Hi-Pointe Cafe Music Venue in St. Louis Closes

The Hi-Pointe CafÃ?© sits just behind a huge Amoco gas station sign off of Clayton Road in St. Louis. It was the best little dive in the city. Don’t take my word for it, the weekly Riverfront Times newspaper voted it number one, and they know about such things. The bar sits on a little dark corner right around from the Hi-Pointe Theatre, which is one of the few single-screen movie palaces left in the area.

The theatre mostly plays first run art movies that most of the big multiplexes won’t play, but occasionally they get a first run flick. At last glance they were showing “The Illusionist.” After twenty years the Hi-Pointe CafÃ?© closed on September 3rd. There’s no word yet about the theatre.

A few months ago I helped book a friend of mine, Russian folk singer Ellina Graypel, at the Hi-Pointe. The great thing about this little venue was that they featured a lot of different types of music and bands. Alternative bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Southern Culture on the Skids played there as well as Johnnie Johnson, Dash Rip Rock, and Brian Henneman. The Hi-Pointe Mondays underground hip-hop showcase featured talents like rappers David Banner, Juelz Santana, and the Clipse.

It’s where Lamar “Finsta” Williams got his start. The events drew the attention of CNN, HBO, and Showtime. It was also a great place for bands that were just starting out. On a couple of nights during the week, all the band had to do was purchase enough tickets to help fill the small room upstairs and they had a gig.

I met with the Hi-Point’s manager Lisa Andris about a week before Ellina was to play there. She was about thirty minutes late, but that was cool, I sat at the bar and soaked up a little of the atmosphere, as well as a beer or two. The bar was pretty crowded with a mixture of young folks and people in their thirties and forties. You could tell that many of them were regulars. The bar business was pretty much what kept the place afloat as long as it was in business. I ventured upstairs to the room where the bands held forth. The stairs were dark and narrow and had a few loose obstacles on the way.

The room was small, with just a few tables and a couple of stuffed chairs and sofas that definitely looked like they had seen their better days. Sometimes the bands brought their own chairs. The dark walls and the restrooms had lots of graffiti and stickers from bands that had played there in the past. There was a small secondary bar with a few stools along one side of the room. A door at the back next to the stage was where the bands brought up their equipment. The stairs were narrow and steep, and I imagined that it would be fun getting the equipment into the room.

I went back downstairs and the two young guys that checked ID’s at the door and took the cover charge pointed out Lisa, who had just arrived and was standing next to the bar, talking to some patrons. She looked like someone who had spent a considerable amount of time behind a bar, late forties, well-endowed, and blonde. There was a weariness about her and she looked tired. I approached her and told her who I was. “Ah, yesâÂ?¦Ellina the “Gypsy”. I remember her.” She said. She told me that one of the acts had cancelled on the night that we were to play. “We have a rock band called “Muthra’s Mother” playing.” She said. “A Russian folk singer opening for an underground rock band; this ought to be interesting.” I thought to myself.

Lisa has gotten her real estate license and is getting out of the bar business. She laments that the economics of the stand-alone music venues aren’t good. No one’s saying what lies ahead for the Hi-Pointe building and the theatre next door. One thing’s for certain though, for a place that earned the title of “the best little dive in St. Louis”, the Hi-Pointe certainly has soul. It will be sorely missed.

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