Busch's Grove was an unpretentious white frame roadhouse on Clayton Road at Price, in the city of Ladue. For years the name epitomized genteel, gracious dining in St. Louis. But the multicentury, multigenerational story that is Busch's Grove is as much about the building that housed the restaurant as it is about the restaurant itself.
John Philip Litzinger, who purchased the Clayton Road property from James S. Forsyth in 1855, is given credit for constructing the original frame building that would eventually be known as Busch's Grove. The property changed hands multiple times, with the building used as a farmhouse, a post office, a stagecoach stop, a general store, a hotel and a saloon. In 1891, the property was acquired by George Buente, who leased the building to John H. Busch.
Busch, who came to St. Louis with his wife from
Amsterdam in 1869, opened an establishment which has been variously called a restaurant, a roadhouse, a hostelry and a resort. While the
venture was eventually named Busch's Grove, before that it
was known as The Woodlawn Grove and housed the Price Post Office.
However, the timeline is confusing. There are Post-Dispatch
references to "Busch's Grove" starting in 1892. But as
late as 1895, there are
references to Busch's daughter Kittie being married at "Woodlawn
Grove" and to "Proprietor J. H. Busch of the Woodlawn Road-house."
In any event, it's clear that Busch's Grove was not "since
1890" as John Busch did not lease the building from George Buente until 1891.
At the turn of the century, Busch's Grove served as a training site for out-of-town prize-fighters (1902), the destination for hayrides, moonlight picnics and dancing (1902), a saloon and outdoor grove for beer drinkers (1907), and a haven for late night poker gatherings (1908). During the 1904 World's Fair, parties were held for the noted Irish tenor John McCormack. And a balloonist named Roy Knobenshue bet his friends he could take off from Forest Park and land at the restaurant, which he did.
John Busch continued as proprietor of Busch's Grove until 1909, when his son Henry and a friend of the younger Busch, Paul Kammerer, took over management on the elder Busch's retirement. In 1916, Henry Busch and Paul Kammerer purchased the property consisting of 12.8 acres and improvements from the Buente estate for $26,000.
Busch and Kammerer took pride in their
restaurant, often meeting guests at the door. The two-story
white frame building trimmed in
green housed a large main dining room, a smaller lounge and a casual
bar. The look was domesticated hunt club, with dark woods,
burgundies and hunter greens. Paintings of pheasants, ducks and
hunting dogs were displayed on the walls.
Early on, screened log cabins were built on the
land behind the restaurant for summer dining. A horse-and-buggy ride
away from the city, they were the place to go to escape the heat. Set among tall shade trees and beds of geraniums and
impatiens, the cabins were furnished with folding chairs and tables,
covered with white cloths and napkins.
Busch's Grove became known for its screened cottages, as well as the steaks coming from its grill and the mint juleps served over its bar. A dozen oysters were fifty cents, vegetable soup was fifteen and a sirloin steak was seventy-five. Because the restaurant was so far out in the country, the streetcar schedule received space on the menu.
Among the celebrity diners who visited the restaurant were Babe Ruth, Will Rogers, Charles Lindbergh, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman. According to an anecdote, Lindbergh once approached Kammerer and asked where he could find the men's restroom. Kammerer replied, "Anybody who can find their way across the ocean to Paris can surely find the men's restroom."
In 1941, Henry Busch died at the age of 62 and
Paul Kammerer acquired his interest in the eating place. Kammerer
died in 1951, and ownership and management passed to Kammerer’s son
Bill and his daughter Marianne O’Neal.
Dinner at Busch’s Grove was often a family
experience. There was a relaxed atmosphere, with long-time customers
smiling at and chatting with long-time staff members.
A Busch's Grove
menu a decade later offered similar fare, but with significantly
higher prices. The 1980s menu included the popular Russ's
salad, a combination of romaine and iceberg lettuce, topped with
julienne of ham, turkey, cheese and shrimp, with Russ's dressing.
Bill Kammerer died in 1998 and his sister
Marianne O’Neal died in 2000. Ownership and management of Busch's
Grove passed to their sons-in-law, Carl Cowles and Bill Carter.
The New Busch's Grove
In October 2003, Lester Miller, who made his fortune selling his plastics business Contico International for $300 million, put Busch’s Grove under contract for $3 million. He budgeted another $4 million to rebuild and restore it. Miller’s budget represented twice the cost of the most expensive restaurant ever built in St. Louis. But Miller was unfazed. "In no shape or form do I believe that Busch’s Grove is the best return on invested capital. It has been in the same location before the city of Ladue was incorporated and if it can be preserved in the fine tradition of Ladue, it becomes more than a restaurant. It becomes a trophy destination and will still be there for another 100 years. I’m in love with the project. I hope my great-grandchildren will dine there someday."
The New Busch’s Grove opened for dinner on
Tuesday, Nov 22, 2005 and for lunch on Monday, Nov 28, 2005.
Entering from the
parking lot, through front doors fitted with Lalique crystal pulls,
there was a sushi and raw bar on the right and a two-part bar on the
left – a mingling section with banquettes and then the main bar,
complete with bandstand. Straight ahead was the Cove Room – a
spacious dining area ornamented with 8,500 pieces of Missouri
granite suspended by fishing line from the ceiling, flanked on the
side by four "cabins" for ten, lit by Holly Hunt candle chandeliers.
The more formal
Grove Room was adorned with paintings, Baccarat crystal sculptures
and a two-floor wine cellar holding 5,000 bottles of wine. There was
also a private dining room, complete with a strip of fire in a wall
The restaurant seated 360 and had a staff of 140. It opened with veteran managers, the executive chef from a five-star Florida resort and a chef from The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida.
But reviews were mixed. On January 5, 2006, a two-page review by Post-Dispatch food critic Joe Bonwich ended with,
On January 12, Miller took out a one-page ad in the Post-Dispatch responding to Bonwich's review. He thanked St. Louis for the "overwhelming success" of the New Busch’s Grove. He went on to say in part,
Miller was unable to complete his Herculean task. In April 2008, Miller tried persuading Tony’s Vince Bommarito to lease the landmark restaurant. On May 23, Bommarito announced he had decided not to go ahead with the deal. "They approached us about taking over the restaurant," Bommarito said. "But the business model didn’t work for us."
On May 24, 2008, Lester Miller's dream came to
The Market at Busch’s Grove
On July 31, 2008, Lester Miller cut his losses and sold Busch's Grove to real estate developer Charles Cella, president of St. Louis based Southwestern Enterprises. Cella leased the property to Paul Poe, who had been the chief executive of Clayton based Straub’s Markets for 13 years. Poe converted the building into a high-end, gourmet grocery store, targeting the affluent Ladue neighborhood.
Asked if he was concerned about opening in an economy in which even affluent shoppers were cutting back, Poe responded, "It’s probably not the best timing in the world, but it was the opportunity to transform this landmark space into a one-of-a-kind fabulous grocery store."
Market at Busch’s Grove opened in early December 2008. It was an
upscale, fresh-food market providing high quality cheeses, locally
made baked goods, rare wines, prime meats and seafood, fresh produce
and an extensive prepared food section.
But it was indeed not the best timing for Poe and his one-of-a-kind fabulous grocery store. A victim of the recession, The Market at Busch's Grove closed on January 8, 2011.
Twenty-First Century and Beyond
With the Busch's Grove space once again empty, it became sexy for restaurateurs to be associated with the white-frame building at 9160 Clayton Road in Ladue.
In July 2011, The Gabriele family, owners of Giovanni's and Il Bel Lago, announced they would add a restaurant in the landmark space. In October 2011, Vince Bommarito’s son James talked to the Cella family about moving Tony’s into the shuttered Market at Busch’s Grove. And in December 2012, EdgeWild Restaurant announced it would open a second location in the vacant building the following summer.
But the onetime farmhouse, post office, stagecoach stop, general store, hotel, saloon, restaurant and market remained empty.
And then, in early 2016, the transcendent building assumed a new identity – Palm Health.
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