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The Royale seeks to mix politics with its booze

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 16, 2009 - The scene could have been anywhere. St. Louis city Democratic Party chairman Brian Wahby, who supports the re-election of Mayor Francis Slay, was in an earnest discussion with a couple city teachers who were critical of Slay's actions regarding the public schools.

Elsewhere in the room were a smattering of city candidates on the March 3 ballot, a few political consultants and a moderator with a laptop who was providing technical information to would-be voters, such as what city ward they lived in.

A city ward map was posted on one wall.

What made Monday night's gathering a bit unusual was the setting: it was a city bar, The Royale Food & Spirits, where owner Steven Smith was hosting -- and will do so again next Monday -- "an open discussion about all of the city election races."

Smith had arranged for the low-key event to be hosted by Steve Patterson of the urbanreviewstl.com blog, who came with the laptop.

Some of the folks in the bar at 3132 South Kingshighway seemed to be oblivious to the political angle (including the regular Monday night table of knitters), and there was the distraction of silenced TVs airing what's arguably the best movie comedy of all time, "Some Like It Hot." (At one point, Wahby and a few other pols got off topic and began lamenting how actor Tony Curtis hadn't aged well.)

Still, bar owner Smith said the crowd was double its usual size -- and he credited his Facebook promotion of Monday's attempt to promote the city elections. "Half the people are here for this,'' he said.

Smith contended that there hadn't been enough coverage of the basic facts surrounding the various city contests at stake during the March 3 primary. He'd gotten the most information, he said, from forums or political gatherings in school gyms or neighborhood meetings.

A bar seemed just as appropriate, Smith said. "My whole point is to facilitate discussion.''

His second attempt will be next Monday at 8:30 p.m.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.