Flamingo Sports Bar: Searching for the Ghost of Jack Kerouac

 


Excerpted from The Beat Generation FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Angelheaded Hipsters by Rich Weidman


During the last few years of his life, Jack Kerouac resided in St. Petersburg, Florida, with his third wife, Stella, and mother Gabrielle in an modest brick house in a quiet neighborhood. Kerouac spent a lot of time hanging out at the Flamingo Bar, a local dive at 1230 Ninth Street North where he shot pool and drank heavily from his corner barstool. According to legend, Kerouac even took his last drink at the Flamingo the night before his death on October 21, 1969.  




Today, the Flamingo Sports Bar is little changed from Kerouac's day but the establishment has made several efforts to celebrate Kerouac's legacy such as adding a massive framed poster of Kerouac in the window and featuring a lively "Jack Kerouac Night" with folk music and beat poetry twice a year near the dates of the writer's birth (March 12) and death (October 21). In addition, Kerouac-related photos and magazines cover the walls of the bar. The Flamingo even features a "Jack Kerouac Special"—a shot of whisky and a beer wash for $2.25. In addition, visitors can purchase a T-shirt with Kerouac's image on the front and the famous "mad to live" line from On the Road on the back. Indeed the Flamingo has become somewhat of a Mecca for Kerouac fans over the years.




Flamingo owner Dale Nichols, a Vietnam veteran, purchased the bar in 1969. Nichols enjoys giving tours of the bar and will even show visitors Kerouac's favorite barstool in the southwest corner of the center bar that has an easy view of all exits. As soon as Nichols opened the bar at 8 AM, Kerouac would come in and read the newspaper. He would also sneak a bottle of liquor into the bar "and he would take swigs of his liquor in between sips of beer when he thought I wasn't looking," according to Nichols.




Two local musicians, Pat Barmore and Pete Gallagher (AKA "Sunset Beach Pete"), were instrumental in the creation of the biannual Jack Kerouac Night at the Flamingo. The event features the talents of local musicians such as the legendary Ronny Elliott, who penned a moving tribute to Kerouac titled "Jack's St. Pete Blues,” which features the lyrics, “I drink cause I can’t write and I can’t write because I’m drinking.” Money raised at Jack Kerouac Night helps support Friends of Jack Kerouac House (www.kerouachouse.com), which has three stated goals: Preserve the integrity of the Jack Kerouac house at 5169 Tenth Avenue North as a historic resource connected to twentieth-century literature; educate the public and facilitate study of Jack Kerouac and his style of writing; and link St. Pete and Kerouac on the world’s literary stage permanently.      




Most of the other bars Kerouac once frequented in the St. Petersburg/Tampa area such as the Wild Boar near the University of South Florida are long gone, but the Flamingo still endures and remains a living legacy of Kerouac’s last years in St. Petersburg. The Flamingo Sports Bar is located at 1230 Ninth Street North. For more information about the Flamingo, visit www.flamingosportsbar.com.

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