Karr, Nathan Foster 1961-2020

Local bars normally don’t have mascots to promote their business, so the business’ owner often becomes the face of their watering hole.

What would the modern-day version of Magoon’s be without Barry Woodhull? What’s the Rendezvous if Jimmy Green isn’t greeting visitors? Cafe Acoustic Concert Hall isn’t the same without Steve and Christina Grimes.

Back when Downtown St. Joseph still was in need of deep repairs and renovations, Nathan Karr, the owner of Foster’s Martini Bar, was not only the mascot of the first non-smoking bar Downtown (back when indoor smoking was a thing in St. Joseph), he was also the goofy cheerleader for businesses and art in the area. He died on Nov. 25 at the age of 59.

Sadly, it’s easy to forget Karr’s legacy in Downtown St. Joseph’s revitalization. Foster’s Martini Bar is a distant memory in St. Joseph’s history, replaced and painted over twice, first by an oyster and ramen restaurant and now a boutique clothing store (which is a great addition to the variety of shops Downtown). But there’s nothing to suggest the laid-back, artsy vibes of the bar that was on the corner of Felix and Eighth streets for a decade.

Karr’s legacy exists mainly in newspaper articles and stories from his friends. A deep dive of the News-Press archives shows that he was a man of ideas, with a new festival or event to promote artists in the area.

Soup contests, film festivals, open-mic comedy nights, jazz concerts, B-movie screenings — nothing was off limits as an event for Foster’s to host, and the proceeds often went to local charities.

When talking about the variety of performers at the “Shamrock on the Square,” the former name of the Downtown Irish festival he helped organize, he said: “It just goes to show you that this town has a lot of people that like to do a lot of things, man.”

I love the “Man” at the end of that sentence because that word pretty much ended everything Karr said, with that kind of surfer dude/hippie twang to it. It tells you so much about his relaxed disposition (though sometimes it was a little too relaxed).

When Karr and Foster’s were in their prime, it showed that bars in St. Joseph didn’t have to be put in a box and host one certain kind of concert or event. Much like its martini menu, variety was the spice of its business.

To that end, trying to do a ton of different events took its toll on Karr and Foster’s. In its closing years, leading up to its shuttering in 2016, Karr’s “Hey man” greetings were less enthusiastic. The bar’s drinks were either unavailable or flat. It was clear he wanted out. After making a declaration about new TVs and menus a week earlier, Karr made an abrupt announcement on a Saturday afternoon in June 2016 that the business was done.

To be fair, closing Foster’s was the best decision for him. While my visits with him were scarce after the bar’s closure, he looked happier and healthier every time we ran into each other.

While Karr would write on Facebook about how much he missed the bar, I know that he didn’t miss the business of crunching numbers and stocking shelves. He longed for Foster’s unique atmosphere, the conversations and his faithful clients. I think we all do. But we cherish the times we had there.

Thank you, Nathan.

Andrew Gaug can be reached at andrew.gaug@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @NPNOWGaug