I’ve driven past the old building dozens of times. An old German-style restaurant building still stands at 3016 Arsenal, with a faded sign across the street that reads, “Bavarian Inn. Free Parking. Customers only.” Here’s what little I can find on the story of the Bavarian Inn, St. Louis.

Bavarian Inn, St Louis

The Bavarian Inn in St. Louis was once a popular German restaurant. It closed in 1996 after 50 years in business, and has been vacant since sometime in 2001.

As its name suggests, it was a German restaurant and bar. It opened in 1946.

Eisele’s Bavarian Inn

Its longest tenured owner-operators, German immigrants Hermann and Theresa Eisele, met at the Bavarian Inn while working there for its original owners in the early 1950s. They married, then bought the Bavarian Inn in 1963. They owned and operated it until 1995. It offered live German music on Friday and Saturday nights by various bands, including the Waterloo German Band.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the restaurant consistently received good reviews from local food critics.

In 1966, the Eiseles bought another German restaurant, Eisele’s Black Forest, at 3126 Cherokee Street. They operated it until 1995.

Enter MJ’s Bavarian Inn

In January 1995, the Eiseles sold the restaurant to Mike Sredojvich and Joe Heinkel, who briefly operated it as MJ’s Bavarian Inn. Jerry Berger, the longtime gossip columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, lamented that one night a week it was doing Karaoke. “Thus does old St. Louis die, one institution at a time,” he wrote in the June 11, 1995 issue.

As best I can tell, the Bavarian Inn made its last appearance in Zagat in 1997, but it appears it actually closed sometime around August 1996. By late 1997, a short-lived nightclub named Alibi’s was operating in its place. Alibi’s closed sometime around 2001. Some of the old Alibi’s signage is also still visible.

City records indicate the Eiseles sold the property in December 1997, financed the sale, then foreclosed on the new owner in 2002, after Alibi’s had closed. Then they resold the property in 2002. It changed hands multiple times over the ensuing two decades but remained vacant. More than one legal entity with Bavarian Inn in its name has owned the property over that timeframe, but they had no direct connection to the Eiseles.

Hermann Eisele died in 2014. Theresa Eisele died in April 2017.

Why Bavarian Inn closed

It’s an oversimplification to blame the interstate highway system, but it played a part. Bavarian Inn’s location was directly on the old Route 66, and its replacement, Interstate 44, routed out-of-town travelers a mile north. That eliminated hungry travelers finding it by serendipity, meaning it had to rely on business from locals. I-44 was built in 1956. But that may have played a role in the original owners selling in 1963. Local business was enough, for a time.

The problem was, the local population went into decline. It started out slow and steady but accelerated over time. In 1950, the city of St. Louis had a population of 850,000. In 1960 and 1970, it was 750,000 and 622,000, respectively. By 1980, it was 453,000 and it faded to 395,000 by 1990. The decline slowed but in 2000, the population was 346,000. The intersection of Gravois and Arsenal was a much lonelier place in the late ’90s than it had been in 1950. There were almost no travelers, and 55% as many locals.

And the demographics of that local population changed over time. Much of St. Louis’ population of German descent moved to the suburbs in the 1970s and onward. The varied populations who moved into the area they vacated, especially in the 1990s, had their own eating and drinking preferences.

Oddly enough, even though Italian food made its way into the suburbs, the St. Louis German institutions did not. That points to changing tastes. Italian restaurants boomed in popularity starting in the 1950s and never really let up, and the rise of pizza in popularity in St. Louis starting in the 1950s definitely came at the expense of traditional German food.

The future?

As of 2021, a legal entity called Bavarian Inn LLC is the registered owner of the long-vacant property. In early 2022, the City of St. Louis issued a series of permits for various renovations. And in June 2022, the city issued a series of more extensive permits, suggesting significant redevelopment may be in the cards as a mixed use office/residential space.