Much much is going on at the brewery at 301 7th street east in Bradenton. Making progress toward a fall opening and a dripping a lot of summer sweat as well. But this entry is more about the passing of an infamous Anna Maria resident and friend of the brewery.
Mark Alonso passed away on July 12 at the respectable age of 87. If you lived in Anna Maria you probably know him as the eccentric Spanish artist who rode around in one of his three or four wheeled jalopy bikes while being pulled by Fritz the boxer dog. He had his workshop in a shack at 105 Tarpon Street where the Historic Green Village now stands(they tore down the shack and plopped a historic fisherman's hotel on top).
Some of you may also know the shack was the original home of The Little Giant Brewery. I shared the space with him which was quite a trip and about as interesting as it gets on Anna Maria. Here you had the brewery and the birthplace of many a strange and twisted pieces of "Art." Probably the biggest debate about Mark was whether or not the birds he created were actually "art." I choose to think so.
Mark led a really, really interesting life, especially compared to all the Fat Cats in Anna Maria who called him crazy when he ran for City Commissioner. He was born in the Basque region of Spain in a town called Guernica. He was young when Generalismo Franco gave the go ahead to his buddy Adolf Hitler to bomb the city to ashes during the Spanish revolution. Mark was one of thousands of kids to be shipped off to England before the bombing.
While he was working in the merchant marines he jumped ship in New York City and enlisted in the US Army where he served in both WWII and the Korean Conflict. He was a smart and creative guy who told me a few good tales about "battlefield engineering" i.e. creating bridges over creeks using burned out automotives to move troops and supplies during the months after D Day.
When we discussed our most recent wars he gave me a piece of insight that only he could come up with: He said "Michael, the difference between France, Belgium and Iraq is that when we liberated Europe we made love to the women and the countries. There was love! No one in Iraq is making love to the women!" Hahaha. Truth.
After the wars he worked in remodeling in NYC. One day during Anna Maria Bayfest, Mark, I and a neighborhood kid were delivering a keg to Pine Avenue on the back of his four wheeled bicycle(while being pulled by Fritz the Wonder Boxer). We were talking about women. particularly who the famous and beautiful ladies were back in NYC during the old days. He talked about remodeling a kitchen for Rita and Refinishing cabinets for Marilyn. I was like "Rita who? Marilyn who?" Well, Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth of course! What a life this guy led!
Despite Marks vast appreciation for the beauty of women, he was happily married to one of the sweetest people I've met, Mirem who was also from the basque region. Here's a pic of them sitting by the trolley stop in front of the Rosedale cottage by the brewery.
There he is smoking his pipe full of "grass." Haha. He made these little pipes that had a closed stem that he would stuff with grass from the yard. I guess he just chewed on the stem since it wasn't a functioning piece of paraphernalia. Good stuff, good joke, good guy.
We spent many an afternoon in the shack, he melting Gorilla Glue onto coconut birds that had stone crab claws for beaks, me stirring the mash and filling kegs. In the end the shack was torn down and he moved back to Grand Rapids Michigan where his grandkids lived. But on the last afternoon of the brewery and art shack we had an open house with a keg of Little Giant Billabock. He had his first drink of beer in 48 years(48 years!), and that was one of my favorite memories. Especially when he said "Michael, this is what you've been doing this whole time? This is good!" And he took one more long swig...
We lost a big bucket of "Island Flavor" this week. Cheers to Mark Alonso!!!