Behind where I was sitting, I heard the sound of a harmonica emanating from a small doorway that led to a narrow, stone stairway…
– Ethan Brandt (Once a Speakeasy, Always a Speakeasy)
Just over ten years ago, we received a request from a certain Kevin Brennan in St. Louis, Missouri. We had been making signs for less than two years at the time, and Kevin was just getting into the ‘speakeasy’ business. He wanted a rustic faux-timber sign for a cozy little tavern he was opening. It would be called, simply, ‘Brennan’s‘.
This was our first faux woodgrain sign, and we went out of our way to give it the antique look, using wire brushes, ball-peen hammers, chain and other techniques, to give the sign a beautiful patina finish. At the time, I smiled as I carved the phrase ‘Established 2003’ into the panel. How ironic, I thought, to create such an authentic piece of sign art, only to have a current established date reveal how new the sign really was.
Now, ten years later, the sign still looks as old as ever (in the best sense), and I’ve caught up with Kevin once again to see how the establishment has fared:
Kevin: We opened in 2003 as a retail wine, liquor and cigar store in the historic Central West End of St. Louis. Shortly after opening, we added an underground bar with a speakeasy feel. To access the bar area, you would go around the checkout counter and down the stairs into a lower level. Two years later, we opened a lounge and restaurant – The Maryland House – on the 2nd floor. Since then, we’ve added a cigar lounge and this will be greatly expanded in spring. We’ve been in business for just over ten years now.
When we first opened our doors, a close friend offered us this piece of advice; ‘Do what you want to do with the place and sell what you want to sell. You can’t be everything to everyone so just do what you like to do.’ That’s exactly what we did, selling cigars, entertainment, booze, wine, craft beer, and small plates to snack on.
Although every bar has it’s share of disputes, at Brennan’s these are done in style, complete with referees and time limits. According to their website:’No one has pioneered intelligent debating on insignificant subject matter like Brennan’s.’ This heated and sometimes absurd debate series is known as ‘Arguments and Grievances’
Kevin: Arguments and Grievances was started back in 2005 at Brennan’s. This is an intense debate series on insignificant subject matter. Once a month we host four live debates on topical yet sometimes irrelevant issues which have most likely never been broached. Head to head debates consist of two contestants throwing verbal fisticuffs for three alternating one minute rounds. Anything goes except for talking while your competitor is talking. An objective referee oversees the bout. For example; Italian v Amish Furniture, Slow Food v Fast Food, Anheuser Busch v Schlafly Brewery (a Local St. Louis beer), Flip Flops v Moccasins, and many other topics.
Debating leagues have now formed in other major US cities. These leagues were all started by individuals who started brawling at Brennan’s in St. Louis. Those cities include Brooklyn, Denver, Austin, and Chicago. We’ve debated everything you have argued about and some things you haven’t even considered.
One thing that was not up for discussion was Kevin’s decision to purchase a hand-crafted sign for Brennan’s.
We selected a hand-crafted sign because it’s one of the most important features to an establishment and – unlike most things – it’s posted right out front so there’s a good chance it’s a first impression. Today, more than ever, creating a unique place and offering distinct products is more important than ever. Everything here is constantly changing with the exception of our sign and some of the artwork. We build things around these pieces and the ongoing story of completing that work tells the story of this place, and ultimately, who we are. When we had the sign built, people laughed at the established date that we put on the sign because it was current. They aren’t laughing anymore.
Besides our Danthonia sign, we have never advertised, but we still find a way to win some awards (even if they have to make up the category)
Here’s a list of some of the awards Brennan’s has received.
And one more thing … Thanks for the sign. It hasn’t changed a bit.
You’re very welcome!