March 21, 2014

Banks Turned Restaurants: History -- and Dinner -- You Can Bank On

  • By: Lauren Walser

If we may offer our two cents, finding your next meal in an old bank-turned-restaurant is a worthy investment. We're putting the spotlight on three such dining spots in our Preservation Spring 2014 issue: B.A.N.K. in Minneapolis, located in the c. 1900 building of a former Farmers and Mechanics Bank; Ladora Bank Bistro in Ladora, Iowa, in the building that opened in 1920 as Ladora Savings Bank; and Tender Bar + Kitchen in Pittsburgh, a cocktail lounge inside the 1883 Arsenal Bank Building.

And way back in our Spring 2013 issue, you read about The Bedford in Chicago, a chic cocktail lounge and restaurant in the 1925 Classical Revival-style Home Bank and Trust Company building.

But that’s just the beginning. We searched the country and found plenty of other eateries in old banks sure to delight hungry preservationists -- we bet our bottom dollar on it.

The Bank Mexican Bar and Restaurant
28645 Old Town Front St.
Temecula, CA 92530
$$ | Mexican

At 9 a.m. on Aug. 14, 1930, a man walked into the Temecula First National Bank, drew a revolver, and demanded cash from Miss Agnes Freeman, the young teller behind the window. He walked away with $2,000, but was caught just two miles up the road. It was Riverside County’s first bank robbery. And though the bank survived robbery, the Great Depression, and World War II, it closed its doors shortly after the war and remained vacant until 1965, when the building reopened as an antiques shop.

In 1978, new owners refurbished the 1914 building and opened a Mexican restaurant, and current owners Craig and Christy Puma have been upgrading and redecorating the space since taking the helm in 2007.

For 36 years, The Bank has been dishing out enchilada rancheras, carne asada, and margaritas in Old Town Temecula, and has remained popular with the happy hour crowd and late-night diners, in particular. Dine in the original vault, or if you’re looking for something a little more intimate, the bank’s former executive offices on the second floor are now banquets and private meeting rooms.


Metals Sports Bar & Grill
8 West Park St.
Butte, MT 59701
$$ | American

It’s not for nothing that Butte, Mont., was once known as the richest hill on earth. Gold and silver were plentiful in the region, but it was copper that turned the collection of mining camps into a boomtown. To support the mining city’s growing wealth, the banking firm that would eventually become known as Metals Bank and Trust Co. was founded in 1882.

In 1906, the bank relocated to a building designed by Cass Gilbert, a prominent New York architect who went on to design the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. The building was remodeled and enlarged over the years, but in the 1970s, Metals Bank & Trust Co. relocated yet again, this time to a new building across the street.

The future of that 1906 steel, brick, and stone building -- one of Montana’s first skyscrapers -- began to look up when it was purchased by a family in 2006 who restored and renovated the structure, turning it into a restaurant, galleries, offices, and condos, among other uses.

Today on the ground floor of the building, Metals Sports Bar & Grill is a popular local hangout, especially for sports fans eager to watch the game from one of the many big-screen televisions around the dining area. Those seeking a little more peace and quiet can dine inside the vault. The menu offers classic Americana cuisine, like burgers, chili, onion rings, and nachos. But the beer list is the true star, with plenty of local brews, as well as brews from around the state.


The Broker Restaurant
821 17th St.
Denver, CO 80202
$$$$ | Steakhouse

Diners at The Broker can nestle into one of the cherry wood booths, once used by Denver National Bank customers as they viewed their safety deposit boxes. Or they can find a seat in the 100-year-old bank vault and request a bottle of wine, which may be fetched from the wine cellar, located in what was the bank’s original cash vault.

For more than 40 years, The Broker has made its home inside the basement of the 1903 Denver National Bank building, earning its reputation as one of the city’s most original and authentic restaurants, attracting celebrities, politicians, and others looking for an Old World steakhouse experience.

Each guest receives a complimentary bowl of steamed gulf shrimp to snack on while poring over the extensive menu, which features a number of steak and seafood dishes, like filet mignon, prime rib, scallops, and the filet and lobster dish.


The Bank Restaurant
121 West Front St.
Wheaton, IL 60187
$$$ | American, Eclectic

Constructed by the founding fathers of Wheaton, Ill., Jesse C. Wheaton and Elbert Gary, the 1875 Gary Wheaton Bank (now Chase Bank) is one of the city’s oldest and most distinguished buildings. It operated as a bank until the 1960s, and then served as a drugstore and, later, a video store. But since 2007, it has been the site of a popular local eatery, aptly named The Bank Restaurant.

Historic photos of Wheaton’s downtown, the dramatic original vault door, and the old safe-turned-wine cellar give the restaurant its rich sense of history. But the loyal crowd of regulars gives it its lively, cozy, neighborhood feel.

Its menu is at once comforting and inventive, with signature steak offerings and pot roast alongside dishes like quinoa and kale with roasted fennel, or pecan crusted pork with mashed purple sweet potatoes topped with pumpkin butter.


Crop Bistro & Bar
2537 Lorain Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44113
$$$$ | American

In Cleveland’s historic Ohio City neighborhood, the massive United Bank Building underwent a massive restoration back in 2011. The 35-foot-tall painted ceiling, arched windows, monumental marble columns, walnut wood details, bank vault, and murals are still intact, showcasing the work of architects Frank Walker and Harry Weeks.

The painstaking restoration was the handiwork of restaurateur Steve Schimoler, who turned the 1925 bank building into his restaurant, Crop Bistro & Bar, as well as a market and a test kitchen. Private dining and events are held in the original vault. Using local, seasonal ingredients, Schimoler prepares dishes like crispy pork belly, seared scallops, roasted beet salad, grilled veal chop, and a seasonal pasta dish.


Yellow Brick Bank Restaurant
201 East German St.
Shepherdstown, WV 25443
$$$ | American

For nearly 70 years, the main bank in Shepherdstown, W.V., was Jefferson Security Bank. Customers flocked to the 1906 Beaux Arts structure, with its exterior scroll work, to take care of their money matters. But in 1976, the building was purchased and turned into Yellow Brick Bank Restaurant.

While not yellow (the restaurant was named before anyone realized the glazed surface of the bricks could not be painted), the restaurant still very much feels like an old banking institution, with the vault preserved (it now stores the restaurant’s wine offerings), and the original teller line (which has been transformed into a bar). But besides the original architectural features, what catches customers’ eyes is the eclectic decor of objects and artwork from all over the world.

Since 2006, this local favorite has been owned by a lifelong resident of Shepherdstown. It continues to reel customers in with its hangar steak, crab cake sandwiches, and wood oven roasted salmon -- as well as its historic details.


The Ordinary
544 King St.
Charleston, SC 29403
$$$$ | Seafood

This two-story seafood hall and oyster bar retains much of the original features of the 1927 limestone and brick bank building that it now calls home. The 22-foot-tall ceilings, 12-foot windows, and original vault door, as well as the old teller’s table, now the hostess stand, are all there, creating an airy space in which diners feast on oyster sliders, baked clams, and shellfish towers, a crowd favorite. The seafood and produce all come from local and regional suppliers, as much as possible.

Since opening its doors early last year, The Ordinary has garnered plenty of buzz: It was named one of the “10 Favorite Oyster Bars” by Bon Appetit magazine, 2013 “Restaurant of the year” by The Daily Meal, and one of the “33 Best New Restaurants in America” by Thrillist, and it has been profiled everywhere from the pages of The New York Times to Esquire.

Others to try: Red Steakhouse in Vermillion, S.D.; Vault Steak House & Wine Room in Madison, Ohio; and The Bank Bistro & Bar in Washington, N.C.


$ = Value, $10-19 per person
$$ = Moderate, $20-29 per person
$$$ = Expensive, $30-39 per person
$$$$ = Splurge, $40+ per person

Lauren Walser served as the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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