By Joan Fudala
Scottsdale is shedding a collective tear this month as the beloved Chicago-style sports bar/supper club Don & Charlie’s closes. We’re all hoping for an encore. This milestone is our town’s restaurant history brings to mind other favorite restaurants that we still miss and will ever remember.
Here’s are a few classics we fondly remember:
- Lulu Belle, a Gay-Nineties-themed cocktail bar and restaurant, opened at 7212 E. Main Street – the epicenter of downtown Scottsdale – in 1954. Hotelier Bobby Foehl (Jokaka Inn, Hotel Valley Ho) bought the former Saguaro Bar as a wedding gift for his wife Evelyn, who transformed the space into a popular gathering place for residents, visitors, civic groups and celebrities. Robert Wagner and Natalie Woods had dinner there following their wedding; even the Duke and Duchess of Windsor stopped by during a visit to the Valley in the 1950s. An early manager, Dale Anderson, went on to open several other popular restaurants here in his own name. It’s 1950’s bill of fare listed escargots en coquille for $2, shrimp cocktail for $1.75, veal Oscar béarnaise for $4.95, breast of capon with black bing cherry sauce for $3.95, tenderloin of beef brochette with wild rice for $3.75 and lobster tail and petite filet combo for $6.95 (all entrees included relish dish, soup or salad, potatoes and hot rolls), plus an array of desserts baked on the premises than ranged in price from 40 to 85 cents. A favorite dessert was brandy ice; the Red Garter was its signature cocktail. Lulu Belle closed in the early 1990s; part of the Lulu Belle space is still used as a restaurant.
- Pink Pony. Charlie Briley, bartender at Ping Bell’s place, Ping’s, on the southeast corner of Main Street and Scottsdale Road in the late 1940s bought out the owner and renamed the bar/restaurant the Pink Pony in 1950. Artist Lew Davis, who had a studio just down Main Street at the Arizona Craftsmen, designed the distinctive pink logo. Artist Don Barclay created caricatures of sports figures and celebrities that graced the walls. It is said that the idea for building a baseball stadium and attracting a spring training team to Scottsdale started over lunch at the Pony. Logically, then, it became the hangout place for players, coaches and sportswriters during Spring Training in the 1950s through the 1970s. The restaurant moved a block south on Scottsdale Road in 1970, changed owners twice in the 2000s and finally closed a few years ago.
- Two way-stations in the Pinnacle Peak area, where picnickers and boaters stopped en route to Bartlett Lake, opened as rustic restaurants in the late 1950s – Pinnacle Peak Patio and Reata Pass. Both featured indoor and outdoor dining, huge cowboy steaks and beans and a true Western ambiance. Tour buses brought thousands of meeting attendees there for a rootin’ tootin’ time. Pinnacle Peak Patio was known for cutting off the necktie of any city slicker who dared wear one; thousands of tie fragments hung from the patio’s ceiling. The Cavalliere family owned and operated Reata Pass, which had a resident rattlesnake behind glass in the interior and featured Western bands on an outdoor stage. In the mid-1970s, Doc Cavalliere opened Greasewood Flat adjacent to Reata Pass, with all outdoor dining, music, fragrant fires in oil drums and a perimeter filled with Western ranch implements and other antiques. All three restaurants closed in the 2010s to make way for upscale developments.
- In 1960, Paul Shank’s French Quarter at the Safari Resort opened, with Continental-style gourmet food often cooked tableside, often prepared by Shank himself. The nightclub featured headliners like Rosemary Clooney and had a house band on stage for dancing. The Safari’s 24-hour coffee shop and its Swedish pancakes were also legendary until the resort on Scottsdale Road just north of Camelback Road was torn down in 1998.
- Trader Vic’s on Fifth Avenue became the place to celebrate a special occasion – engagements, anniversaries, promotions or impressive first dates. The Polynesian-themed restaurant, part of Victor Bergeron’s international chain, opened here in March 1962. One of the first celebrities to dine there was John Wayne, who was in town to premiere his movie “Hatari” at the Kachina Theater as a benefit to the then-new Phoenix Zoo. The drinks menu was legendary, featuring the Fog Cutter and a volcanic concoction that steamed with dry ice. Trader Vic’s closed its Fifth Avenue location in 1990. In 2006, a re-created Trader Vic’s opened on the groups of the renovated Hotel Valley Ho, operating there for several years before closing.
- Dale Anderson began his long run as a Scottsdale restaurateur as manager of the Lulu Belle in the late 1950s. Anderson went on to open Dale Anderson’s on Marshall Way, the Buckboard at Frontier Plaza (Thomas and Scottsdale roads), The Other Place on Lincoln and The Quilted Bear at Lincoln and Scottsdale. All of his places were known as great places to eat as well as meet friends at the bar. Many civic groups met at Dale Anderson’s. He was a charter member of the Scottsdale Charros in 1961, and hosted countless Charro gatherings at his restaurants.
- Louis Germaine opened Chez Louis on Brown Avenue in the 1960s. It featured French cuisine and fine dining, a new concept in the West’s Most Western Town. When the west side of Scottsdale Civic Center Mall was completed in the late 1970s, he moved into a distinctively French-looking place (that later housed Pepin Spanish restaurant).
- Mag’s Ham Bun opened in the 1960s on First Street. A group of men began meeting there for breakfast and named themselves Mag’s Ham Bun Bunch. The casual spot was popular with downtown workers. During the late 1980s through the early 2000s the site was Pischke’s, run by Chris Pischke, and again cultivated “regulars” for lunch from City Hall and downtown businesses. A second Mag’s Ham Bun opened at Scottsdale and Shea; both have long since closed, but are fondly remembered, especially by “The Bunch.”
- Scottsdale High graduate Don Carson opened Don & Charlie’s on Camelback Road in the 1981, in the same restaurant space that his father, Chris, had operated a Black Angus in the early 1960s. Don, whose family ran the Chicago-based Carson’s Ribs restaurants, created a Chicago-style supper club, then began decorating it with his extensive and ever-expanding sports memorabilia collection. It didn’t take long for Don & Charlie’s to become Scottsdale’s premier sports hangout – sports stars, sports management, sports fans and just plain good sports. Diners at Don & Charlie’s have long enjoyed ribs, prime rib, frog legs, liver pate and athlete-sized desserts. It is scheduled to close April 10, but there’s a glimmer of hope it will be reprised within the hotel that will be built on the site. Hey, Don, thanks for the memories!
- We’re also still waxing poetic about classics like Mancuso’s at The Borgata, the Palm Court at the Scottsdale Conference Resort, May Elaine’s at The Phoenician and others for fine dining; and the more casual Garcia’s of Scottsdale on Indian School Road, Bobby McGee’s at Papago Plaza and on Shea, Lunt Avenue Marble Club (where Trader Joe’s is now just south of Lincoln), Luby’s at Los Arcos Mall, and, most recently, Cowboy Ciao on Stetson Drive.
Lest we think that the best restaurants have faded into “history,” there are so many classics – those who have been in the restaurant biz for at least 30 years—yet to enjoy: Los Olivos, Sugar Bowl, El Chorro, the Rusty Spur, Malee’s on Main, and more. And it seems like every day a new dining spot opens. Who knows which will become the next culinary classic in Scottsdale?