Last September, Al Coco, the owner of the beloved south St. Louis bar the Hideaway, called up one of his regulars, Don Jones.
"I'm going in for a minor surgery," Coco told him. "Can you look after the bar?"
Jones thought it would be about three days. Then Coco had a heart attack on the operating table, and the bad news just kept coming after that. There was word of a stroke, and later, some sort of fall. "By Saturday, they had pulled the plug," Jones says.
Coco was 71, and he hadn't been exactly healthy. Among other things, he'd previously had a liver transplant ("a lot of us thought he was on borrowed time any way," is how Jones puts it). His death has thrown into jeopardy the future of the bar he'd owned for 20 years.
In fact, for nearly six months, it's been Jones who has helped to keep the place going, serving as a sort of temporary manager. But that era is now coming to an end, and the Hideaway is for sale — the building, the name, the bottles of booze.
Jones, for one, isn't panicking.
There's been some very real interest, he says, and the two buyers who are seriously looking at the place seem to get it. "They recognize what it is," he says. "They don't want to make any significant changes."
The Hideaway, after all, isn't just another bar. It's a relic, a little piece of another time that continues to attract new (and young) fans without even trying. The drinks aren't especially strong, but that's not the main attraction here; it's the dimly lit saloon feeling, the crocheted coasters sitting on the bar, the old couple slow dancing in the corner. The "art" on the walls, if you could call it that, is a series of kitschy paintings of a doe-eyed beauty with her shirt slipping off — sort of a sexy version of a Kean.
And, more than anything, the Hideaway is the Hideaway because of Mark Dew, a blind piano player who croons standards popularized by Johnny Cash and Bobby Darin while working an elaborate electric keyboard. There's simply not another bar like it in the city.
As it turns out, Coco died with a significant amount of assets — not just the bar, but also four rental properties he owned debt-free. He left everything to his sister, who at 73 was herself newly a widow, Jones says.
"She was kind enough to keep it open for the young ladies that were working here," he says. But that was never meant to be a forever situation. Jones has business ventures of his own that require his attention in Florida; Coco's sister had no designs on being a bar owner for long. Hence that "for sale" sign out front.
Jones is confident that new ownership won't necessarily mean the end of an era. "There's a group of people who are so devoted to the place," he says. "And then there are hundreds of people who aren't regulars, but when they come, they still want it to be exactly the same. It's a time capsule."
The bar did recently go non-smoking thanks to the city's ban, which officially went into place January 1. It survived that. And Jones is sure it can survive this, too.
If anything, he says, the question is less whether the new owners will want to keep Mark Dew, and more whether Dew will want to work for them.
"Mark will not work for anybody he does not like or doesn't have respect for," Jones says. "I've talked to the potential owners. They know that they need to make sure they keep Mark."
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