Inside St. Louis

An original water color painting of Al's by local artist Marilynne Bradley.

     If youíre looking for an exceptional dining experience at what is considered one of the finest restaurants in the U.S., look no further. Alís Restaurant is located at First and Biddle just north of the Gateway Arch in the Warehouse District. It is rich in St. Louis history and is in close proximity to the Mississippi River Levee and the railroad just a mere 4 feet from the building. This St. Louis landmark, which has been owned and operated by 3 generations of one St. Louis family, has been serving generous portions of melt-in-your-mouth, award winning steaks for over 80 years.

 

The history of this premier, independently owned restaurant is significant. The structure, which resonates with over a century of history, was originally built as a sugar cane warehouse in 1872 and became The Sugar House Exchange Saloon in 1905.  It serviced local trades with shots

and half pints for the back pockets of the workers on the Mississippi paddle wheel boats, freight depots and wholesale markets.  Albert Barroni, Sr. (Albert) who was a soda truck driver and delivered soda to this establishment, discovered the business was for sale. Albert and his wife, Louise, purchased the building in 1925 amidst the great depression.

 

 

 

     1926 was an exciting year for the Barroniís. The business expanded as well as their family. Albert W. Barroni, Jr. (Al) was born on July 7, 1926 and the business opened a full service cafeteria that same year. The Barroniís lived in an apartment located above the business for many years. The cafeteria grew, eventually serving 700 Ė 800 meals per day making it the largest cafeteria in St. Louis at the time. The cafeteria steam table sat on what is now the south edge of the dining room. Riverboat Captains and their crews, along with politicians and business leaders, all made Alís their regular stop. In the 1930ís Alís Restaurant started offering a complete dinner menu with prime beef steaks. As Al grew up, he helped his parents run the business and eventually took over ownership upon his fatherís death.

 

     A devastating event in the history of the historic building occurred in 1966 when a fire broke out next door in a 10-story industrial rag factory. The building collapsed onto Alís restaurant, causing heavy damage and forcing the restaurant to close for ten months. During that time, Al secured a $3 remodeling permit but it required him to keep three corners of his building intact. During the same period, he purchased the alley next door to enlarge the restaurant and the area now houses the unique cocktail lounge. Local artist, Nate Ettinger, painted a grand mural encompassing the whole lounge which feels as if youíre on a paddle boat going down the Mississippi River looking at the shore. The interior of the restaurant was refurnished with old world dark mahogany furnishings with wood beams on the ceiling and oversized leather chairs, giving the restaurant a classy, clubby feel.

 

     Stepping through the doors of Alís brings an instant sense of refinement but at the same time the comfortable feeling of being home. Guests can study the history of St. Louis on the walls; paintings of St. Louis scenes including a fishing boat on the Mississippi, the restaurant fire of 1966, family ancestors, and family pets all adorn the dining room walls. An occasional locomotive horn adds to the ambiance. Itís a place for quiet conversation and superb service from tuxedoed wait staff who are efficient and unobtrusive.   Weíre

told the wait staff and cooks are all long term employees, with seniority from the low side of 20 years to 50 years plus. The fact that the employees are all relatives or friends has been a large contributor to the restaurantís success.

 

     Greg R. Rhomberg, curator of the Antique Warehouse, reminisces about the strong family ties with this fine restaurant during the era of Alís tenure. Gregís grandfather, Adolph Rhomberg, discovered Alís in the 1950s. It was a dinner spot with red & white checkered table cloths and appetizers of that era: tomato juice and shrimp cocktail. A heaping plate of toasted ravioli was presented as guests were seated and tasty salads were complemented with a gigantic gulf shrimp. Adolph and Al became good friends and over the years, even competed with each other in bowling leagues. Gregís father Jerry Rhomberg was also very familiar with the restaurant. He would bring many of his suppliers and customers to Alís. Many friendships were formed and large contracts were negotiated over steak and lobster dinners. This restaurant holds a special place in Gregís heart. Jerry started bringing Greg to this restaurant when he was in the first grade, and Greg has continued this tradition with his four daughters, making them the fourth generation of Rhomberg's to patronize this family favorite. It has been a Rhomberg family tradition to gather at Alís to celebrate birthdays,

 

anniversaries, graduations, and even a rehearsal dinner. Gregís entrťe of choice is the Rhomberg Special: a combination of half of a Broiled Lobster Tail and half Veal Piccata and two side dishes: Fettuccini Alfredo and French Fried Eggplant (when in season from Rhomberg Farms).

 

    Alís is famous for being host to the local whoís who, actors in town to perform at the Fox Theatre, Muny Opera, and other local entertainment venues, politicians, sports figures, and other colorful characters. But with all the celebrities who have enjoyed dining at Alís over the years, the only celebrity with a picture on the wall is that of Frank Sinatra and his dog. As the story goes, Mr. Sinatra attended a 1970s benefit for the Teamsters Union and came into Alís for a steak dinner and also ordered an extra steak as a carry out. When Al learned that the second steak was for Frankís dog waiting outside, he invited his dog into the restaurant. This was because Al was crazy about dogs and was known to take in every stray he found.  Paintings of Alís two favorite dogs, a German Shepherd named Napoleon and a Bichon Frise named Mozart, can be seen around the dining area.

     Sadly, Al passed away 2 years ago. His memorial mass was held in May, 2005 at the St. Louis Old Cathedral, in the shadow of his restaurant. Many great restauranteurs, friends and long time customers were present paying respects. Italian heritage was prominent at the service and beautiful words were spoken about Al by close friends; Dominic Galati and Hans Weimann.

     Since Alís death, Harold Brazzle, who worked directly with Al for 35 of the 37 years of his tenure, has made a flawless transition as he acts as General Manager. Although Al is no longer with us, his presence is felt due to his attention to quality and detail. Alís daughter Pam Neal and her husband Gary, operating owners, make up the 3rd generation of Barroniís and their daughters Nicolin and Megan Neal make up yet a 4th generation of the Barroniís to continue the commitment to the finest dining experience.

 

     What sets Alís apart from any other posh restaurant is the fact that in all their years of operation the restaurant has had no written menu, no prices posted, but ask and you shall receive! Harold personally welcomes patrons and provides a spoken menu using visual aids displayed on an enormous, garnished silver tray.  Mammoth cuts of

superior meat hand cut in-house, extraordinary Australian lobster tails, savory domestic lamb chops, a complete offering of seafood, and the finest Provimi veal are offered. An article in Cuis-Scene section of the dining out magazine St. Louis Scene, circa 1950, makes it evident that the history of no written menus and generous portions have been a tradition since day one.

 

 

 

     The sophisticated and extensive menu offers approximately 20 appetizers, 60 entrees, 30 side dishes and 15 desserts. The kitchen staff will fix anything and local regulars vouch for this fact. Consider ordering one of the signature dishes, The Italian Dinner: a filet paired with Veal Parmigiano. Preparing this entrťe as Romano style or crab-stuffed makes it a truly special combination. An extensive wine list is also available.

 

     As a testament to the superior quality food and service that are the hallmarks of this culinary treasure, Alís Restaurant has been voted a top St. Louis restaurant in Zagat Surveys 2006/7, has won the Wine spectator award of excellence, was voted one of Americaís Top 10 Steak Houses in Playboy magazine, and has been awarded the DiRoNA and AAA Four Diamond.

 

     Whether itís a romantic rendezvous, special occasion, or just friends and family getting together, Alís is the place to be pampered with superb personal attention and wonderful food in a unique historic setting. And, itís amazing what Alís staff does for regular customers. Try it a few times and you will be a ďregularĒ, too! 

 

Contact Information Alís  
1200 N. First Street
St. Louis, MO 63102
314-421-6399
www.alsrestaurant.net
Hours of Operation Tuesday through Saturday 5pm Ė 10pm
Dress Business casual, jackets suggested
Valet Parking

 

ANTIQUE WAREHOUSE GRADE: A

 

Historical Timeline:

The earliest St. Louis City Recorders Office indicates the property located in City Block 20 was originally part of the Peter Lindell Estate tract.

May 22, 1872: The first recorded sale was by owner Ellen Davis to Annie Brevator-Wise for $5,000.00.

The original building, of which 3 corners still stands, was built as a sugar cane warehouse. The 1875 Compton & Dryís Pictorial Atlas verifies a very similar structure.

July 20, 1905: Building was purchased by Schorr-Kolkschneider Brewing Company (brewers of S&K Beer) by Edward J. Hauschulte.

This was operated as a company tavern and then leased to saloon operator Julius Vogel. The Julius Vogel Sugar House Exchange Saloon.

1925: Soda truck driver Albert and wife Louise Barroni purchased the building amidst the Great Depression and the National Prohibition (1920 -1933).

1926: The Barroniís expanded the Sugar House Exchange operation and opened a full service cafeteria eventually serving 700-800 meals a day.

July 7, 1926: Albert W. Barroni Jr. (Al) was born. The Barroniís lived upstairs.

1938: Alís offers a complete dinner menu with prime beef steaks. Although printed menus were never used.

1965:  A tragedy in the Barroni family occurred when Louise J. Barroni died in 1965.

1966: A destructive fire and a new opportunity as Alís reopens as the black-tie service restaurant we know today.

May 14, 2005: Al passes away as the Restaurant is now owned and operated by Pam Neal and family.

October 1, 2007: Antique Warehouseís Inside St. Louis restaurant review offers you a chance to visit Alís and become a ďregularĒ. If you are the first one to call and mention this article to Harold Brazzle when making your reservation, everyone in your party will be treated to dessert compliments of Antique Warehouse Curator, Greg Rhomberg. Limit 6 in your party.

Click here to see all of the images from Al's

 

Written By: Judy Hartman

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