Friday, December 2, 2016

Burt or Maybe Bert...

I went on a long run today and as I was rounding the corner where Amsterdam Tavern is, the wind hit me just right and I remembered a character from our past.

Sal and I went exploring when we first moved to the city. This would've been like late 2008. We ate at Three Monkeys and then tried this bar that had just opened down the street.

So we see this dirty looking guy in this dimly lit bar that had a couple soccer scarves hanging on the walls. There's one guy at the bar drinking a beer and following it with whiskey, but soon he leaves.We thought we had found a dive bar we couldn't have imagined being open more than a few months.

Sal and I order. Amsterdam only had about 6-8 taps when they first opened, one of which was Guinness. At the time, it was a bold move to have a nitro stout on your tap. Most places were still heavily focused on Wheat beers and macro beers.

So I order a Guinness because you can't get it anywhere else. The bartender gets excited and starts talking about how there's nothing better than a properly poured Guinness on a cold afternoon. Sure enough, he pours the beer in the glass at a 45 degree angle until it's 3/4ths full, sets it back down, and let's it rest.

While the beers were resting, he handed Sal and I about $3 a piece in quarters and told us to go put some music on the jukebox.

We pick a couple of our favorites. Probably things like The Toadies, Wilco, Against Me!, David Bowie. I can tell the bartender is listening intently to each song, judging our musical taste.

And then he hears the opening riffs to Generation X's "Kiss Me Deadly."


He pulls out a couple of tumblers, pours very gracious pours of Powers Whiskey, slides them to us, and says, "Hi, my name is Bert, I punched Billy Idol in his stupid f*cking face in 1986 in a club in New York. He'd split Generation X up by then and had become a sell out piece of shit, and I was a punk... and I was drunk and probably on drugs. So I laid him out and then ran out of the club as fast as I could."

This is one of the first new people... actually... probably was the first new person we met after moving back from St. Louis. He was this like late 30's, sort of 1980's dirty white t-shirt wearing punk rock guy, who was one of the partial owners of the Amsterdam tavern. His name was Bert.

Bert handed us a business card with his cell number on there and regaled us with tales of his insane nomadic life spanning from California to Miami, involving some of the most famous concerts ever, and being held up at gun point.

Now Bert had some insane stories. If he had wrote them down and you just read them, you wouldn't believe the stories, but there was something about the sincerity with which he told them that you sort of believed it.

Bert was one of those guys you wouldn't trust watching your house while you were out of town, but if he were like, "Hey man, follow me down this dark alleyway, I have something to show you." You would go. You were drawn to him and the possibility of adventure.

We spend the next two or so years going to Amsterdam, eventually meeting about 4 of the 6 owners and becoming pretty good friends with them.

One random  late summer day, we went in and Bert said, "Hey Dan, would you want to come over and listen to some records this weekend? I'm off Saturday. Might be the last time we can hang out."

It was an unexpected qualifier on the end of the sentence. As far as we knew the bar was doing really well and Bert was really happy.

I said, "Sure man, that might be a good time, what's going on?"

"I don't really want to talk about it here, but I got into something and I'm moving to Argentina in 10 days."

We were invited to Bert's going away party at the Amsterdam. They set up a turntable in the corner of the bar, hooked it up to the PA system, and locked the door for anyone that wasn't on Bert's list. Bert brought in about 600 of his favorite 45's and asked everyone to bring their favorites.

It was a Tuesday night, Sal and I couldn't stay out too late since we had to work the next day, but for those two hours it was like we were in some sort of weird movie montage where a song played over people clanking glasses together in cheers, hugging Bert, just celebrating this weird guy that was in all of our lives.

I heard from Bert once when he moved to Argentina. He sent me and email saying he made it and that the weather was super nice, and he was going to the beach every day.

I don't know why today he popped in my head. I literally hadn't thought about Bert in six years, but something about the temperature, the time of day, the way the sun hit the Amsterdam sign just reminded me of Bert.

It's weird how someone can be in your life for such a short amount of time, but you have these incredible memories that sometimes you question if they actually came from a book you read.

If you look at Amsterdam now, it's grown five times the size it originally was, has about 400 new scarfs from soccer teams around the world, and if you look closely, there's one picture behind the bar of all the original owners. One of those guys is Bert and that picture is the only evidence of his life in St. Louis.