Wednesday, September 9, 2015
In the discussions revolving around the proposed new St. Louis NFL riverfront stadium ranging from the destruction of an entire historic district to whether the people of St. Louis should be able to vote to use their tax dollars to whether we need a new stadium at all, one ingredient has been missing: the fate of Al's Restaurant (also known as Al's Steakhouse), which has been operating on the riverfront since 1925... and is scheduled for certain oblivion if current plans move forward.
A few weeks ago Pam Barroni Neal, a 3rd generation owner-operator of Al's started an online petition at change.org to save Al's Restaurant. I urge you to please sign and share this share this Facebook, Twitter, etc. If nothing else makes you want to sign, this should: Al's is St. Louis' oldest restaurant locally owned and operated by a single family and in one location!
Looking at the most recently released site plan for the stadium, Al's Restaurant is bulldozed for... you guessed it, a surface parking lot. Approximate location of Al's, one block west of the monumental Ashley Street Power Plant, is shown in red.
Surprisingly Al's is even missing in the Great Rivers Greenway North Riverfront Open Space and Redevelopment Plan which was previewed in July. The GRG plan is an ambitious well thought out urban plan calling for preservation of historic buildings, new construction residential & office infill and development of active green spaces, but somehow they managed to completely miss Al's. The rendering above appears to show Al's Restaurant overtaken by a 3-4 story jelly bean shaped building west of the historic Ashley Street Power Plant.
Admittedly, it is easy to miss Al's, which today from the exterior appears as just another white painted windowless 1-story brick box located at the northeast corner of N. 1st and Biddle Streets. Only the black awnings and understated signage give you any indication that this is something other than another non-descript storage building down by the river. You can easily drive by and not have any clue whats inside.
Stepping inside Al's takes you back decades to time of elegance with white linen table cloths, red tufted leather chairs, dark wood paneled walls and brass chandeliers. In classic steakhouse fashion, there are not menus. Instead fine cuts of meat are presented on a silver tray for selection. Long known locally as one of the best places for steak, among other national awards and lists, Al's made a CNN top ten list of historic restaurants a few years ago.
The building that houses Al's Restaurant has been around since before Compton & Dry created their iconic 3D map of our city in 1876 housing a combination saloon and sugar exchange.
This pre-1900 photo shows the front of the building on 1st Street. The towering St. Louis Grain Elevator on the riverfront which would be replaced by the Ashley Street Power Plant can be seen in the background. Albert Barroni opened his restaurant here in 1925 first serving egg sandwiches to the local factory and railroad workers in the then bustling industrial district. As industry moved on, Albert Jr. refocused the establishment to sophisticated fine dining.
At some point the front of the building received a "modernization" in the form of contrasting light and dark glazed tile cladding. Later, the 2nd floor was removed and windows were bricked-in giving way to its appearance today. Most of the context of Al's Restaurant visible in the detailed axonometric drawing above has disappeared, being replaced by gravel lots and asphalt but Al's has remained still serving fine food night after night. With your help and some simple refinement by the planners, Al's might still be serving St. Louis for another 90+ years.