Lost Duluth Restaurants

Duffy’s Drive-In in Duluth’s Kenwood neighborhood. (Image: Greg Mattson)

Hundreds—perhaps thousands—of restaurants have come and gone in Duluth. We’d be remiss without mentioning at least a few.

Old postcards remind us of Duluth’s many eateries from the 1920s and 30s:  the Atlas Tea Room at 124 East First Street, Lake View Tea and Dining Room at 728 East Superior Street, Jack’s Café at 220 East Superior Street (now the Zeitgeist Arts Café and once the Red Lion Lounge) was originally built in 1910 as the Albert Salter Saloon. Known as “a popular place for women, especially, to have lunch and see and be seen,” the Greysolon Tea Room originally graced the Glass Block, but closed at that location in 1940 to create more retail space for the department store. It later opened in the Plaza Shopping Center and became the Dinner Belle.

Some in town may still remember Vivian Lee’s, housed in a barge on Connie’s Landing in Riverside, or Diamond’s Pool Hall and Luncheonette above Woolworths on Superior Street. A big favorite for many years was the Captain’s Table Café in the Medical Arts Building, a buffet-style eatery with a nautical theme (including a parrot named “Amigo”) that closed in 1972. It was the Miller Café until 1959, a direct descendant of the Miller Cafeteria J. W. Miller founded back in 1887 and run by his family until 1953 when Jack and Shirley Garber purchased it.  A 1959 remodeling inspired the name change.

London Road in the 1960s and ’70s offered a line of locally-owned eateries along its “Motel Row”: Sandy’s at 1515 London Road, (there was also a Sandy’s in the Denfeld neighborhood), Henry’s Hamburgers at Twenty-Sixth Avenue East (and in the West End at Twenty-Third Avenue West) sold fifteen-cent burgers in 1961, and the London Inn on the northeast corner at Seventeenth Avenue East was famous for its onion rings.  London Road also included two franchise exceptions: a Dairy Queen and a beloved A & W franchise. The Lemon Drop on a hill at 2631 London Road lasted until 1988. Its name lives on through Duluth’s Grandma’s Marathon, as “Lemon Drop Hill” is the race’s toughest portion. More recently London Road lost Louie’s Café, which specialized in Greek cuisine and pancakes in the former Orchard Pie Shop location.

The Kenwood community was served by Duffy’s Drive-In on Cleveland Street, popular for its broasted chicken. And before Canal Park Business District filled with upscale restaurants and luxury hotels it was home to King Leo’s, another hamburger stand famous for its onion rings. King Leo’s later became the Canal Park Inn, where tourists bought French fries and then fed them to seagulls, annoying the locals. It later became a Burger King, which was demolished for a hotel.

Since 1980 Duluth has seen the demise of many long-standing restaurants, including downtown’s Jolly Fisher, which specialized in seafood, and Natchio’s, which served up Greek cuisine (and, on Saturday nights, belly dancers).  West Duluth lost two great Grand Avenue diners with the closings of Ketola’s Kafé and Joyce’s Kitchen (both joining Morrie’s at 5434 Grand Avenue, which had closed many years before they had). The Hillside’s Fourth Street lost Jim’s Hamburgers (another Jim’s in the West End closed in 2012) and the House of Donuts, once popular not only with locals during the day but also with college students very late at night — and very early in the morning. On top of the hill the Buena Vista, with its Sunday brunch and the best view in town, came down for a condominium development.

The last historic restaurant standing is The Pickwick, which began life as the Fitger’s Brewery Saloon in 1915 and takes its name from a near beer Fitger’s sold during Prohibition. The Wisocki family, owners since 1918, sold the restaurant in 2010.