Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Auld Lang Syne: Wine, Memories Flow as Al Baker's Bows Out

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Auld Lang Syne: Wine, Memories Flow as Al Baker's Bows Out

Article excerpt

They came to celebrate and to mourn, to congratulate and to commiserate, to offer thanks and to share memories. But mostly, they came to Al Baker's on Friday night to do what they've done for more than 27 years: to eat and drink and be merry.

They celebrated New Year's Eve, and were sad because it was the final night for the Clayton restaurant that opened on St. Patrick's Day, 1966, and became a St. Louis landmark. But until the last dessert dishes were cleared and the last coffee cup drained, it was just another night at work for Al and Mary Baker.

As usual, Mary sat behind the small desk at the entrance to the dining room, handling the constantly ringing phone, keeping order whenever chaos threatened, always calm, cool and smiling. Al, his tuxedo shirt bright as the full moon outside, moved in and out of the dining room with sleek, ground-covering strides, seating someone here, chatting with a guest there, helping serve, answering questions, offering suggestions. He rarely stood still.

The closing of the restaurant may bring a vacation for the Bakers (they're scheduled to go on a cruise next month), but it does not mean retirement, even though Al is closing in on 65. They expect to move to a new location, somewhere in the same area, and reopen in April. The current building, at the northwest corner of Clayton Road and Brentwood Boulevard, will be demolished.

"Sad night, isn't it?" was the first comment of most people as they entered, but then they ordered a drink and began to cheer up, any initial sadness vanishing in the "Happy New Year" refrain and the bubbles in the glass of champagne.

Tom Dempsey, resplendent in a fire-engine red blazer, walked up to Al Baker in the waiting area and shook his hand. …

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