Watering Holes: Busch’s Grove

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Lest its most current iterations obscure memory, a word about the old Busch’s Grove:

Forget it’s “rebirth” and unfortunate sushi bar phase; this is the old Busch’s: dark wood panelling, gracious waitstaff, genteel dining, hunting prints, leather… and back-porch huts, an institution since 1890. Time was, Busch’s Grove was the place to celebrate: birthdays, wedding announcements, graduations, anniversaries, reunions… so long as it was reserved, and agreeable. Post-dinner, the party could move down Clayton Road to more boisterous Field’s.

Busch’s was always about atmosphere more than menu (despite quality steaks, chops, and fish). The quiet, safe feel of waiters who had been at the place for generations and were almost as much a draw as the restaurant itself; familiar prints; and the iconic bar, and its keeps. Summer nights out back. If there’s security in continuity, tranquility in tradtion, Busch’s was both, without equal.  An old newspaper review describes the restaurant as specializing in “hand cut steaks and traditional American fare,” and that’s exactly the name of the hole left in its absence: traditional American. Because American traditon isn’t white drapes, expensive cars parked by valet, sushi bars, waiters wearing silk, and appletinis; it’s congenial friendships, hearty laughs and handshakes, old friends and neighbors, and an appreciation of tradition. Not tradition for tradition’s sake, or for the sake of musty nostalgia, but for its ability to tie us to our roots and our past, to remind us who we are, to civilize us, to ignite in us our more noble passions. The mood for such tradition is respectful and slightly awed, subdued with wood and leather; they’re not appreciated alongside noisy Hummer H2’s, which have a way of obscuring virtue with vanity.

Following its mercifully short-lived renaissance, the shell of Saint Louis’ oldest restaurant became The Market at Busch’s Grove, an upscale market and grocery store. Most notable about the new, and now deceased, Busch’s Grove were its supporters: quick online searches reveal only favorable reviews, from only out-of-towners (and the angrily proletariat Riverfront Times). The majority of regulars, who cringed at their old friend’s passing, were at least civil enough in the end to hold their tongues. The only words about the new restaurant came from visitors, not locals, and this might be the highest compliment yet paid to the old haunt.

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