Famous in its day: Busch’s Grove

Busch’s Grove was a clubby, table-hopping haunt of privileged residents of Ladue, Missouri, and its environs. An unpretentious white frame roadhouse fronting right on a busy thoroughfare, it didn’t look like much from the outside – or the inside for that matter. It didn’t need to show off. This was its charm.

I ate there just once, in the 1970s. I wanted to experience eating in one of the screened-in log huts in the restaurant’s back yard (pictured, courtesy Esley Hamilton). Even then they seemed quaintly out of sync with the times. I have no idea what I ate. What sticks in my mind is the elderly woman alone in the next hut with her dog. I remember a tall, white coated waiter bringing the dog’s dinner, a large serving of prime rib.

Prime rib was what you’d expect at a restaurant as traditional as Busch’s Grove. As were iceberg lettuce, shrimp cocktail, and squishy soft dinner rolls. It was the kind of place where it wasn’t a bad idea to have a few Manhattans or whiskey sours before tackling your meal. Nevertheless, in 1958 Holiday magazine gave the Grove a “Dining Distinction” award.

As for the food revolution of the 1970s, it didn’t happen here. In 1998 a review by Joe and Ann Pollack in their book Beyond Toasted Ravioli made it sound as though the Grove was permanently stuck in the beef & bourbon 1950s. Though ostensibly giving a favorable report, they identified numerous red flags for discriminating diners such as packaged croutons; the strange “viscous texture” of the microwave-heated vichyssoise; garlic powder in salad dressings; vegetable medleys; and potatoes baked in foil. Perhaps the old roadhouse was in decline.

The Pollaks characterized the restaurant’s decor as “Ralph Lauren when Ralph was still selling ties.” “Dowdy” would have been equally apt. But keep in mind that Ladue was (is?) the kind of town where actual living conditions could surprise you: such as the cockroach I once saw crawling on expensive grasscloth wallpaper in one stately mansion, or another estate filled with ancestral oil paintings but lacking air conditioning despite St. Louis’s tropical summers.

Busch’s Grove began its hospitality career in the 1860s as a stage coach stop 10 miles west of downtown St. Louis. It was not known as Busch’s Grove until it was taken over by John Busch in 1891. In the 1920s, when it was run by Busch’s son and a partner, the surrounding community of Ladue had grown into a woodsy enclave of wealthy families attracted in part by a number of country clubs that had located there. The restaurant served as an unofficial annex to the nearby St. Louis Country Club. No doubt patronage also derived from Ladue’s elite prep schools, among them John Burroughs, Country Day, Mary Institute, Chaminade, Villa, and Priory.

Until 1973 the restaurant contained a bar for men only, perhaps explaining its reputation as a hangout for power brokers. When it was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, the researchers interviewed a patron of 30 years who remarked, ‘Some of the biggest early deals in St. Louis County politics and finance were arranged in this restaurant.”

Old patrons mourned when the restaurant closed a few years ago and was razed, along with the log huts.

© Jan Whitaker, 2010

21 Comments

Filed under outdoor restaurants

21 responses to “Famous in its day: Busch’s Grove

  1. My Grandfather and I would eat here on bean soup day. We would share cheese nips and I would always get the french onion soup. I grew up a Busch’s Grove girl and loved the charm of those special days when we would eat in the huts. It’s been so many years and I can’t remember his name, Charlie maybe? The blonde man who parked the cars. He treated me like a princess when I was young as he ushered me into my dad’s car and later on in life gave me trouble about my music selection. I miss those days. Very special times indeed.

    • Bill Macon

      His name was Kenny, and he was amazing. He ran the lot without using claim checks — he just had a knack for matching cars with faces. And he always looked sporting with the bandana tied around his neck!

    • Ginnie Schaeffer

      Suzanne, How well I remember many lunches at Busch’s Grove. The waiter’s name was Charlie (can’t believe you remembered) and the man that parked the cars was Ken! Those days were so special and I miss them! I am so glad that I planned Grandpa’s 85 birthday there…This was the last birthday we had together..

  2. Bill M.

    When I was 16 & 17 I worked there as a busboy in the summers (1975 & 76); when I was 18 I had my own house charge at the bar. Oh, the good old days!

  3. Anonymous

    I wish this place was still around. I think of it as a St Louis Historical Site. We all have so many great memories of relaxed summer night dinners. We had our rehearsal dinner in one of the front left huts. Maybe someone one day will rebuild them somewhere. They must keep prime rib on the menu.

  4. Anonymous

    We loved the huts and birthdays were celebrated there.. my grandson TRey Hogan parked cars there through high school.. learned a lot Haha and we loved his being there. Jan McCormick 85 yrs old and memories are still keen!!!!f

  5. In the early ’80s, this was the lunchtime watering hole for the management of KSHE-95. Nancy Jane Moessmer Pool was the atypical doyenne of this rock ‘n Roll leader for many years. When KSHE sold, she moved several of us to KWK. The leadership would lunch in the garden a couple of times a month – Nancy’s treat. Marcy Byrne, Bob Birch, I and a few others had the privilege of calling her ‘boss’ and friend.

  6. My Dad and Uncle Bill would go to lunch to Busch’s Grove about once a week. Daddy ordered the famous Cheese Nips and of course his martini! Loved the crab salad. Many good memories at Busch’s Grove…

  7. Laura

    I remember their phone number, wydown (99) 3-0011. Our number was 993-0001. At the start we would give them the correct number but we finally started taking reservations had so many calls. I would also walk my dog to Busch’s and go up to the small window at the bar where Otis bartended. He used to give my dog steak bones. Lol

  8. Anonymous

    Busch’s Grove was our go to place besides Schneithorst’s. My rehearsal dinner was in a hut at Busch’s Grove. Sissie Muckerman Pixley

  9. Anonymous

    Oh boy I could tell you some stories !!!!

  10. Caroline M. Corley

    Would love a Russ’ Salad right about now!!!!! Many fond memories!!!

  11. Kathryn B. Reese

    My parents met at Busch’s Grove in the 1950s and had lunch there with their friends every Saturday of my childhood. As an adult, I never went to a wedding or a funeral where we didn’t end up there.

  12. Donna Litzsinger Rausch

    My grandfather was the child of one of the four Litzsinger brothers that settled Litzsinger Road. His name was Frederick Litzsinger and he was born at Busch’s Grove.

  13. My dad worked at Busch’s Grove for years, first as a waiter, then as the bartender in the Men’s Bar.

  14. Alleyne Marsh

    My sister and I were recalling restaurants our mom took us to in the 1940’s and I recall one called Ripley’s. It was Italian family style long tables serving all with self service tureens of soup, bread, salad, pasta, wine, before 1st course. The entrance was upstairs bar, downstairs restaurant was cave-like and people would sing rounds. I think it was in North Beach. Oh, it was San Francisco!
    Hope you can help.
    Alleyne Marsh
    .

    • Alas, I know nothing about this restaurant, nor can I find anything other than one single, short mention (assuming it’s the same place) which says it was a French restaurant, not Italian.

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