The Scottish Arms Pays Tribute to Robert Burns in Upstart Birthday Celebration Last Night

There's a conspiracy afoot. Last night the Scottish Arms (6-10 South Sarah Street; website) joined in the 208-year-old tradition of celebrating the great Scot Robert Burns' birthday.

Burns, a celebrated Romantic poet, champion of Scottish culture and the writer of "Auld Lange Syne", is beloved by Scots. His January 25 birthday is celebrated every year with recitation of his poetry, Scotch whisky and the ceremonial carving of a haggis.

Burns' connection to St. Louis? Most obvious is the statue of the man at the corner of Forsyth and Skinker Boulevards, donated by the Burns Society in 1928 and restored in 2008. And then there's the large percentage of Midwesterners who claim Scottish ancestry.

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Photo: Brian Stitt
A patron ponders Burns over a glass of whisky last night at the Scottish Arms.
So why then has the only Scottish bar (with "Scottish" in its name, at least) in St. Louis never had a proper Burns Night supper?

It seems some Arms regulars were conferring one evening and noticed the outrageous incongruity. Filled with Scotch pride and probably Scottish liquid, they dreamed up a night brimming with Burnsian pleasures, ranging from the traditional -- bagpipe music and a Scotch tasting -- to the borderline deranged: a Robert Burns look-alike contest. (It makes one think of zombie Burnses.)

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Photo: Brian Stitt
One of the few Burns look-alikes last night at the Scottish Arms. Sadly, a promised look-alike contest didn't pan out.
Unfortunately for the many enjoying the festive atmosphere of the full bar, the St. Louis community's answer to the look-alike contest was a resounding no. Perhaps some traditionalists thought it would be too strange a practice for a Burns Supper, but any event that includes the recitation of Burns' "Address to a Haggis" couldn't be too stodgy to ban a game of dress-up.

Amongst the dozen or so kilts twirling around the bar and dining room last night, not one Scotsman showed up in a crevat and waistcoat to pay tribute to man the Scots call The Bard. The night rebounded from that disappointment, as most embraced the spirit of the evening. The Celtic music was in top form and the Scottish Arms' near-ridiculous selection of whisky -- $25 for a whisky tasting -- inspired even Polish and Irish celebrators to toast Robbie Burns with vigorous abandon. Beers were downed and haggis was tried and several lame William Wallace accents were attempted, though thankfully no one took to shouting "Freedom!"

The natural joy of the evening seemed uncharacteristic for a place that had never hosted a proper Burns Supper before. How did this come together and why now?

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