Bar of the Week: Cat's Meow Where: 2600 S. 11th Street www.catsmeowstl.com
"So what's in the Panty Remover?"
With that innocent question, a few gentlemen at the Cat's Meow perked up their ears. The bartender silently pulled out a bottle of the mystery liquor and poured a thimble-size shot.
"See if you can guess," he pushed the shot towards me. It had a sweet burn. "Hmm, let's see nail polish remover, lighter fluid and grape?" Nope. Pressed further for the ingredients of this sexy brew, a bald man sitting at the bar stated that it was an "Ancient Chinese Secret." He then went on to admit that the key to panty removal involved vodka, cranberry, Chambord, sour mix, and mumble, mumble, mumble.
The shot tickled the senses, the panties stayed firmly attached. In the Mardi Gras party atmosphere of the Cat's Meow, it's easy to imagine that many an undergarment has been removed under the spell of that magical shot. The bar's festive personality manifests itself in more ways than one -- like the best French Quarter watering hole without the unfortunate stench of that fair city. Here's how the place may appeal to your fine senses:
The Look: Grated windows below and stained-glass above; it's a common sight in St. Louis, and a depressing reminder of our city's current state of violence and economic hardship contrasted with our glorious past.
Contrary to the grim facade, the interior is an explosion of cheer. The bar is located in the southern part of the Soulard neighborhood, literally down the street from the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Naturally, Mardi Gras masks brighten up the walls, and beads and T-shirts are on sale. With the yeasty smell clinging to the air outside, it's no shock to find Budweiser chachkas everywhere. Cardinals games are televised on all but one of the five sets (one was boradcasting a Cubs game, probably to keep tabs on the enemy) and commemorative ballplayer street signs are displayed with pride.
You couldn't have a bar called the Cat's Meow without cats. As live cats (or a noticeable litter box) would probably violate some sort of health code, a row of whimsical cat statues lives on suds and cigarette smoke above the bar.
They all seem pretty content. In the women's restroom, a picture of two cats in military coats hot-boxing cigarettes near a toilet is the highlight of the feline decor.
Speaking of the restrooms, the women's room was surprisingly free of graffiti, owing to a chalkboard on the wall, which afforded the opportunity to erase any offending slurs such as "Got Pink? So-and-so does and you should ask to see her..." It was quickly cleared off by a prudent regular before the night was out. Apparently the men's room walls are a scribbly masterpiece, and the gem of the collection was "INBEV SUCKS." Many would agree.
The Feel: "Hey! Jackie!" the young blonde yells across the bar. "What? What, are we in my living room?" counters Jackie, at decibels previously unheard by the human ear.
It actually does feel like someone's living room. A living room during a Cards game party, where everyone knows everyone there, except you. They offer you some stools and invite you to share in their brash good humor. As aloof as one may feel at first, the party mood is infectious.
The tubby guy dancing his pants off to Michael Jackson as you enter automatically wins a spot in your heart. When you leave, the bartender genuinely thanks you and wishes you a good night. Open most days as early as 7 a.m., it's easy to see how locals could spend not only the whole day here, but their whole lives here, generation after generation; it's the community living room.
The Sound: In the span of an hour it is possible to hear the inebriated mixtape that features Amy Winehouse, Johnny Cash, Fergie, AC/DC and Bon Jovi.
Just like St. Louis weather, if you don't like the music here, wait a few minutes and it will completely change. The loud, profanity-peppered conversations are like a music in themselves. Like the guy cursing over his game of Silver Strike Bowling 2009 or the dude trying to make some sort of botched lesbian joke involving "carpet cleaners." To their credit, nobody seemed to think he was very funny. Most of the yelling back and forth is good-humored teasing, so if you want a place to quietly meditate over a pint, this is probably not your best bet. If you need some Panty Remover, however, you're in luck!
The Taste: The Cat's Meow is a godsend for the financially strapped.
Most domestic beers are $2.25 and a bucket of those beauties will only set you back $14. Not just a Budweiser bar -- Corona can be had for under $3. Along with the $1 secret Jell-O shots, the Meow also offers frosty shots of various liquors, including Dr. McGillicuddy's, a minty schnapps that has the reputation of dissolving stomach lining. You have to pay as you go at the bar, so make sure to bring lots of cash. If you need something to coat the gut first, you can order a twelve-inch TJ's pizza for $7.75.
There's not much more in the way of food, but the ability to buy a six-pack of beer to take home with you more than makes up for the lack of eats. If St. Louis had a taste, it would taste like a frosty bottle of Bud from Cat's Meow -- simple but comforting.
The Tip: Go ahead and get the bucket of beers, an icy pail of eight costs less than buying them individually and the bartender will replenish melted ice. Besides, if you can't drink them all, you can give a few away and make some new pals.