Bob Rocca and Abbie Grigaitis of Cabin Inn the City

The City Museum is one of the more unusual and unique attractions in St. Louis. The former shoe factory has been converted into a playground for children and adults, peppered with large doses of education and inducements for creativity. Recently, an aquarium was added to the second floor, providing even more reasons for you to go and explore. Outside the building sits Cabin Inn the City, with a full bar and entertainment on most nights. We talked with managers Bob Rocca and Abbie Grigaitis about the goals and challenges of a 21st century bar in a 19th century building.

How does the Cabin Inn choose its rather eclectic schedule of music?
BR: You know, I was just thinking about the music thing the other night. It is kind of like being a visual artist. Happy accidents happen; they aren’t planned, they just happen. Dave [Landreth] and Catherine [Cathers] and the Black-Eyed Susies only happened because they live [in the neighborhood].
AG: A lot of the musicians, the ones that don’t come through me, are customers of the bar who ask us how they can play here. We haven’t really had to go out and find any musicians. One of the things that is important to us is that we don’t feature “common music.” Most of the bands that play here don’t do covers, at least not top 40.

Does that mean the Cabin Inn sort of extends the mission of the museum as a way to educate the audience?
BR: If you know the museum like I know the museum, the answer is “Yes,” though nothing is done with a specific intent; it all has to do with keeping artistic integrity here. My dream would be to have people do things here artistically that they can’t do any place else. This is the place where you can take some risks.
AG: It is not necessarily that we go with what is going on in [the museum]. Nothing is really going together; it is just a big confluence of all different types of things and people. It is nice when a group of people come down for the music at the Cabin Inn and they discover the museum, which they might not have seen otherwise.

How is that artistic integrity reflected in what you serve?
AG: Really different wines that people wouldn’t normally try. We try to support smaller distributors and places.
BR: Things here are more interesting. Like a Flying Dog with a Ralph Steadman label; half of us around here would love to earn our pay from our art so we love to see Steadman’s stuff. We try to keep it eclectic; even now, having the liquor in there is sort of an experiment. You noticed that a lot of it was sort of high-end.

Where did the cabin come from?
BR: The cabin was built in 1803 by Nathaniel Boone and two partners called the Buchanan brothers out where Barnes West Hospital is now. You would have never known there was a cabin there because this was surrounded by a house. When the company came to tear down the existing houses, they found it and called us. One of the businesses of the architectural department upstairs is taking apart old buildings. So the guys took it down log by log. When it first arrived, they wanted to use it for a petting zoo because the museum was doing sheep and llama shearing. Then from that it went to an ice cream parlor.
AG: I was working here at that time. Ice cream by day and we served some wine at night.

What else would you like to do here?
BR: There are some things that I would like to do that are non-music. I would love to get Bobby Norfolk here, who is a story teller.
AG: Did you tell them about the fire? Wednesday nights this group of fire spinners comes down here basically to practice, but it has really become a cool thing…
BR: This is like the St. Louis chapter of Burning Man.
AG: That is that combination of things coming together…
BR: Then we do the big iron pour a couple of time a year and that just gets things going. I guess fire is kind of our image.
AG: It is sort of a beer garden. You don’t know what to expect, but that is part of the allure. When the fires are out here, you feel like you are out in the middle of nowhere. A log cabin and an open fire—right here in the middle of the city.

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