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The Pat Connolly Tavern Marks 75 years in Dogtown

Teresa Connolly persuaded her son, Joe Jovanovich, to buy into the family tavern business, restore the original name and bill of fare, and nurture The Pat Connolly Tavern back to health. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)

March 08, 2017
If on the 17th of March you find yourself in search of a genial place to ingest a modest dram of the uisce beatha or, as we Americans say, a slug of booze you could do a lot worse than to bounce your brogues over to The Pat Connolly Tavern in Dogtown.

There'll be beer and food aplenty and Irish music outside and inside. And the Ancient Order of Hibernians' annual St. Patrick's Day Parade starts right outside Pat Connolly's door along Oakland Avenue by the Tamm Avenue bridge.

Joe Jovanovich inside The Pat Connolly Tavern. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)

Connolly's has occupied the same unassuming two-story brick structure at the corner of Oakland and Tamm since it was founded in 1942. That's not long enough to have been there when Dogtown earned its name, but it is certainly long enough to have seen many of the breed canis intoxicus, or boozehound, walk in and stagger out its front door.

Patrick Connolly of County Galway, Ireland, began his barkeep career in 1942 when he opened The Pat Connolly Tavern. (click for larger version)

At various points of St. Louis history, a boozehound might saunter up to the bar, plop an elbow on its fine hardwood surface, and raise a glass in honor of Franklin Roosevelt or Douglas MacArthur; Stan Musial or Enos Slaughter; Red Berenson or Red Schoendienst; Whitey Herzog or Ozzie Smith; Kurt Warner or Isaac Bruce; Yadier Molina or Adam Wainwright.

You get the idea: Pat's has been there a while and its clientele loves sports, a well-drawn glass of beer and good, straightforward food.

Connolly himself was a tough Irishman (Dunmore, County Galway) coming to a tough city at a tough time, 1927. The ugly-faced Irish dockhand who insults the fictional August Busch in the silly Budweiser super bowl commercial might have said something like that to Pat Connolly on his arrival in St. Louis, but he wouldn't have said it twice ... unless he had a spare set of teeth to talk through.

It took Connolly only 15 years to acquire the capital (and probably the credit) to open his own business, that of course being the tavern that 75 years later still bears his name. He operated other bars including Blackthorn in South St. Louis, and also dabbled heavily (and successfully) in Dogtown real estate.

The tavern building has remained in the hands of the Connolly family for 75 years, though others have operated the saloon inside. (click for larger version)

The tavern building has remained in the hands of the Connolly family now those of Pat's daughter, Teresa throughout its history, but others have operated the saloon inside. In 1959, Pat sold the business to his friend and longtime bartender Tom McDermott. In the 1980s, Teresa bought the business back and ran it with her husband Paul Jovanovich until his untimely death in 1993, after which she continued as sole proprietress until 1999.

Joe Finn, another Connolly family friend and tavern employee, bought the place and ran it for 15 years before selling it back to Teresa.

Patrons of a bygone era at The Pat Connolly Tavern. (click for larger version)

Keeping the building in the family was the key to resurrecting the name "Pat Connolly Tavern." The family tradition was a lever for Teresa in persuading her son, Joe Jovanovich, to buy into the business, restore the original name and bill of fare, and nurture it back to health.

It wasn't obvious from the beginning that the rebirth would be successful. Joe, whose educational and professional background was in social work and running non-profit businesses, did not seem a natural fit, even to himself. But his motives were of the best and so were his genes, coming from Pat Connolly himself by way of Teresa. Joe had the head of a business manager and the heart of a social worker, which turned out to be a perfect mix for a saloon keeper.

"It just seemed like one of those opportunities you get to kind of take a jump one of those things you might not have the opportunity to do again," Joe Jovanovich said. "I don't know how long I'll man the helm, so to speak I definitely don't define myself as a bar owner by trade. My whole mission was to see the place kept going. It's been around for 75 years, and I don't know why it can't be for a good while longer."

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