PHOTO COURTESY OF VALERIE CARROLL
From left: Jr Gosnell, Dan Carroll, Valerie Carroll, Gracie Jackson, Sam Jackson
It's been a busy couple of months for Valerie Carroll. In January, she got married. And in February, she learned that the south city bar the Hideaway
(5900 Arsenal, 314-645-8822), where she'd taken a job as a bartender just a few months before, was up for sale.
She knew immediately what that meant. "I called my husband and I said, 'Babe, we're not buying a house. We're buying a bar.'"
On June 3, that dream became a reality, as Carroll and her partners, comprised of her husband Dan and married couple Gracie and Sam Jackson, closed on their purchase of the beloved south city dive.
For Carroll, 30, it was less about a lifelong dream of owning a bar in general and more about falling in love with the Hideaway in particular. "I absolutely always thought I'd buy a bar someday," she says. "I thought it would be when I was older, more of a retirement sort of thing. But there was no way I was going to let this go."
As Carroll had quickly learned during her months behind the bar, the Hideaway isn't like other south city bars. Sure, it has some things in common: the cheap drinks, the low-key vibe and the generally ratty interior, with walls made dingy by decades of smoke.
But the Hideaway had a vibe all its own. From the crocheted bar coasters to the strangely hypnotic portraits of a large-breasted waif on the walls, the place was utterly unique. And it also had Mark Dew, a blind piano player who's spent more than a decade at the bar singing his way through a vaguely country-tinged version of the Great American songbook. (Yes to Sinatra and Willie Nelson, no to Billy Joel.)
And Carroll and her new partners intend to keep all of that. Well, not the smoke-crusted interior — the decrepit carpet is going, and the drop ceiling browned by endless cigarettes has already been replaced. But Dew is on board for the new owners, as is Thursday night pianist Oliver Johnson, who performs on Thursday, Carroll says. The cheap drinks? They're not going anywhere either.
"We're keeping it south city," she says.
Unlike many groups of first-time bar owners, this team knows what it's getting into. Carroll and Sam Jackson, who met years ago while bartending at the Chase Park Plaza, plan to share bartending and management duties with another friend, JR Gosnell. Between the three of them, Carroll says, they have a collective 45 years of experience behind various bars around town — including the Luna Lounge, Gamlin Whiskey House, Claudia's and Nelly Glenn's — even though none of them is older than 37. "We realized it was time to stop doing it for other people and time to start doing it for ourselves," she says.
For now, everything is on hold; all their paperwork is turned in at City Hall, but they're waiting for a hearing date, so the Hideaway had to close its doors once the sale was complete. Carroll's heard some things may be taking longer than usual in light of the unceremonious departure of the city's excise commissioner
— but she's hopeful they'll be open by the end of June at the latest.
"We're ready," she says. "We've got our liquor order on standby." The minute the city gives a green light, they intend to open again.
The next time you drive by the Hideaway, you may not see that familiar patchy lightboard proclaiming "Bartenders Wanted." The new team has that covered, unlike the old owner, who famously generated enough turnover to need new help every other week. But if the lights are on, you might want to stop on by: The Hideaway will once again soon be open for business — new ceiling, better flooring and all.
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PHOTO COURTESY OF VALERIE CARROLL
The new owners and their sole employee, JR Gosnell (facing left) celebrate their purchase.