Written by: Carrie Paul
“Summertime and the livin’s easy…” – and it’s finally here in full swing in the Midwest. Summer has always been one of my favorite seasons and evokes many fond memories, as well as anticipation for the long lazy days and hot summer nights. It is the perfect season for love to bloom and was the time of year I chose to get married. Weddings often contain sentimental details and personal touches which are as necessary as “something blue” to make the ceremony and reception a standout celebration. From invitations, photos, cake toppers, and surprise tributes, weddings embrace a couple’s vision for their perfect day, and the choice of venue or hotel in which to stay the night sets the atmosphere for what is hopefully one of the happiest days of the year. I chose Clayton as the area in which to have my own wedding and picked The Cheshire Hotel (Inn and Lodge) which met my old-world vision to stay for that special night.
The area of Clayton, approximately seven miles west of the Mississippi River and downtown Saint Louis, was recognized almost two centuries ago as having great potential. Ralph Clayton purchased a tract of land from John McKnight, formerly held by Charles Gratiot, and is the “father” of the area which now bears his name.
Situated at the border of Clayton-Richmond Heights and Saint Louis City, the origins of what is today, The Cheshire, began somewhere around the time of the “roaring twenties.” Near the outskirts of Forest Park once stood an A&W Root Beer stand at 7036 Clayton Rd. This was a prime location due to its proximity to the street carline and the park, and with prohibition in full swing, ice cream and root beer were popular refreshments for people of that time. A Saint Louis native and then-popular silent movie star actress named Blossom Breneman married an amateur golfer named William Medart, who was also from the area, after they had met in Hollywood at an event in the late 1920’s. They decided to return to Saint Louis to try their hand at something relatively new, making hamburgers, and opened “The Cottage” at the site of that root beer stand. Bill would cook the hamburgers, which were increasing in popularity as the Great Depression hit, and Blossom baked the pies. This later evolved into a restaurant called Bill Medart’s which included dinner items and sandwiches. As popularity increased, so did the size of the restaurant complex. A Tudor-style tavern was added called “Olde Cheshire” based on a 14th century cottage the couple visited when they vacationed in England. Around 1945, as WWII drew to a close, further expansion included a replica of an English village and included a Crown Bar, Sandwich Shop, banquet rooms, and basement café. In 1949, the Rose and Crown opened for leisurely dining pleasure-seekers. Cheese with crackers, Budweiser products, fried chicken, and hot and cold sandwiches were served to eager diners and the restaurant became the “swank place” to go. While vacationing in Europe in the 1950’s, tragedy struck, and Bill Medart passed away from a fall after he had been drinking (LostTables.com).
In the 1960’s, the restaurant complex was acquired by Stephen Apted who was the son of Florence Hulling Apted. Florence ran several successful cafeterias downtown, known fondly as Miss Hulling’s Cafeterias. Stephen ran the re-opened and expanded restaurant as The Cheshire Inn and had a hotel complex (lodge) built and a swimming pool added on the west side of the property. The complex included 7 banquet rooms, the King’s Arms Pub, a Lion’s Den Cocktail Lounge, bakery, and Antiquery gift shop. My father’s cousin, Robert (known by many as Bobby) Salsman, started out as a cocktail server and waiter in the banquet area during the grand opening and later rose to become a well-known head caterer there, making headlines in the socialite section of the newspaper. He worked there for much of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Many local celebrity events were catered in the banquet reception rooms there. Mrs. Charlotte Peters, a famous tv personality on KSD-TV and KTVI who had her own tv show, often held banquets at The Cheshire. (Her son, Mike Peters, went on to draw the beloved comic strip Mother Goose and Grim). Bobby explained to me with fondness how the hotel was the “it place” to be and be seen in its heyday. Parties were catered for The Muny, Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis Zoo, and the Saint Louis Blues hockey team by The Cheshire staff. My father bartended at the Cheshire’s Rose and Crown Bar, Fox and Hounds Tavern, and many of the banquet halls in the late 1960’s and he met my mother while working there. He distinctly remembered the London Transport double-decker bus which once took people from The Cheshire to Forest Park and sporting events daily. At night many musicians, radio, and tv personnel would head there for a night of dancing and conversation. My dad particularly remembered Bob Cuban and his bandmates going there. Needless to say, this place held a very special place in my heart too, since my parents had met there.
In my day (1990’s), the bar known to my group of friends as the Cheshire Lounge (Inn) was on one side of the complex and the cozy, yet charming English Fox and Hounds Tavern and Lodge area was still in operation on the other side. I would venture here for late night fun and socializing usually after 11 PM. I found it quite intriguing and impactful as a place I would continually be drawn to, despite the passage of time. I always enjoyed roaming the hotel, saying hello to the grizzly bear in the lobby, and drinking brandy while playing chess on the side tables at the Fox and Hounds Tavern. I enjoyed people-watching as couples drank half-yards of beer from bartenders who were some of the friendliest in the area, while others signed “secret” sign in sheets hidden in various furniture pieces. I had my first date with my husband at the Fox and Hounds Tavern; we played chess on the table that night while the piano man played us a tune. The Cheshire closed its doors in the mid 2000’s and was sold and later rehabbed in 2011 by Lodging Hospitality Management. It has since been updated into one of the most amazing luxury hotel boutiques Saint Louis has to offer, still maintaining its charm and character from the past. There is an onsite Starbucks for coffee lovers, a courtyard with food and beverage service, a wonderful poolside terrace, a sleek basement gastropub called Basso which has amazing Italian cuisine, an acclaimed restaurant called Boundary which offers fresh seafood and seasonal cuisine, a private cigar lounge called The Back Room, and the most passionate and friendly staff you could ever hope to meet. British novelty-themed suites with luxurious amenities include Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Treasure Island Room complete with nautical décor, Ian Flemings’s James Bond Room with 1960’s mod décor and pool access, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Room complete with Renaissance art and décor furnishings, and many other famous authors whose books await you in the rooms they’ve inspired. No two rooms are the same, and each room offers its own unique experience. To my delight the Fox and Hounds Tavern is intact, with a few slight upgrades, and the grizzly is as eager to say hello as he was those many years ago. As a “mad cat” in Alice in Wonderland once mentioned, “Well…some go this way, and some go that way, but as far as me, myself, personally, I prefer the shortcut!” I tend to agree with that old Cheshire cat with the famous grin, and my shortcut takes me back to The Cheshire, where the pool is open, and the drinks are flowing time and time again. An enchanted night stay awaits you, so head there to make your own special memories to cherish for years to come.