Memory Lane – The Flame, Countryside, Illinois

This blog is primarily intended to celebrate classic and historic restaurants that still exist, but occasionally I will be posting about a restaurant that is gone or recently closed.

 

The Flame logo

photo from The Flame facebook page

photo from The Flame facebook page

 

The Flame was opened in the suburbs outside of Chicago in 1958 by Peter Makris.

 

early postcard from The Flame facebook page

early postcard from The Flame facebook page

 

It was remodeled sometime after the postcard photos above and below were taken.

 

postcard from The Flame facebook page

postcard from The Flame facebook page

 

sign in 1970s - photo by The Flame facebook group

sign in 1970s – photo by The Flame facebook group

sign in 1970s - photo by The Flame facebook group

sign in 1970s – photo by The Flame facebook group

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

postcard from The Flame facebook page

postcard from The Flame facebook page

 

In its heyday The Flame restaurant expanded to locations in Chicago (The Flame East in Lincoln Park Tower, which was reportedly frequented by employees of the Playboy Club) and Florida (in Palm Beach, North Palm Beach, and Stuart). The chain also opened several locations of Lord Chumley’s Pub in Florida and one in St. Charles, Illinois (still there, but remodeled).

 

postcard from The Flame facebook page

postcard from The Flame facebook page

 

Many celebrities and sports figures were regulars at The Flame, including Evel Knievel and Jack Costanzo, the famous drummer who performed there every Saturday night in the mid-1990s.

 

tree lounge in the 1970s, - photo from The Flame facebook page

tree lounge in the 1970s, – photo from The Flame facebook page

 

Inside the bar was a large tree covered with flowers and colored lights, and Christmas ornaments in season. I’m not sure when this feature was added as it doesn’t show in early postcards, but it was known as the Tree Lounge eventually.

 

photo from The Flame facebook page

recent photo from The Flame facebook page

 

In 2003 I dined there and it looked like it does in the more recent photos above and below.

 

recent photo from The Flame facebook page

recent photo from The Flame facebook page

I don’t recall much except we ordered steaks. I always wanted to return but never made it out there on subsequent visits to Chicago in 2005, 2007, and 2010.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2003

photo by Dean Curtis, 2003

 

Sadly, in 2012 the owner, Peter Makris’ daughter Nanci Makris, passed away. Her family decided to close the restaurant at the end of the year.

 

photo from The Flame facebook page

photo from The Flame facebook page

 

The Flame had a final blowout on New Years Eve, 2012. Local photographer Jeffrey C. Johnson created a book with photo memories of the closing night at The Flame. Also check his Flickr for some great photos of The Flame.

The building has been stripped and remodeled for a new restaurant called Outriggers Flame. A few of the elements of the original decor are still there, such as rock walls and wood paneling (strangely, not an outrigger is to be found), but the tree lounge, booths, stained glass, and lamps are gone.

 

CLOSED – Capp’s Corner, San Francisco, California

Recently I heard a rumor on Facebook that one of the oldest Italian restaurants in North Beach, Capp’s Corner, is going to close on March 17th. I searched for more info and found out they simply can’t afford to stay in business after a huge rent increase. San Francisco, this is starting to get real old. Soon, I fear, much of the old charm in one of the most well-loved cities in the country will be gone, thanks to greedy landlords. I’m hoping Capp’s Corner can survive, but in any case I urge you to visit real soon.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Capp’s Corner was opened by Joe Capp (Caporale), a San Francisco native, boxing promoter, and bookie, and Frank Sarubei in 1963 on the corner of Green and Powell Streets. Joe tended bar and greeted customers at the door in his trademark fedora hat, black suit and tie, smoking his cigar. In the 1960s a dinner at Capp’s, served family style with soup, salad, bread, vegetable, and pasta, cost around $5. In the 1980s the restaurant was purchased by the current owner, Tom Ginella. Joe Capp passed away in 1996.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

When you enter Capp’s you see the large carved-wood back bar, which appears to be over 100 years old (the restaurant was a Basque place before 1963). They still use the old manual cash registers at the bar.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The dining room is decorated with simple wooden furniture, checked table coverings, the original linoleum flooring, and many framed works of art and photographs on the walls, making for an interesting browse before or after your meal.

 

linguine with clams and mussels - photo by sptsb.com

linguine with clams and mussels – photo by sptsb.com

 

The dinners are served “family style” with a good, thick, house made minestrone soup, a green salad with house made creamy Italian dressing, and French bread (soup or salad at lunchtime). The menu includes several pasta dishes, which come with soup and salad, and many heartier entrees, which come with soup, salad, pasta marinara, and vegetables. The linguine with clams and mussels is very well-regarded (Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of City Lights bookstore, is a fan). Also popular are chicken parmigiana, petrale sole, leg of lamb, osso buco, and the NY steak, which a friend ordered on my recent visit. I was impressed by the flavor and size of the steak (only $25 with all the extras is a true steak bargain). I had the osso buco, which was very tender and served with plenty of delicious sauce. And you can bet that I’ll be going back soon for a steak or some pasta with clams and mussels!

 

Capp’s Corner
1600 Powell St, San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 989-2589
Open for Lunch Sun, Mon, Wed-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, Sat 11:30am-4:00pm
Dinner served Mon, Wed, Thur 4:30pm-10:00pm, Fri 4:30pm-10:30pm, Sat 4:00pm-10:30pm, Sun 2:30pm-10:00pm
Bar is open Mon 11:00am-10:00pm, Wed-Sun 11:30am-2:00am
Closed Tuesdays

 

 

 

Will’s Fargo, Carmel Valley, California – CLOSED

Last year I spent a weekend in Carmel and the Carmel Valley and discovered a great western-style vintage steakhouse called Will’s Fargo in sleepy Carmel Valley. Recently the area is becoming more fancy, with wineries and spa hotels, so I encourage you to visit soon while there are still some old places with original charm.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

Will’s Fargo was opened in 1959 by Will Fay in a house built in 1928 by Gordon Armsby of San Francisco and designed by Clarence Tantau (Del Monte Hotel) in Spanish style with Carmel quarried stone walls, Mexican terracotta roof tiles, and a hand-carved wood beamed ceiling. Named Casa Escondida, its guests included Charlie Chaplin and Theda Bara. In 1940 the Holman family bought the house and it served as the bar and steakhouse for Holman’s Guest Ranch, which attracted such celebrity guests as Clark Gable, Vincent Price, Joan Crawford and Marlon Brando, until Will Fay bought it and renamed it Will’s Fargo, decorating it in Victorian Western style. In 2002 the owners of nearby Bernardus Lodge bought Will’s Fargo and thankfully didn’t change much. Then in 2014 the current owner of Holman Ranch, Thomas Lowder, purchased the steakhouse and it’s his intention to keep the interior pretty much the same while updating the menu slightly, but keeping its focus on traditional steakhouse fare (the chef, Jerome Viel, remains after the ownership change).

 

dining room, photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

The menu features steaks a la carte, including a Prime Angus top sirloin (my choice when I dined there last year), filet mignon in two sizes, rib eye, Kansas City strip, and a Porterhouse. Why top sirloin for me? In California I often order top sirloin when I see it on the menu because I love its beefy flavor and it’s leaner than a lot of other cuts. Not as tender as a filet, but more flavorful. I also ordered it because it was USDA prime (the most well marbled beef) Angus, which can make a difference.

 

top sirloin, photo by Dean Curtis 2014

top sirloin – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

Steaks don’t come with sides, but are priced below average and several classic sides are available, also at reasonable prices. Other dishes on the menu include chicken, pork, lamb, quail, seafood, pasta, and vegetarian options.

 

the bar, complete with Victorian nude - photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

the bar, complete with Victorian nude – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

If you like vintage motels and are more happy with original charm than new amenities, I highly recommend the Blue Sky Lodge in Carmel Valley. It recently was purchased so I urge you to stay there soon before it changes. From the motel you can walk to Will’s Fargo, some great wineries, and the village of Carmel Valley.

 

Will’s Fargo
16 West Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley, CA 93924
(831) 659-2774
Open daily at 4:30pm (call for closing hours)

 

New Year wishes and some reflection…

Thank you from the bottom of my glass for being faithful readers of Le Continental. In 2015 I’ll be posting more about my recent Spain and Ireland trips, as well as about more vintage American restaurants (it seems I’m always remembering ones I still need to post about, especially in Los Angeles, which I’ve barely covered).

But today I would like to reflect on the past year or so. We’ve lost a lot of great classic time-travel restaurants in the past couple of years here in the Bay Area and around the country. In 2013 the greatest local loss, in my opinion, was the closure of Bella Vista, the last true great Continental restaurant in the Bay Area. They had excellent food and service up to the end of their 70 years in business, as well as wonderful vintage atmosphere at a stunning site among the redwoods south of San Francisco with amazing views. I still miss it all the time and there is no substitute in the area.

This year we lost so much (but thankfully got one back already). Closed in January alone: Trader Dick’s in Sparks, Nevada (became a Gilley’s), Joe’s of Westlake in Daly City, CA (sold by the owners to Original Joe’s, to reopen in 2015), and The Big 4 at the Huntington Hotel in San Francisco (closed for remodeling by the hotel’s new owners). Thank goodness the Big 4 reopened in May without much altered (mostly new carpets). I’ve recently dined there and can say without reservations that the atmosphere and service have not changed one bit (a good thing). I thought the food was overall a bit better before (a new chef took over this year), but some of their best dishes are still on the menu and as good as ever (the pork chop and lamb shank come highly recommended). But stick with the entrees because the puny appetizers seemed too pricey.

 

Empress of China Bar 1960s

postcard photo of Empress of China bar by Heather David on Flickr

 

Chinatown has not fared well in the recent economic boom in San Francisco. As property values rise to astronomical levels old businesses can no longer afford to operate, or property owners sell while the getting is good. In 2012 divey Chinese restaurant Sam Wo closed after over 100 years of operation. And yesterday was the last day of business for the once-elegant, but sadly worn and almost forgotten in recent years, Empress of China. Faded royalty that closed for a condo development. Its closure got tons of media coverage (strangely, considering it never was very popular before) unlike Tommy Toy’s closure in 2013. Tommy Toy’s was newer (1985) but famous, also a celebrity hangout in its heyday, and was beautifully elegant with reportedly excellent food and service (sadly, I only went once for a cocktail but never dined there).

I loved hitting the Empress’s original 1968 bar for happy hour – too-sweet Mai Tais and greasy appetizers with amazing views of Coit Tower. But as a dining destination I thought the food was overpriced and mediocre, especially compared to so much great Chinese food around the city. And the service was always pretty cold, and sometimes downright rude. Which made it doubly sad to see it close. You could almost see the writing on the wall. Maybe if the food and service were better…. Remember when the Tonga Room almost closed about 5 years ago for a new Fairmont Hotel tower development? I would like to believe that Tiki aficionados, who rallied to save it, prevented its demise, but that wasn’t the case. Even a study of its historic value by the city didn’t save it. What saved it was a lucky break when the city rejected the new tower’s design as inappropriate for the neighborhood. The developer pulled out in the weak economy and the Tonga Room has since experienced a revival. Recently improving their food, cocktails, and service undoubtedly helped. But in today’s economy we may not have been so lucky.

Can increased regular business save these classic places? Perhaps. Maybe if the Empress had improved their food and service while retaining the atmosphere (with a cleaning) more people would have visited over the past 15 years. It seemed to mainly rely on walk-in tourist trade. In the case of Joe’s of Westlake, I don’t think improved food and service would have prevented the owners from selling the restaurant. They decided to sell because they chose to retire and needed the money. Besides, it was usually busy so it didn’t close from lack of business.

I do believe that increased business can help classic restaurants stay open. Maybe not in every case, but it certainly can’t hurt. And if the owner does decide to sell and the restaurant is doing well, the new owner may decide to continue to operate it (like what happened to Joe’s of Westlake), rather than it being torn down for a drug store or Starbucks.

So, my plea, dear readers, is for you to visit the restaurants and bars on these pages, often, before they are threatened. It may save them and certainly can’t hurt. Let’s all make a pledge to visit an old restaurant once a week in 2015. It’s fun to become a regular at places where a veteran waiter cares about the food, service, and its clientele (something lacking at chain restaurants). Why not start a small dining group (or two) that visits a classic, historic restaurant once-a-month or so? I’ve been in such a group for five years and I always look forward to our next adventure in dining.

Happy New Dining Year!

The Jab

 

vintage_new_year

 

CLOSED – Overland Hotel Bar & Restaurant, Gardnerville, Nevada

Recently I heard of the sale and closure of the Overland Hotel on U.S. 395 in Gardnerville, Nevada, one of a number of hotels that were built in the 19th century and early 20th century as boarding houses for migrant Basque sheepherders, who immigrated from the Pyranees during the California gold rush and Nevada silver mining boom. Over time most of the 300+ Basque hotels closed but a few remain as social gathering places for local Basques (and tourists) to drink a Picon Punch (aka Picon) and dine on hearty food, family-style. Le Continental previously visited Reno’s Santa Fe Hotel and Carson City’s Thurman’s Ranch House, which closed in 2013.

 

photo by The Jab, 2012

photo by The Jab, 2012

 

The only history I could find out about the Overland Hotel is that it opened in 1902. Here is a photo, probably from the 1940s.

 

photo courtesy of Picon Drinkers of the American West facebook page

photo courtesy of Picon Drinkers of the American West facebook page

 

I often drive highway 395 in the autumn to see fall colors along the spectacular route through the eastern Sierra. (Yes, I’m a leaf peeper!). The Overland Hotel was a welcome stop for a refreshing Picon, though I never passed through when I was hungry so, sadly, I have not eaten there.

 

photo by The Jab, 2012

Overland Hotel bar – photo by The Jab, 2012

 

The owner, Elvira Cenoz, retired after running the restaurant and bar for almost 50 years. I’ll proudly keep my souvenir napkin with her name on it.

 

Picon (or Picon Punch) - photo by The Jab, 2012

Picon (or Picon Punch) – photo by The Jab, 2012

 

The Overland Hotel is now closed as the Park family, the new owners, have not yet revealed their plans for the hotel (though they have stated on facebook that it will only be closed for a few months). I’m hoping the historic hotel, bar, and restaurant will be preserved as much as possible. The Park family also recently bought the Horizon Hotel in Lake Tahoe (which opened as Del Webb’s Sahara Tahoe in 1965 but was the Horizon since 1990) and will be converting it into a Hard Rock Hotel.

 

J T Basque Restaurant - photo by Jaspergo on Flickr.com

J T Basque Restaurant – photo by Jaspergo on Flickr.com

 

Meanwhile, in Gardnerville you can get your picons and meals at J T Basque Bar & Dining Room, which was opened in 1955 by the Jaunsaras and Trounday families (hence the name), and has been run by the Lekumberry family since 1960. The Victorian building it’s in was moved to Gardnerville in 1896 and it housed the restaurant and bar for the adjacent Gardnerville Hotel until 1928, when the hotel burned down (while this building survived). This fall I’m going to try to return to Gardnerville to dine at JT’s and afterwards I’ll return here with a full report.