Karen Duffy graduated Nerinx Hall high school in 1963 as Mary Karen Theresa Moran. After obtaining a degree in classics at Rosary College near Chicago, she married, had two children and then took a detour back to St. Louis.
Karen and Dan Duffy opened Duff's at 392 North Euclid, near McPherson, on July 7, 1972.
Duff's main dining room, just wide enough for two rows of mismatched wooden chairs and tables, was all there was to the restaurant in the beginning. Next door to the south was an even narrower establishment, Europa 390, a restaurant/bar opened by Frank Mormino in 1961. To the north was a witchcraft store run by a woman named Debbie. Motorcyclists used to hang out at Debbie's store, which may have helped keep Duff's rent down.
By early 1973, the space Debbie had occupied was vacant. Duff's expanded in that direction, adding a bar and additional seating.
Beautiful beveled wooden-carved mirrors adorned
the wall in the main dining area. In this same room was a
one-of-a-kind leaded glass picture window with Duff’s name
incorporated in the art glass.
A towering archway led into the bar, with its
dimly lit wooden booths. The high pressed-tin ceilings, wide wooden
floors and exposed brick walls felt more like a home than a place of
In 1990, Duff's expanded again. Europa 390 had
closed in 1987, and Duff's took over the space,
creating a large second dining room, dominated by Bill Kohn's vast
painting of the Grand Canyon.
In August of 1973, Tim Kirby was hired as a
bartender. He had graduated from St. Louis University high school in
1965. He was drafted at the height of the Vietnam War and spent time
in Germany. After he returned, he landed at Duff's. A few years
later, after Karen and Dan Duffy divorced and Karen ended up with
the restaurant, Tim Kirby became her co-owner.
When they opened their restaurant in 1972, Karen and Dan Duffy started with a barebones menu.
The nightly dinner specials included lamb pie,
paella, fried chicken with cream gravy, pork with mushrooms,
coquille St. Jacques and beef carbonnade. In addition to the
specials, a standard beef shish kebob was available every night. In
1973, dinner for four, including a drink, wine, dessert, tax and
tip, totaled $23.
By 1980, Duff's was changing its dinner specials every two months, and distributing their menu by mail. By popular demand, four of the entrees were almost permanent – the beef kebobs, which were on the restaurant’s first menu, chicken Marsala, steak au poivre and a grilled sirloin steak.
In 1974, Jim Voss started at Duff's as a dishwasher. Within a year, he was head chef and remained in that position until he left in 2013, shortly before the restaurant closed.
In his youth, Voss spent his vacations
following the Grateful Dead as they toured the country. Jon
McIntyre, a Grateful Dead manager, lived in Belleville and was a
frequent patron of Duff's. In the summer of 1986, when the Dead's
chef quit in the middle of a tour, McIntyre called Voss and asked
him to finish the tour. Voss took a plane to Akron, Ohio, and cooked
for the Dead, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. He did the job so well that
he was asked to be the Dead's regular traveling chef, in addition to
his duties at Duff's.
In the mid-1980s, Duffy and Kirby added brunch to Duff’s busy schedule. In the spring of 1993, they added a sidewalk café, in collaboration with neighboring Kopperman’s Deli and Pete Rothschild, who owned the building. A wrought-iron fence and gas lamps added character to the lively streetside café.
Over the years, Duff's
developed a reputation for reasonably priced, approachable menus and a
selection of wines. Eating at Duff’s was like going home for dinner.
For many St. Louisans, what made Duff's invaluable were the readings of poetry and fiction, often accompanied by music, which took place on Monday evenings. Poetry readings were in the mix almost from the beginning, but they became an official part of the schedule in 1974, when a new literary organization called River Styx took over the programming.
At the readings, patrons drank beer or coffee
and cheered the reader, if they wished. The musical offerings ranged
from folk to jazz. The atmosphere was relaxed, nonacademic and
appealing to all ages. The series gained a national reputation and
became a meeting place for every author and poet who lived in or
visited St. Louis.
In the summer of 2013, Karen Duffy and Tim Kirby decided it was time to retire. They sold their restaurant to a group that would open an Italian restaurant in the space.
Duff's served its final meal on Sunday, June
23. The next evening, the restaurant hosted one last Monday evening
literary gathering. And then the Central West End institution closed
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