Every newsroom has a favorite watering hole. For the Globe-Democrat — and, later, the Post-Dispatch — it was the Missouri Bar and Grille on North Tucker Boulevard.
As a result, owner Trifon Panopoulos became good friends with dozens of reporters, especially sportswriters, as well as those they wrote about.
On Saturday night (Sept. 14, 2013), Panopoulos died at his Ferguson home. He was 55.
His brother, Louie Panopoulos, said cancer was the cause.
“He was ill with throat cancer about six months ago, had an operation, battled it, and it looked like everything was going great. He finished up treatment a few months ago. Then it came back. It was in the liver.”
Louie Panopoulos spent Sunday afternoon at the bar his brother had owned since 1983. Old friends stopped by to have a beer, watch the Rams and Cardinals games on television, and express condolences.
“This was his life and soul,” Panopoulos said. Closing the bar the day after his death was not a consideration.
“He never would want that,” his brother said.
The walls of “MoBar,” as it often is called, are filled with photos of baseball players, politicians, reporters, celebrities, family members and friends.
Umpires and sportswriters from across the country are regulars when in town.
“It is a complete melting pot that it draws,” Post-Dispatch sportswriter Dan Caesar said. “From lawyers, politicians and celebrities to homeless people coming in to bum a cigarette or to hit someone up to buy them a drink, you never know who — or what — you’ll see in there.”
Entertainer Joey Fatone spent several evenings relaxing there while in town this summer. Chuck Berry has sung there, Bob Costas and Mike Shannon have stopped by and Whitey Herzog visited when he managed the Cardinals.
Athena Miller has worked at the bar since Mr. Panopoulos opened it and knew him most of his life.
She said Mr. Panopoulos was generous to a fault. He would bail friends out of jail and let people write IOUs that never were paid.
“He couldn’t say no to nobody,” Miller said.
Rick Hummel, a Post-Dispatch sportswriter, said Mr. Panopoulos sponsored the paper’s softball team for several years in the 1980s. At one game he showed up and announced he wanted to coach third base. Hummel, the team manager, said OK.
It turns out Mr. Panopoulos had new hats for the team and decided the best way to distribute them was as the players were running the bases, rounding third toward home. An umpire quickly put an end to it.
Hummel sent a mass email to sportswriters after learning of his friend’s death on Sunday.
“Within just a few minutes, I had five sportswriters from around the country sending condolences,” Hummel said.
Trifon Panopoulos came to St. Louis from Greece with his family in 1966. He was 9. His father, Pete, was a waiter at the old Chase-Park Plaza Hotel. His mother, Sophia, was a seamstress for a few years in the garment district on Washington Avenue before staying home to rear their three sons: Louie, the oldest, Trifon, the middle child, and Jim. She died in 2001.
“He was my best friend,” Louie said of Trifon. “He had the biggest heart in the world. He was always helping somebody. If anybody needed money, needed a ride, needed food, needed anything, he was there for them.”
Trifon Panopoulos graduated from Roosevelt High School then went to work for The Best Steak House in midtown, across from the Fox Theatre. In 1983, he and Chris Dubis bought Missouri Bar and Grille from Gus Pathenos. Panopoulos bought out Dubis a few years later.
He kept the bar open every day, making sure customers who worked on holidays or had nowhere to go could stop in for a bite to eat or to down a cold one.
When he would get away from the bar, it was for an annual trip to the Bahamas, where he had a condo.
The future of MoBar is unclear, said Louie Panopoulos, an electrician. His brother did not want his family bogged down in the business, he said.
“He did not want us to be dragged into this kind of life because it’s all work and no play.”
In addition to his brothers and father, he is survived by his daughter, Zeta Zavradinos, 21, his longtime companion, Lynette Kern, 57, and her daughter, Jaclyn Derrick, 24, all of St. Louis.
Visitation for Panopoulos will be from 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Kutis Funeral Home in the Affton area. His funeral is tentatively set for 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. Burial will immediately follow at St. Matthew Cemetery in south St. Louis.