film a Budweiser commercial. The O’Connell’s commercial did well enough that the brewery filmed a second one there in August.   

Above the tavern, Jack Parker still operates an antiques store, Jack Parker’s Fine Arts & Antiques; since turning over the daily operation of O’Connell’s to his nephew Fred, Mr. Parker now involves himself primarily with the store, which specializes in works by American Painters and furniture from the Arts & Crafts movement.

Beer League

April 29, 2010

In 1881 baseball’s National League was six years old and, being still too young to know better, put in place strict mandates controlling its players’ on- and off-field antics. Its president, William Hulbert, was a Victorian of the dustiest and most boring caliber.

Hulbert knew the nation looked to his league as exemplar of the game and its reputation was certainly not going to be tarnished on his watch. Ball players’ dress and language were moderated, drinking was outlawed during the season, and National League ballparks were forbidden to sell alcohol of any type.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings (precursors to the Red Sox) were promptly expelled from the League after Hulbert got wind of beer sales at their games; St. Louis, Louisville, and Hartford clubs were next. A half-dozen others were similarly booted, or quit the League in protest on behalf of beer.

The handful of rogue clubs banded together under the American Association banner, setting themselves sternly in opposition to Hulbert’s Puritan frumpery. The Association became quickly known for its eagerness to sell beer at, and its athletes’ eagerness to drink beer during, baseball games. Fans re-christened it The Beer & Whiskey League and games began to sell out.

Chief among the upstart league’s proponents was outfielder Curt Welch, of the St. Louis Browns. Welch kept his own beer in the Browns dugout during games and ran back there to drink it as often as he could: between innings, between outs in the middle of innings, when pitchers were being changed, and whenever he wasn’t busy with anything else. Welch frequently took bottles with him out to the field, carrying one each in the two back pockets of his uniform.

Pat “Diesel” Deasley, also a Brown, was another formidable boozer; so were pitcher Elmer Smith and Louisville’s Toad Ramsey, who was once fined $50.00 for “cavorting with scarlet women.” George “Rube” Waddell, who tallied 349 career strikeouts and made money in the off-season wrestling alligators, spent all of his first signing bonus on beer in one weekend. Often low on cash after games, Waddell would steal that day’s game ball and trade it for drinks that evening. Connie Mack, who managed Waddell’s team, tried once to curtail the pitcher’s drinking by dropping a worm in his whiskey, pointing out how it wriggled in pain and died.

“Do you know what that means?” Mack asked Waddell.

“Sure,” said the pitcher. “It means I won’t get worms.”

The American Association lasted only nine years; it disbanded in 1891 and its players either retired, were re-absorbed by the National League, or hung up their spikes and pursued beer elsewhere.