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A pool player’s paradise since 1969: Flamingo Sports Bar in St. Pete

A pool player’s paradise since 1969: Flamingo Sports Bar in St. Pete

exterior of bar with mural of on the side and a pole hoisting the American flag.
Flamingo's Bar 1230 9th St N, St. Petersburg, FL 33705

There’s a constant crack of contact, like a forest of trees smashing into each other, where a hanging lamp, part tiffany part Budweiser, illumines the green felt pool tables in tight angles, while all around the outer dark players chalk their cues, then blow blue dust particles into the air.

This is Flamingo’s Bar (1230 9th St N, St. Pete) and it’s known for three things. 1.) Author of On The Road and The Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac, hung out here during the last months of his life. 2.) Flamingo’s Bar contends for oldest watering-hole in St. Pete. 3.) Professional pool players, and/or hustlers, regularly congregate here.

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The owner, Dale Nichols, bought the bar 56 years ago when he returned from Vietnam. Back then, the only other place to play billiards was the Pool Room on 2nd Ave., and it closed. “I always want to be close to the action,” says Dale, so Flamingo’s Bar became the place to play. Top ranked players, like USA champion Justin Hall, regularly congregate here.

guy playing billiards inside dark bar
Pool player lines up his shot at Flamingo’s bar.

“…the only people for me are the mad ones…”

The writer Jack Kerouac congregated here, too, but forget him a moment. Dale has a story or two himself (more than that). Beating his opponent in a game of pool, he once won 5-acres off the Suwannee River. Now Dale owns 45-acres up there. I don’t ask how he obtained the additional 40, though I let my imagination infer the answer.

Flamingo’s Bar has three pool tables. Two are open to public play, and the third is invitation only. Outside, a mural spanning the wall pays homage to Jack Kerouac, author of famous literary works like On the Road and The Dharma Bums. The mural depicts him playing pool, a wry smile barely spreading his mouth, a few interrupted pages of his writing scrawled around him incompletely read: “…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time…”

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Dale tells me that Jack Kerouac only wrote sometimes, but partied all the time. When Dale was in his early 20’s and met Jack, Jack seemed a mythical figure. He would stay up for 3 or 4 days straight sometimes, Dale reports. And this was appealing to a young man then. “All my friends told me: ‘you just gotta meet Jack.'” Though Jack got himself into trouble often. He would say the wrong thing to the wrong people in the wrong places.

In 1969, three months after Dale Nichols purchased Flamingo’s Bar, Jack Kerouac died at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Pete at age 47. The cause of death was an abdominal hemorrhage from a lifetime of heavy drinking. While Jack lives on the page, Dale and the pool players that cycle in and out of Flamingo’s Bar live for the table, the action. It is all a bit mad. Jack was right about that. I suppose that’s why I like Flamingo’s Bar so much: it’s mad and full of prose.

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