Pelican's restaurant was housed in a
three-story red brick building at Grand and Shenandoah. The
structure, distinguished by its German-style turret, became a St.
Louis City landmark in 1976. Today, the historic building stands
vacant in the Compton Heights neighborhood, having outlived its
The core of the building was constructed sometime prior to 1875, enlarged in 1878 and completely overhauled in 1895 when the Griesedieck family of brewers purchased it for a restaurant and bar, managed by Carl Anschuetz as Anschuetzís Restaurant.
According to a pamphlet written about the
neighborhood in 1915, the German restaurant was a model establishment. The interior was
richly fitted. The edibles and potables were nothing but the best.
Only the foremost elements of society were found there.
In 1938, James Pelican bought the restaurant
and gave it his name. Pelican converted the establishment into a
highly popular family restaurant, where the menu offered fish and a
wide variety of American cuisine.
A menu from late 1938, shortly after Pelican
bought the restaurant, lists the famous Pelicanís turtle soup at 15
cents, fried scallops at 75 cents and lobster for a
dollar. Under a section headed Italian dishes, chili was 20 cents,
while chili mac and chili with tamales were a quarter. The
highest price on the menu was steak-for-two at a buck and a quarter.
By the time Pelican
acquired the building, Grand and Shenandoah was no longer quite the
elegant edge of the city it had been 20 years earlier. Whether for
this reason or just because he liked it, Pelican installed a marvelously garish
two-story neon sign with a big pelican just above a lobster. The
sign graced the building until 2001.
Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the
restaurantís interior was a mural that covered the length of one
wall. It was painted in the early 1950s, but was very
In 1956, Pelican sold his restaurant to his
friend Nick Laskaris. Laskaris kept the name and pretty much
everything else, including the turtle soup, prepared in the
Pelicanís kitchen in a two-day process. A 1969 menu included an
assortment of appetizers,
salads, salad plates, sandwiches, hot specialties, steaks, chops and
sea foods. Distinctly
Pelicanís entrees included swordfish steak, broiled halibut steak,
rainbow trout, fried frog legs and broiled flounder, all at $3.25.
James Pelican died in 1972 at the age of 79 of
a heart attack after two youths held him up as he was returning home
from buying trick-or-treat candy for neighborhood children.
In 1979, Salim Hanna, the owner of Saleemís at
3170 South Grand, acquired Pelican's and reopened the restaurant.
His renovation included removal of the mural. Hanna retained much of Pelican's
menu, including the turtle soup, but he also integrated Saleem's Lebanese menu.
Things were not the same. Hanna closed
Pelican's in 1982, sold the building to Robert M. Conway Sr. and a
group of investors, and moved Saleem's to the Delmar Loop in
Conway reopened the restaurant as the Pelican Cafe and, in 1984, opened a second location at 10205 Gravois. In September 1984, Conway was denied a $525,000 loan for the restaurant. On June 16, 1985, Conway spread charcoal briquettes throughout the first floor of the Pelican's building, poured gasoline on the floor and lit it. He then went to the basement and fatally shot himself in the head. The building's interior was heavily damaged by the fire. Unscathed was the big neon sign with the yellow & white pelican.
In 1986, the Pelican's
building was sold to another investment group, who
transformed it into a luxury office building. The owners said the
building's new usage would lend stability to the neighborhood and
that restaurants were high-risk operations. However, they retained both the neon sign and the name Pelicanís for the building.
After a spring windstorm in 2001, a building inspector notified authorities that the Pelican's sign was tottering on its perch. On April 26, 2001, the old neon bird was carefully brought down by workers from Spirtas Wrecking. The 20-foot sign was taken by flatbed trailer to the Lemp Brewery on Lemp and Cherokee for storage. And there it remains.
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