Recognized as a pioneer of the “Beat Generation” and for his spontaneous prose, Jack Kerouac paved the way for the hippie movement in the 1960’s by challenging the widely held beliefs of the time. He is the author of several famous books, the most famous of which are “On the Road” and “Dharma Bums.”
By the time Kerouac moved to St. Petersburg, Florida in 1968, he was a notorious drunk and only a shell of his former self. All the years of hard living and even harder drinking had taken a toll on him, causing him to remark once that “St. Petersburg is a good place to come die.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
While living here in St. Pete, Kerouac did a lot of his drinking at a dive bar called “The Flamingo.” It’s the place that Kerouac is said to have had his final drink before being rushed to the hospital the next day Oct. 20, 1969 for internal bleeding.
Two weeks prior, Kerouac had taken a horrible beating in a bar brawl at another St. Pete bar, long ago torn down, called the “Cactus Bar.” The fight, along with a terribly damaged liver, were just too much for the 47-year old iconoclast, he died the next day Oct. 21, 1969 at the hospital.
Finding myself in St. Pete riding my bicycle, I decided I would seek out Jack Kerouac’s famous watering hole “The Flamingo,” and go in and have a drink to Ole Jack’s memory.
The bar is a small unassuming place just outside downtown St. Pete on 9th Street. There are a few plastic tables and chairs out front and a large picture of Kerouac in one of the windows.
So I chained my bicycle to a pole outside and went in. Upon entering the front door, I noticed a wall covered with Kerouac newspaper clippings and pictures. After reading a few, I continued onward to the “U-shaped bar and grabbed a corner bar stool. There were a handful of locals intently watching a program on the blaring TV over the bar.
I ordered the “Jack Kerouac Special,” which is a shot of whiskey chased with a wash of beer (Jack’s usual) and settled in for a warm conversation with the bartender about the man I so admire. I asked her where Jack would sit when he came here and she told me – “Believe it or not, he used to sit right in that very stool you’re sitting in right now.”
Looking like a wide-eyed, star-struck teenage girl I’m sure, I replied, “No shit? Really?”
“Yeah, no shit” she answered. “Those are still the original bar stools, the owner never replaced them.”
How cool is that? I was sitting in the very stool that Kerouac used to sit in and get plastered. So it only seemed logical that I do what Jack would have done, and ordered another “Jack Kerouac Special.” …And then another.
I must admit, this place sure has character! I got a warm, nostalgic feeling while sitting among the nicotine stained wood and sun bleached newspaper clippings. If only these walls could talk I thought to myself.
A few miles from “The Flamingo” is Kerouac’s last home. He spent the last 11 months of his life here with his sick mother and his wife. It is said that the wooden desk he wrote all his books at still resides inside.
I will leave you on this fine day with the words of Jack Kerouac himself, “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing the lawn. Climb that gaddamn mountain!”
Please share any Jack Kerouac thoughts or memories you have in the comments below.
Photo Credits: JP Chartier