For newcomers, let us first explain that we’re talking about the original Balaban’s, the creation of Herb Balaban Carp and his wife, Adelaide. It was among the class of 1972, a year that forever changed St. Louis’ dining scene.
Back then, the Central West End was just waking up from a long nap, and Balaban’s quickly became The Place to Be Seen. Over time, the bar hosted many well-known St. Louisans; the dining room hosted such national celebs as actor Zero Mostel, who once blew bubbles with a straw to amuse a child. During breakfast, the people-watching was even better. You might see recording legend Mitch Miller, the wonderfully rubber-faced actor-director Jonathan Miller—or a bleary-eyed regular whose hands trembled as he lit a cigarette.
The atmosphere was something akin to that of a French brasserie, though the food was only sort of French. The menu included cucumber bisque, soft-shell crab, morel mushrooms—dishes that were rare in St. Louis at the time.
A subsequent owner sold the building and opened another Balaban’s, complete with a wine shop, in Chesterfield. As for that hallowed space in the CWE, it’s now home to Herbie’s Vintage 72, named in homage to its predecessor. It’s reminiscent of the original—but not quite the same thing. Maybe it’s because we were all young then.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated from an earlier version to reflect the correct spelling of Herb Balaban Carp's last name.