On a visit to his childhood home in University City, screenwriter Bob Gale had an epiphany. He stumbled upon his dad's senior yearbook (he was class president) and realized that if they had gone to high school together, they probably wouldn't have hung out. It gave him the idea for a story about a seventeen-year-old kid who travels in a time machine to 1955 and befriends his mom and dad when they were in high school. Though Marty McFly was awfully busy inducing his future parents to hook up and trying to get back to the future, he did take time to rock out on "Johnny B. Goode" at their prom.
In real-world 1955, Chuck Berry effectively started rock & roll when he recorded his first single, "Maybellene" and saw it hit No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart. But that wasn't the only contribution to art and culture St. Louisans made that year -- the original Broadway production of reluctant native son Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opened in 1955 and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. And in 1955 Anheuser-Busch introduced its first new product since the repeal of Prohibition -- Busch beer.
We recently had an epiphany of our own, inspired by a can of Busch.
(It may not be the first time this has ever happened, but it was certainly the first time it happened to us.) Here it is: sometimes a beer is not about the beer. We were visiting G&W Sausage, a tiny south-city butcher shop, for the first time. It was one of those impossibly hot midsummer days that are only now starting to fade from memory. As we traipsed across the parking lot, the noon sun bore down on us, and it seemed like if we stopped moving the soles of our shoes would melt into rubber puddles on the asphalt.
Inside it was cool, and when our eyes adjusted to the dim light a carnivore's oasis came into focus: glass cases piled high with knockwurst and Polish sausages and brats next to thick-cut steaks; garlands of jerky looped around pieces of twine hanging from the ceiling. We were still taking it in when one of the white-aproned men behind the counter asked if we wanted a beer. We thought he was joking. Still, in our heat daze we replied that yes, we would like a beer.
Then came the glorious crack and hiss of an aluminum can being popped.
That beer couldn't have been better, and it had everything to do with the fact that we were drinking it in a butcher shop that was opened 1965 by German immigrants, run today by their sons, using recipes handed down from their grandfather. The guy who casually slid it across the counter called all the male patrons "boss" and the ladies "ma'am."
Having a couple of cans of Busch while you play a game or two at Epiphany Lanes is enjoyable in exactly the same way: less for the beer-drinking itself than for the experience of time travel. In 1950 the parishioners at Epiphany of Our Lord church built a new gym and had the good sense to include an eight-lane bowling alley with a bar.
The past half-century doesn't seem to have had much impact on the place, save for automatic scoring and the option of black light-enhanced "cosmic bowling." Even though the newfangled foul-line sensors ensure that, no matter how many beers the other players have had you will not be able to convince them that your foot did not cross the line, and even though you may, as a result, score a pitiful 87, it remains a pretty great way to spend the afternoon.
In 1953 Sportsman's Park was renamed Busch Stadium, although it didn't bring the Cardinals any luck. They were seven years into an eighteen-year streak without a pennant. In 1955 the World Series was broadcast in color for the first time, though they didn't have to worry about Cardinal red. The riverfront wouldn't have its Arch for another ten years. Still, back then, long before In-Bev was the new sheriff in town, choosing A-B products was as much about hometown pride as personal taste. Whether they were rolling strikes or gutter balls at Epiphany Lanes, you can bet they were drinking Busch.
G&W Bavarian Style Sausage 4828 Parker Avenue 314-352-5066
Epiphany Bowling Lanes 3164 Ivanhoe Avenue 314-781-8684