Pladium's last call on Broadway

Friday, June 18, 2004

Longtime Pladium bartender Jerry Beaver has become an institution within an institution. "Beaver" was a friend that came free with the drink.

"I never met a person that wasn't a friend," Beaver said. The only thing more numerous than the acquaintances he made over his 30 years at the job is the amount of things he learned while talking to them, he said. But he's very strict on maintaining the sacred bartender-customer privilege.

He's sticking to the bartender code so well, he refuses to divulge information that concerns a major part of his life -- the closure of the bar with which he's become synonymous.

"I've learned not to burn bridges," Beaver said.

That's why he doesn't want to discuss what he knows about The Pladium going out of business.

It all started about 45 years ago with a pool shark, eight pool tables and a little hole in the wall at 1127 Broadway. It became the place in Cape Girardeau for coeds and old men to drink beer, shoot stick, watch sports and collect memories. Now that era has passed.

The Pladium as it is and has been known is closed, but a differently named version is in the works.

Operator Mike Schmidt closed The Pladium for the last time on May 30. The bar's fixtures, furniture and pool tables will be auctioned off June 21.

Schmidt said the building's new owners, Mark and Paul Dirnberger, terminated his lease in April without giving a reason. Mark Dirnberger would not comment on the situation.

Schmidt will be out of the building by June 30, and he's taking the trademarked name of The Pladium with him.

"It's a shame that this institution is being forced out," he lamented. "There is never going to be another Pladium."

Nothing but a pool hall

The Pladium began on Oct. 15, 1959, when a professional pool player named Jerry Priest put up eight pool tables in the building at 1127 Broadway. Not a drop of alcohol was served.

It soon became apparent to Priest that he wasn't going to get rich owning a pool hall by itself. He got his beer license around 1964, followed by his license to sell liquor by the drink some years later. From there, the popularity of the Pladium took off.

Its proximity to the university brought a younger crowd in to mingle with the older group. All of them came to socialize, drink and shoot pool. "People from different walks of life just kind of blended in there," Priest recalled. "It just evolved."

Gradually, the pool playing was reduced to three tables, leaving more seating and standing room for the other customers.

That evolution brought in more than just fraternity boys and factory workers. Priest remembers patrons of stature, such as good friend and pool legend Minnesota Fats and McDonald's founder Ray Kroc.

"I remember Kroc sitting in the bar in a tux," Priest said. "He was watching a snooker game and waiting to go goose hunting."

Along with the rich and famous, The Pladium also served the general citizen. It provided them not only a place to drink and play but a place to grow as people.

The Pladium changed Steve Mosley's life.

A reclusive student at Southeast Missouri State University in the early 1960s, Mosley spent most of his time in his room reading books and studying. His social life was non-existent until his roommate pulled the book down from his face and gave him a piece of advice on the way to the new pool hall just off campus.

"You know, all you do is sit around and read about life. I go out and live it," the roommate said.

That stuck with Mosley and eventually roused him to accompany his friends to the pool hall. He became a fixture at its old-fashioned pinball machine. Decades later, Mosley looks back on that time and that place as pivotal in his life.

"I learned about life and friendship there," said Mosley, now a teacher at Notre Dame Regional High School. "I have many fond memories."

He's not alone.

Over the decades, everyone from mayors and prominent local business people to rowdy football tailgaters have been served by the Beaver at The Pladium.

The good times kept flowing for Priest and his place until about 10 years ago, when he sold the business to Schmidt. Priest retained ownership of the building and watched it flourish in a new era. That era has come to an end.

"I sure am sorry to see it close," Priest said. "I thought I began something. I thought it'd be there long after I was gone."

New blood, new beginning

Last February, after Schmidt declined an invitation to purchase the building, Priest sold it to the Dirnbergers. Mark Dirnberger, who also owns Bella Italia, said he has been a patron of the bar for the past 25 years.

He recalled frequenting the place as a "pup," getting schooled on the green felt by Priest. That being the case, he said it is not the brothers' intention to eliminate a popular place where friends hang out in Cape Girardeau.

Although it will not be called The Pladium -- no name has yet been chosen -- Mark Dirnberger said the bar will "mirror its image," complete with pool tables. Dirnberger said he even expects Beaver to return behind the bar. There is no formal timetable for the new bar's opening.

That promise of renewal comes as good news to many regular patrons and city executives alike. Cape Giradeau Mayor Jay Knudtson has visited the establishment, and he is hopeful the new operation does as well as the old one did.

"This particular watering hole has been a Cape Girardeau institution," Knudtson said. "I'd be happy to see that tradition continue."

335-6611, extension 137

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: