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March 8, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST
It’s a Friday afternoon at 4, and a local band is warming up on the patio of Katy Station while the after-work crowd trickles in. After waiting, diners walk through a maze of full tables to the back where authentic railroad cars have been transformed into private booths. There diners feast on the famous prime rib and salad. Dim light illuminates the brass elephant heads and railroad memorabilia adorning the walls. This scene at Katy Station, once so familiar, is now just a memory, but it is named as one of the restaurants missed the most because of its unique atmosphere.
“They had the greatest salad bar of all,” Martin Danson says of Katy Station. Danson, who has lived in Columbia for more than 20 years, especially loved the giant cheese wheel because he could cut off as big of a slab as he wanted.
Katy Station, which was open from 1976 until June 1998, was located at Broadway and Fourth Street — the Colosseum Bistro is there now — and was once a historic railroad station in the center of downtown.
Just a few blocks away at Ninth Street and Broadway, the Cajun eatery Glenn’s Café, which closed in 2002, was decorated with over-the-top posters and neon lights. It served up crawdads, oysters and cornbread and threw a famous Mardi Gras celebration each year.
“You’d walk in, and there was a big bar and lounge full of cool people,” Mike Reilly, owner of Grill One 5, says. Reilly always hears people say they wish Glenn’s was still in town. Owner Steve Cupp closed the cafè because the historic building was deteriorating and business had declined. But if locals are willing to drive the measly 25 miles to Boonville, they can go to the new Glenn’s Cafe Cupp opened in the Hotel Frederick.
At Alexander’s Steakhouse, once located on Stadium Boulevard on the west side of town, patrons could choose a plain or marinated steak from a display case and grill it themselves. For a couple of extra dollars, a pro would grill the steak in front of them. Debby Williams, a Columbia resident for 20 years who frequently dined at Alexander’s, says no other steaks could compare to those juicy cuts.
Pictures of customers who were able to persevere and eat an entire 21-ounce steak lined Alexander’s walls. If they could complete the daunting task, they received the steak for free — and probably went home with a stomachache.
Jerry Henke, who has been a Columbia resident for nearly 30 years, now eats at the downtown eatery CC’s City Broiler when he’s in the mood for a tasty steak. But before CC’s opened its doors in 1995, Henke always went to the upscale seafood and steakhouse Original Bobby Buford to celebrate special occasions. That is until it closed in 1993. Bob Tye, who bought the old Bobby Buford location and turned it into a margarita grill, says the inside was decorated in an eclectic ’60s retro theme complete with carousel horses, gas pumps and even a bathtub.
The big, beautiful baby grand piano was one of the biggest attractions at another long-gone restaurant, Cornerstone Café, which was once located at Eighth and Walnut Streets, remembers Reilly. Tye, who also owned Cornerstone before he sold the business in 1995, says it was one of the first bistros in Columbia. Inside, the restaurant was decorated in a black-and-white motif, and butcher paper lined the tables over the permanent linen tablecloths so creative diners could get colorful with crayons. Customers never grew tired of the menu at Cornerstone’s because it offered up Mediterranean, Italian and Greek dishes and changed with every season.
Reilly says when a local restaurant closes, especially a favorite, it is hard both as a customer and as a member of the restaurant industry. “You move on,” Reilly says. “There are so many chains that have come to town. When an independent closes, it just stings. It’s a huge reality check that you have to be on your toes.”
Colosseum Bistro owner Jeff Ferguson says it is difficult for local restaurants to compete with chains because they don’t have a large advertising budget or the name brand recognition. He hopes visitors want to support local restaurants. But, he says, it’s more likely that out-of-towners go somewhere they recognize.
“The one thing that we have is the building itself has some originality,” he says.
Ferguson says people still come into Colosseum Bistro and share memories they have of the building. People tell him they met at Katy Station years ago, and he has even had people share stories of being a porter there when it was still a railroad station.
Other restaurants Columbians miss include Honest John’s, which hosted a month-long battle of the bands; the antebellum plantation manor with Southern cuisine, Haden House; and a popular jazz restaurant of the ’70s, The Flaming Pit. Although food is what kept customers coming back for more, it is the quirky and unique surroundings these departed favorites once offered that locals reminisce about the most.