Sunday, February 20, 2011


I was talking to my friend William Stage a few months ago about a web site I want to start about the characters of the Soulard neighborhood. I’ve been lucky to know a lot of genuinely fascinating characters from several neighborhoods in St. Louis, but Soulard seems like a good place to start. I figure I could tell my stories and everyone else could jump in with theirs.

Unfortunately, I haven’t really had the time to devote to every project I have in my head. It has something to do with sheer exhaustion, my blogs, music, spending every waking moment working to pay child support and rent and all the other distractions we all suffer.

I was growing up in Soulard right when it was time for me to move away from home. It was the early seventies and I wouldn’t meet the great characters of the neighborhood until the early eighties.

Everyone remembers the first Mardi Gras parade from the late seventies having started from one of the bars. I remember one way before that consisting of the volunteer fire department, our alderman, a high school marching band and an antique car. Instead of beads they threw candy. The crowd was made up entirely of kids.

A lot of great St. Louisans came out of the neighborhood and I’m determined to complete the project some day. If you can think of anyone who should be included, please mention them in my comments section.

I’m thinking: Ollie Matheus, Zeno (the first Poet Laureate of Soulard), Uncle Bill (our current Poet Laureate), Nondus, Johnny Rio (the Sheriff of Soulard), Sharon Cody Smith, Chuck Auger, Nancy Theodoro, Tom Hall, David Classe (our great and prolific Painter), Mark O’Shaughnessy (owner of Heatbreak Hotel/BBs Jazz, Blues and Soups – where my band played in the 70s-80s) the women of The Soulard Ladies Auxiliary (they never understood why I laughed at the patch they wore “SLA”), and especially the Mayor of Soulard, Bob Burkhardt.

Burkhardt and Rio made their living picking. They should have had that TV show. I can’t remember who, but one of them came across a pedal steel guitar and gave it to Stephen Martin and me for our studio. Bob gave me some kind of military ammo case that I still use for gear.

Burkhardt is probably the single most important music club owner in St. Louis. A few of the bars he created just off the top of my head were: Rusty Springs, Mississippi Nights, Muddy Waters, Downstreet, Burkhardts/Broadway Oyster Bar and Molly’s.

I started working at Burkhardts just as it was changing its name to the Broadway Oyster Bar. My friends Dennis and Donna Jean bought the bar from Bob and his sister Bonnie. Ollie would still own the building for several years. Somehow this turned them all into enemies.

I remember one night Bob showed up and was really drunk and nasty. Dennis told me to throw him out. Man, was that awkward. I really liked him. Burkhardt got quiet, looked at me and said, “Don’t worry man; I know it’s not you.”

A few years ago Bob was called up for jury duty. He was picked for a case involving a teenager and drugs. Bob told them he shouldn’t be on the jury because he believed drugs should be legal and he would be prejudiced. They picked him. I think this is the kind of luck Burhardt has had his whole life.

Dennis called me a few days ago to tell me Burkhardt’s sisters were throwing him a going away party. That will be today. When I brought up the fact that Bob and Dennis had been enemies for years, Dennis said, “Yeah, and it was all over money.” It would be great to see the two of them resolve their differences.

I don’t want to sound cryptic but Bob will be gone for a while.


Anonymous said...

It was interesting to read this. Bob is my uncle and I was the kid who grew up swinging a hammer helping him (or thinking I was helping him) as he built those bars. Bonnie is my mom and I lived above Burkhardt's and used to go to sleep at night lying on the floor of the balcony listening to the bands play.

I lived through the story of what happened during the time that Dennis and Donna took over. I remember watching Dennis cooking his stews in our kitchen (he made a Cheese soup that I still haven't found one better) and I remember stealing boiled eggs and sardines for Pearl the cat. I have a lot of fond memories of those times.

I'm not sure this is the place but I don't really agree with Dennis that it was all about money. I never knew my uncle to care much about money. He would give you the shirt off his back if you liked it. I can't really speak for Bob about what angered him but what Dennis and Donna did were bad enough that what they did almost got the lawyer they used disbarred and even after 30 years I personally won't ever forgive them.

Anonymous said...

What was Dennis' last name. We met him when we ran his restaurant out in New Haven, MO (Front Street Grill?) and for the life of me I can't recall his last name. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

April 8th, 2011

Subject: Bob Burkhardt & Ollie Matheus

I will like to set the record straight regarding some of “Doggie” David Udell’s false accusations regarding my Uncle Oliver Matheus and Bob Burkhardt.

First of all I spent much of my formative years hanging out at the Last Exit Bar with Bob’ Burkhardts’ daughters and some older kid named Jeffrey. Ollie drove a VW stick shift car at the time. Jeffery loved to put Ollie’s car in neutral and we would push it to various locations . It was like hide and seek but with a car. Bob and Pig were the two people that Ollie never had a bad word to say about. They were the salt of the earth. Bob Burkhardt was not about money, he was about good times! I will concur with the last comment from his nephew or niece that Bob would give you the shirt off his back. That is your first incorrect statement “Doggie”.

Ollie made some good investments. He owned the building that the Oyster Bar was in and Dennis and Donna wanted him to sell. Ollie knew it was a good investment that would allow him the freedom to travel the world taking photos.

Let’s get down to the facts. In the summer of 1990 Ollie went on a photo expedition to Sierra Madre Mountains, Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico. As always Ollie always slept in his tent he kept tucked away in the back of his BEBOP Honda. When he got to Mexico and was dealing with very secluded isolated Indian village but they spoke of a white girl that lived in the cave. Talk about luck, only Ollie could go to remote Mexico and find a hot blond German girl. Barbie Rose was a German college student who had come to study the Tarahumara Indians, they are famous for running long distances barefoot. Barbie had planned to stay for a few months, but had been living in that cave for over one year. Barbie had been learning Tarahumaran Spanish before she left Germany so she was able to speak to the Indians. I was 22 attending Webster University when Ollie brought Barbie back to America. She was older than me, she was not 15 years old.

Ollie was at least 60 years old, out of shape and had never totally healed since he broke his spine falling off a barge years ago. You go some nerve, implying he was yellow! Ollie had more balls then anyone I have seen and I come from a long line of Matheus “ we all got balls”. Lets see if your whiny little self will still have the nerve to jump out of a plane at 60 years old.

I am glad that you were a million miles away in your alternative suburban, married universe when Ollie died, your stench would have ruined the most beautiful memorial service I have ever attended!

Unfortunately am no longer a St. Louis resident or I would confront “Doggie” in person to keep the honor of my family name “Matheus”. He is really a tough guy knocking someone who is dead and worse using incorrect slanderous information. I ask any of you who read this, any of you who care about the Soulard code of honor, confront this “Doggie” David Udell. Tell him to change his post or take it down. Bob and Ollie should be remembered but not this way, falsely accused by some nobody named “Doggie”. Believe me he is living vicariously through dead men who are more exciting dead than he ever will be alive. I can guarantee that no one found this article by googling Doggie” David Udell.

Anonymous said...

April 8th, 2011

I ask any of you who read this, any of you who care about the Soulard code of honor, confront this “Doggie” David Udell. Tell him to change his post or take it down. Bob and Ollie should be remembered but not this way, falsely accused by some nobody named “Doggie”. Believe me he is living vicariously through dead men who are more exciting dead than he ever will be alive. I can guarantee that no one found this article by googling Doggie” David Udell. They Googled Ollie Matheus and Bob Burkhardt. I miss Ollie so much, say what you want he was magical. He was my guru, my shamen and he was my blood! Who was you’re hero Doggie?

Lee Buralli said...

Burkhardt's Oyster Bar was one of my St louis hangouts in the late 70's. I was in love with a bartender named Rose. Would like to find out what happened to her...