Watercolor by Marilynne Bradley

Cyrano's

Cyrano's was founded in 1960 by Mr. and Mrs. John Marshall. The restaurant was located in the basement of their Hi-Fi Showroom at 6383 Clayton Road (at DeMun). The Marshalls introduced St. Louis to two phenomena – quality component stereophonic equipment and gourmet desserts. The hi-fi business played an integral part in the ambience of Cyrano's, as classical music permeated the restaurant over the Marshall’s reel-to-reel tape player.
 

Cyrano's, 6383 Clayton Road
(click image to enlarge)

Cyrano's became the "in place" for high school and college students after movies, proms and other social events. Adults quickly followed. On most weekends there were long waits; customers lined up the stairs, out the door and around the block. The line extended from a smallish waiting area with bench seats; the Marshall's reel-to-reel tape deck, behind smoked glass, was against the back wall as a distraction. Basement pipes running overhead in both the waiting area and the dark romantic dining room were left exposed, and painted the same dark color as the ceiling. Candle-lit wooden tables in the dining room completed the scene.

As St. Louis’ first and only European-style coffeehouse, Cyrano's menu included a few simply prepared sandwiches, 16 types of coffee, a variety of teas and cocoas, and an extensive collection of pastries and ice cream desserts. The signature dish was the Cleopatra – an immense ice cream sundae, with bananas, whole strawberries, a hard chocolate shell and a mountain of whipped cream.

 

The Original Cryano's Menu
(click image to enlarge)

Cyrano's was so popular that the restaurant became one of Pevely Dairy's biggest whipped cream customer, using over 100 gallons of 36 per cent whipping cream every week. And 40 trays of fresh strawberries were flown in from California weekly.

In the spring of 1972, the Marshalls expanded Cyrano's upward. They converted half of their Hi-Fi Showroom into a second dining room, increasing the restaurant’s seating capacity to 165. And for the first time, luncheons were served.

In the new upstairs dining area, tables were intimately arranged with candles and fresh flowers on their marble tops. Reproductions of masters were softly illuminated on the walls, there were beamed ceilings and fine walnut that originally graced Mill Creek Valley homes, and in the background, classical guitar and piano music, pleasantly muted, added a soothing touch. For those with romance in their hearts, this was the place.
 

Cyrano's Upstairs Dining Room, 1972
(click image to enlarge)

The Marshalls decision to expand was not a sudden one. John Marshall described himself as a frustrated restaurateur. "I’m one of these guys 50 years old and still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up." Through the years, he had collected gourmet cookbooks; he had 150 of them and wanted to put them to use.

The upstairs menu was expanded. It included seven soups, all homemade. The two best sellers were the New England style clam chowder and the split pea with ham, with the French onion, the navy bean and the gazpacho close behind. The soups were served in crocks setting on tripods, costing $1 a bowl ($1.25 for the clam chowder). Entrees included Boeuf Bourguignon, Italian ham and salami, and Crab Louis. Each of these dishes cost $2.50 and were accompanied by a mixed salad. And of course, Cyrano's downstairs desserts were all on the menu.

On Sunday afternoon, December 23, 1979, a fire began in Cyrano's lower level, just hours before the restaurant was scheduled to open. Fire burned up the stairway from the basement and caused extensive damage to the upstairs dining room and the neighboring Hi-Fi Showroom.
 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 1979

Most of the damage was done by smoke and water; fire officials determined the main structure to be sound. John Marshall told officials he would rebuild, but shortly thereafter, he sold the property to St. Louis County Bank.

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The Marshalls reopened Cyrano's in 1980 at 1059 South Big Bend Boulevard, a building that had housed a Shakey's Pizza Parlor, St. Louis World's Fare Restaurant and the Tivoli Cafe. The menu was the same but the vibe had changed.
 

Cyrano's Menu, mid 1980s
(click image to enlarge)

In 1985, the Marshalls retired and sold Cyrano's to Ray and Fran Gibson.

"Our commitment was to leave everything just as it was,” said Ray Gibson. "Cyrano’s has always been known for its desserts, soups, special coffees, continental teas, salads and sandwiches. Consequently, it wouldn’t have been in our best interests to drop any of them. What we did instead was to add a second menu, featuring steaks and fresh seafood."
 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 29, 1989

In 1990, Dr. Francis E. O’Donnell purchased Cyrano's from the Gibsons "with the goal of restoring it to its former level of excellence."

Cyrano's Menu, 1990
(click image to enlarge)

O’Donnell took the Gibsons' expanded menu to another level. Cyrano's still offered its signature ice creams and coffees, although the selections had been trimmed. But the menu focused much more on dinners, far beyond the famous roast beef sandwich, with a wide variety of entrees, including pastas and gourmet pizzas.

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John Marshall died in 2010. His wife Frances had died in 1999. Their European-style coffeehouse, which had gone up in flames in 1979, finally died on September 15, 1996 when Frank O'Donnell closed Cyrano's and sold the space to Charlie Downs, George Mahe and Bob Gontram. The trio would reopen the restaurant in November as Harvest.

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Charlie and Carolyn Downs resurrected Cyrano's in 2003 at 603 East Lockwood in Webster Groves, where it is still in business today. Their website states "former Cyrano's tables, mirrors, artwork and antiques have been restored and intermingled with the bright colors of today, creating an atmosphere that is alive and progressive, but still cozy and romantic." Perhaps, but for those of us who remember the original Cyrano's at Clayton and DeMun, the Cleopatra doesn't taste the same.

Cyrano's at 603 East Lockwood in Webster Groves 21st Century Cleopatra
J. Pollack Photography/Feast Magazine

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