Pour an artist a cocktail to “stir the creative juices,” then hand over a Sharpie and a napkin. What doodle will result? We find out in this just-for-fun Friday series.
The Cocktail: The Sazerac, rye whiskey, simple syrup, bitters, absinthe and a lemon twist, at The Fountain on Locust
The Artist: Kevin Belford, author and illustrator of Devil at the Confluence: The Pre-War Blues Music of St. Louis Missouri. The visual sumptuousness of this book pulls the reader in as strongly as the fascinating personalities portrayed here do. “I designed the pages to be a sort of picture book for adults,” Belford says. “I’m not a trained writer, but I have been telling stories with images for over 30 years now.”
Belford’s initial goal for the project was simply to paint the portraits of St. Louis blues legends. But as he attempted to track these legends down, he found that there was scant, if any, information about them available. “It took me 15 years to research my book because I had to dig up all the primary source material myself. Scholars think of the blues as the rural Mississippi Delta, period. If, for instance, a guitarist who was born in Delta cotton fields moved to St. Louis as a 5-year-old, then lived, worked and raised a family in this city for 80 more years, he will still be called a Mississippi blues man. But even Robert Johnson, the most famous rural Mississippi Delta blues man of them all, learned how to play guitar by listening to records cut here in St. Louis by urban musicians.”
Belford’s interest in history is not nostalgic. “A better appreciation of our heritage, our patina, could catalyze the revitalization of this city,” he says. “St. Louis has such an amazingly rich legacy in all of the arts: a past that other towns of a similar size can’t even begin to duplicate. If we’re not going to celebrate that past, we should at least be exploiting it for tourism purposes.”
The artist’s latest preservation pet is the Palladium building in Grand Center, a place known to generations of vintage clothing enthusiasts as Vet’s Village thrift store. It opened as a roller rink in 1914; revamped as the Club Plantation, top musical acts such as Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan played there in the 1940s. “It would be a crime and a crying shame to see such a treasure turn into yet another parking lot.”
What made you choose the Sazerac?
B: It has whiskey in it, and it’s historical. (More on the drink, plus a recipe, here.) I think it’s one of the first cocktails ever invented. I’m out to prove, by the way, that Planter’s Punch, which I would have ordered if it’d been on the menu, was invented at the old Planter’s Hotel downtown.
What sort of restaurants do you like in St. Louis?
B: The Royale. I also like the sweet potato fries at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soup. When I want a nice steak, I go to the Charcoal House, which, as a bonus, has a 1960s atmosphere.
What kind of food do you eat at home?
B: Until about 2 in the afternoon, my only fuel is coffee. On rare occasions, I’ll add a piece of beef jerky or a Reese’s peanut butter cup. I am really not all that interested in food, although I do have about three different recipes for chili: my grandpa’s, one I learned in college and one someone gave me a few years ago. I can’t remember what’s in any of them; I’d have to look that up. Guys are supposed to either know how to make chili or how to barbecue, right? I chose chili.
The Fountain on Locust, 3037 Locust, Midtown, 314.535.7800, fountainonlocust.com
Missed one of our Booze Doodles? You can check them all out here!