In October 1969 a young Dale Nichols was driving his old Falcon pickup truck down Ninth Street, heading to work at Flamingo Sports Bar in St. Petersburg, Florida. Nichols had recently bought the hole in the wall after returning from service in Vietnam and enjoyed that he was able to shoot pool with his friends, and afford a liquor license that let him serve beer. As he pulled in around back, a man named Jack, who had begun showing up about three months before, was waiting for him on the green bench outside the bar. Jack never caused any trouble at Flamingo Sports Bar, but was notorious around town for instigating fights at other bars and establishments.
But Nichols liked the guy.
There was something charming about the way he always sat on the same stool, the one in the southwest corner of the bar, which gave him a view of everything that went on around him. It was nice that he was always up for a game of nine ball, no matter how many times he lost against Nichols, or Jack’s friends Clifford Anderson and Ron Tichenor. It was okay that he would prod Nichols with questions about his time in Vietnam. Pretty soon, Jack became a fixture of the place and Nichols felt like he had to turn a blind eye to the flask he would bring in that he’d shoot with a chase of beer.
Legend has it that Flamingo Sports Bar was where Jack Kerouac enjoyed his last drink. On October 21, 1969 at 5:15 a.m. Jack Kerouac died in a St. Petersburg hospital.
Flamingo Sports Bar
It was a romantic idea to discover something new about Jack Kerouac. Stumbling into Flamingo Sports Bar, this common ground where Kerouac was just a regular Joe like us, was more intimate than sharing a pint at The White Horse Tavern with hundreds of other tourists. No, you won’t find Flamingo Sports Bar in any of his novels, there aren’t any known photos of Kerouac shooting pool with his drinking buddies Clifford and Ron and there are no stories about him throwing a punch with any of the patrons. As Kerouac once put it to Nichols, “I'm either writing or drinking.” Flamingo Sports Bar is where Kerouac did the latter.
Nichols, who still owns Flamingo Sports Bar, never really took an interest in Kerouac's other life. Kerouac left that part of his history back in Europe, New York and Chicago. There were times when Nichols would drive Kerouac home after his shift, and once they even shared a joint in his truck. “He told me that he wanted to share something and I thought, what in the hell could it be? Kerouac was there for my whole shift at the Flamingo.” Kerouac sprinted out the door while Nichols cleaned up and wasn’t found until he reached his car. The passenger door was open and Kerouac was using the glove compartment as a makeshift table to roll a joint. Nichols and Kerouac drove down Ninth Avenue and shared the joint on the way back to his house. “Back then marijuana was a no-no, but he didn’t seem to worry about it.”
I scoured for weeks to find Kerouac’s drinking friends Anderson and Tichenor but kept turning up empty-handed. Anderson did write a book about his time with Jack called Free Beer: Kicks and Truth with Jack Kerouac & other strong drinks. The title “Free Beer” was apparently Jack’s idea for Cliff’s first novel. When I finally found the number for the publisher, it was the home number of some old folks. After about a week of searching for Anderson and Tichenor, I figured it was for the best. Maybe I should just steer away from this idea of calling his close friends and let the story lie.
Then my phone rang. “Hey, man, this is Ron, sorry I’ve been such a hard guy to get ahold of. I just got back from Panama. I’ve been living there in a house I built up on a mountain. It has a tin roof and even if I had a phone up there I wouldn’t be able to hear a goddamn thing!” I told him I was sorry but would have to call him back the following day when I had my recording equipment. “What do you mean you’re sorry? How do you know when the hell I’m going to call you? Sorry? Jesus Christ, man. Call me tomorrow after six.”