Port St. Louis

Wade DeWoskin opened Port St. Louis in Gaslight Square in October of 1960.

"My dad had a small grocery store, so you could say I started in the food business when I was 10 years old. When I came out of the service, I worked with him again.

"In 1959, a friend and I decided to open a business in the Gaslight Square area. We thought we could do it part time and continue working."

DeWoskin and his wife, Lois, acquired an old Victorian residence at 4283 Olive, which they thought was a good location for a bar.

"Itís funny how things develop. We had intended to just have a bar with sandwiches. But there were already enough bars and sandwiches, so they didnít need us. I had a brother-in-law who was a chef and he said, 'Letís do a shellfish house, something we donít have in St. Louis.' He stayed with us about two months to get things started and then he took off."

Port St. Louis, 4283 Olive, Gaslight Square
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"I had no background in the business," DeWoskin continued, "but I guess I did have a little flair and a little taste because from the moment we opened, people seemed to like what we did even though we didnít exactly know what we were doing."

Port St. Louis Dining Rooms, Gaslight Square
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Port St. Louis, Gaslight Square
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Port St. Louis thrived, as Gaslight Square thrived. But as the area changed in the mid 1960s, restaurants and bars began closing. In 1966, Wade and Lois DeWoskin made the decision to move their seafood restaurant to Clayton.

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The DeWoskins moved Port St. Louis to 15 North Central in Clayton towards the end of 1966. They bought the building two or three years later.

"We moved her on a thread and a prayer," Lois DeWoskin said with a laugh. "We mortgaged our house to open this place and everyone said we were crazy. The location had been a three-time loser. But we thought a restaurant that served good food and had an interesting appearance might make it."

Port St. Louis, 15 North Central, Clayton

Port St. Louis indeed had an "interesting appearance."  It was decorated with expensive antiques the DeWoskins had collected over the years. Many of the antiques had been moved from their Gaslight Square location.

In 1972, the DeWoskins found it necessary to enlarge their restaurant, increasing its capacity to 175 diners. They acquired an adjoining dress shop which necessitated still more antique acquisitions. Their new dining room, called the Chouteau Room, was named for the historic Chouteau home on South Broadway.

Many items in the new room came from the old home, including a one-of-a-kind German fireplace mantel and stunning chandeliers of copper and brass, with cranberry glass shades to fit the color scheme. There was red velvet flocked wallpaper and ruby lights from lighting fixtures obtained from the Three Fountains restaurant in Gaslight Square.

The red color scheme of the new room was contrasted by touches of black, among them the bands on the service plates and the black brocade patterned chair seats. There were tall stained glass windows on the north wall depicting the Garden of Eden and Noahís Ark, which hung under the room's striking 13Ĺ foot zinc ceiling.

Walnut and Bronze Fireplace from Chouteau Home Copper and Brass Chandeliers

On April 27, 1977, a fire caused heavy damage to Port St. Louis. The Chouteau Room escaped major damage, but many irreplaceable antiques were destroyed. The DeWoskins rebuilt and reopened their restaurant the following November. The remodeling offered more waiting space, including an area to sit just inside the front door, with the bar smaller and moved toward the rear.

Port St. Louis quickly became the outstanding seafood restaurant in the area. When it moved to Clayton from Gaslight Square, it was open for both lunch and dinner. After the fire, only dinner was offered.

Port St. Louis Luncheon Menu, late 1960s
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The dinner menu was lengthy, with a long list of off-the-menu specials. There was also an encyclopedic wine list.

From the beginning, seafood was Port St. Louis' specialty. "The whole restaurant industry is based on frozen seafood," DeWoskin explained, "but we do not serve any fish or seafood that has been frozen."

Each day, DeWoskin ordered what was available from various suppliers. "I try to get small amounts of different kinds of seafood," he said. "If itís put on a plane at 11 a.m., I can expect a delivery in five hours from the East Coast."

A 1973 dinner menu included appetizers such as herring in cream sauce ($1.75), shrimp cocktail ($2.50), crabmeat cocktail ($2.95), escargot served in mushroom caps ($2.50), oysters Bienville or Rockefeller ($2.95) or on the shell ($2.50), shrimp de Jonghe ($2.50) and a platter of cold seafood for two ($2.50 each).

Soups included gumbo, clam chowder and onion (50 cents a cup).

Steaks were available, ranging from tenderloin en brochette ($6.50) to sirloin ($6.95 or $7.95), porterhouse and steak Diane ($7.95 each).

The seafood offerings were wide-ranging, beginning with fried shrimp, scampi in the shell or baby catfish ($6.50 each). There was frog legs, Dover sole almondine, trout almondine, stuffed flounder, shrimp Creole and de Jonghe ($6.95 each), bouillabaisse and pompano ($7.50 each), lobster dainties (a baby rock lobster tail), broiled king crab legs and an assortment of shellfish ($7.95 each), and lobster tails or a combination of steak and lobster ($8.50 each). Whole lobsters were also available.

Dinner included a green salad, vegetables and potato.

Dessert was served from a rolling cart. On display were French pastries, a variety of fresh fruit in season, cheesecake and chocolate mousse. Parfaits, cheeses and ice creams were also available.

As tastes changed, so did the Port St. Louis menu. They excelled in the preparation of Florida grouper, Boston scrod, Maine lobster, scallops, tuna, red snapper, trout, frog legs, shrimp and swordfish. Swordfish sliced into thick steaks and broiled in lemon butter sauce was the restaurantís most frequently requested dish.

1984 Port St. Louis Menu
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1988 Port St. Louis Menu
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Wade and Lois DeWoskin
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 26, 1986

Early in 1990, the DeWoskins turned over active management of Port St. Louis to their son, Thomas, who was 37. The senior DeWoskins promised to keep their hands in the operation and continue to greet guests.

On July 8, 1991, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported there was a deal in the works for Caleco's to take over the Port St. Louis space. That "deal" never materialized.

Early in 1992, the DeWoskins announced their retirement. They closed their landmark seafood restaurant for the final time after serving a last crowd of diners on New Yearís Eve.

A change in the publicís style of dining out had as much to do with Wade DeWoskin's decision to close Port St. Louis as age or weariness. The growing success of informal, lower-priced restaurants had dampened his enthusiasm for his trade.

"The clientele is different," he said. "Today itís completely casual, everything on one plate. Itís tough for any of the white-tablecloth restaurants. People donít want an evening now, they want a dinner."

DeWoskin mourned the decline in relaxed dining, when customers took plenty of time to talk between courses. "If theyíre there two or three hours, you know theyíre having a good time. Iíve always liked more gracious dining, and serving more genteel people."

DeWoskin still owned the property at 15 North Central and said he was willing to sell or lease the place. He eventually did.

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