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Residents reminisce about changes to Columbia bars

Tuesday, September 9, 2008 | 6:18 p.m. CDT; updated 10:01 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 9, 2008

COLUMBIA — Bars in Columbia come and go, but alumni returning for the Missouri School of Journalism's Centennial Celebration might be wondering what happened to the storied hangouts of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Here are the stories of three such places, one of which has faded into memory and two that have simply relocated to bigger and — perhaps better — locations.

1970s — Gladstone Manufacturing Co.

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Neil Miller remembers exactly where he used to go to listen to local music in the '70s. What was a used furniture store on Old 63 when he first came to town became one of his favorite hangouts, Gladstone Manufacturing Co.

"It was made into basically a roadhouse — outside of town and illegal everything," Miller said.

The roadhouse hosted a slew of local bands, some of which are still playing around town. Miller said it has always been difficult to find places to listen to and play local music, but Gladstone's was the creative ground for musicians and music fans to pack in and hear tunes that were truly original.

"You, as a customer, didn't know what you were going to hear," Miller said. "You knew it wasn't going to be on the radio, and that it was hot, and that it made you want to dance."

Ron Lee opened Gladstone's in 1973 at 3111 S. Old 63 and ran it for about 15 years. Both Miller and Lee said it was a place where all levels of society met.

"There were a lot of hippies, and bikers, and businessmen, and professors and everybody," Lee said. "All people: doctors, and lawyers and people who met their wives and husbands. We had several weddings out there."

The "proverbial juke joint," as Miller described it, was calm on weeknights, but brought in 200 to 300 people on the weekends.

"It was sometimes a wonderful experience, and sometimes it was a mess," Miller said. "A lot of people who were there are dead now. Wretched excess does have its limits."

The roadhouse Lee heated with a wood-burning stove was popular through its last year under Lee's management in 1988, although business was more down than up when disco hit. Lee sold Gladstone's around the time his first son was born, when it seemed like it was time to focus on family.

"Ron got married, I got married, we all got married," Miller said. "And the next thing you know, you're a soccer coach and not a keyboard musician. Life does that to you."

Although Miller said Rocheport General Store reminds him of Gladstone's because it hosts local music, Lee said there's no place similar to — or as wild as — the old roadhouse.

"I can't really put my finger on exactly just what it was," Lee said. "It was the music, it was the times, it was the way people were. And I probably should have kept it open, and people were mad, but it seemed like the thing to do."

1980s — The Blue Note

"In the '80s, we were too cool for school," said Richard King, founder and manager of The Blue Note. "We thought we knew everything. We thought we were the smartest things on the planet. Commercial radio was unacceptable to us. I think that's how most people are at that age. We felt as though we had a mission as far as the music we liked."

King opened The Blue Note in 1980 with then-partner Phil Costello at 910 E. Business Loop 70, now the site of Club Vogue. Gladstone's, the Stein Club, Ford's Theater and the Titanic Club already had a corner on booking local and regional bands, but King and Costello wanted to bring in the best.

"We were very ambitious," King said. "We felt as though there was more going on in the music world than what was coming to Columbia. And of course, we knew everything then, and I do say that very facetiously. We were know-it-alls. We loved live music."

Residents mourn the loss of the original location, making a clear distinction between the "old" Blue Note, which was significantly smaller, and the "new," which replaced the old Varsity Theater at 17 N. Ninth St. and accommodates 850 people.

Kevin Walsh, an original Blue Note employee, remembers the atmosphere at the old venue and just how pivotal King's introduction of bands such as Sonic Youth was in the '80s. He's sure Brad Pitt and Sheryl Crow hung out at the popular concert venue.

"When the '80s hit and indie rock started to happen, everyone who was around used to go to The Blue Note," Walsh said.

King attributes his success to his original customers, especially the loyal ones who continue to come back. And although musical tastes change, he's kept pace — whether he likes every band that comes through or not.

"I don't think The Blue Note has ‘changed with the times,'" King said. "I think that the music scene, in my opinion, is always evolving, always changing. Right up to this very minute, things are changing all the time."

1990s — Shiloh Bar and Grill

Many might remember Shiloh Bar and Grill for its nondescript building and the concrete slab patio where customers congregated, but it has gone through a few changes in 2008 — namely, a move to Broadway.

"Obviously, it's moved locations," manager Tom Atkinson said. "That's a big change. That's huge."

Shiloh's original location at 227 S. Sixth St. has been reclaimed by the building's owner and turned into patio hot spot Bengals Bar and Grill. Atkinson retained the name of his bar and moved Shiloh to what used to be The Coliseum Bistro — and before that, the Katy Station, at 402 E. Broadway. And though Shiloh now has more room, and more people, it's still bringing businessmen and college students together like it was when Atkinson started managing in 1995.

Bob Pugh, who was mayor of Columbia in the mid-1970s, joked that he probably started going to Shiloh from the day it opened. Pugh said Shiloh, like Harpo's, has become a traditional stop for him and his friends on football game days.

"I've always made a stop before the game and after the game," Pugh said. "I can't imagine how many times I've done that."

Both Atkinson and Pugh said Shiloh has gained momentum. With good, cold beer and what Pugh referred to as "exemplary service," MU alumni keep coming back and frequent patrons have brought their friends.

The bar's move to Broadway has increased business, Atkinson said. The new venue is more accessible for the lunch crowd and can hold more people.

"It's a larger space," Atkinson said. "I think our food sales have gone up a bunch, just because we have a bigger place with a little better atmosphere. We've increased our menu to offer more. We've brought in our focus, especially like happy hour."

And beyond

As time slips by, memories of food, friends, music and ice cold beer seem to be the ones that stick. Changes in Columbia are to be expected, even if some miss the roadhouse and original locations of The Blue Note and Shiloh.

Ten or 20 years down the line, what really defined those years might not be apparent.

"It was just a feeling, I guess," Lee said of what made Gladstone's memorable. "I'm not sure exactly what it was."


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