Jack Kerouac Was Here

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By JP Chartier

Recognized as a pioneer of the “Beat Generation” and for his spontaneous prose, Jack Kerouac paved the way for the hippie movement in the 60’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. Petersburg, 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. Petersburg 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. Petersburg 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 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 little place sure has character! I got a warm, nostalgic feeling while sitting amongst the nicotine stained wood and sun bleached newspaper clippings. If only these walls could talk I thought to myself…

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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.

Jack Kerouac's second St. Pete home

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 your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain!”

Please share any Jack Kerouac thoughts or memories you have in the comments section below…

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18 thoughts on “Jack Kerouac Was Here

  1. I went on a similar pilgrimage to Lowell, Masachusetts where Kerouac grew up. It really helped me understand his need for spontaneity & freedom after seeing his gritty, one foot after the other hometown. There was no Kerouac museum or anything—I got the feeling they had no idea how to recognize his genius or literary contribution.

  2. It sure must have put you in an unusual state of mind to sit on the same stool, and drink the same drink. The story of his death is tragic. I can’t remember hearing that before. I listed to a radio production about him and I remember them saying the he wrote On the Road in 3 weeks, which also took a terrible toll on his health!

    Great post! You always come up with something really interesting and well done! How do you do it so fast 🙂

    • Thank you Robin! When Jack wrote OTR, he taped hundreds of pcs of paper together, and wrote the book as one continuous paragraph with no punctuation what so ever! He didnt want to stop the flow of prose by having to stop and re-load paper onto the typewriter.

    • Yeah, Jack had his demons for sure, no doubting that, but I believe that’s what set the stage for his wonderful prose and stories. The Flamingo is the perfect place for “demon” killing I suppose?

  3. Really enjoyed this post. I’ve been to Kerouac Park in Lowell and was even lucky enough to be let up, by a local resident, onto the rooftop in Mexico City where he wrote Doctor Sax, Tristessa, etc, but sadly passed Florida by without even knowing this place existed. Such a sad story. And the “Jack Kerouac Special”…crazy! Thanks so much for sharing.

    Shame to hear you’re not writing Exploratoria anymore, but will catch you over at Gutter Pup I’m sure.

    • Thanks my friend! Wow, consider yourself privileged man, I would have brought along a pen & paper to write while up there – catch those killer vibes.

      Had to move on from Exploratoria, too much for one dude.

  4. I’d just turned 19 when he died. I always recall the naiveté of his first trip to a Mexican bar and him actually writing that the beer they served in the canteena were called “cerveza”. I wonder what happened to that guy. Do you suppose he was still in there somewhere?

  5. Kerouac was on to something with his whiskey and beer chaser. MY stomach is no longer able to handle whiskey neat, but it doesn;t mind it with a beer at all. Nice sense of place. Thanks for the journey.

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