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.