In the 1950s, two of the best places to eat in St.
Louis were the Rathskeller and the Mayfair Room. Both
downtown restaurants were operated by Mayfair-Lennox Hotels under C.
Gordon Heiss. In 1959, Heiss opened a new restaurant that served
fresh fish every day. That place was Nantucket Cove.
Nantucket's "cove" was its parking lot.
Nautical buoys hung on wooden gates, which flanked the restaurant's Kingshighway
Diner's entered Nantucket Cove via a
wooden walkway over water. Inside, it felt very much like the
New England shore. The accessories were authentic, many coming from Massachusetts seaport towns, including a hand
carved masthead found on the wreck of a whaler. The masthead kept
watch over the bar, which was separated from the restaurant by a
wall of oars, harpoons and buoys covered with fish casting nets. On
one wall there were red running lanterns that had been used on
sailing ships of the 1800s. There were also compasses and other
A ship’s helm, anchors and Portuguese wine
casks contributed to the nautical atmosphere. There were captain’s
chairs, a beamed ceiling and twelve inch planked flooring.
The restaurant had a trout run with a water wheel and a live lobster pond with a waterfall, where the trout and lobster were kept until ordered by patrons.
"We’ve developed perfect conditions in our
holding ponds to keep our lobsters healthy and happy," said
Nantucket Cove's president in 1977. "We control oxygen, salinity,
clarity . . . the total environment. From these holding ponds we
serve more live Maine lobsters than anyone else in the Midwest."
Cove opened, its seafood orientation was revolutionary for the
Midwest. The advent of jet air freight in early 1960 was the key,
and over the years, Nantucket Cove steadily built its reputation for
absolutely fresh, imaginatively prepared seafood. They were known
for their lobsters, steamed clams, oysters on the shell, corn sticks
and salad, a direct descendant of the original Mayfair salad and
In 1967, C. Gordon Heiss opened a second Nantucket Cove in Chicago and announced plans to expand into 20 cities throughout the United States. While a third restaurant was reported under construction in Springfield, Illinois, these plans never materialized. In 1972, Heiss sold Nantucket Cove to Frank A. Potts, treasurer of the Mayfair-Lennox Hotels.
Frank Potts, and later his son Charles, continued operations on Kingshighway pretty much unchanged. "I guess we’re easily known as the seafood restaurant in St. Louis," explained Charles Potts in 1988. "And we never dropped our lobsters into boiling water. We’ve always steamed them."
As the population moved westward, eventually Nantucket Cove did the same. In 1994, Charles Potts moved the restaurant from Kingshighway to Clayton's Interco Building, on South Hanley Road. It was an emotional trip for those who had known the restaurant as the preeminent seafood house in St. Louis.
The move was the beginning of the end. Potts
sold the restaurant to Amer Hawatmeh in 1995. And in 1999, Nantucket
Cove stopped steaming lobsters and closed its doors for good.
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