BERKELEY (CBS SF) – One of the Bay Area’s oldest restaurants, Spenger’s Fish Grotto in Berkeley has abruptly closed its doors after nearly 130 years in operation.
Customers who visited the restaurant Wednesday were surprised to discover Wednesday a note on the door saying the seafood restaurant had permanently closed.
Spenger’s Fish Grotto started as a market. It then became a highly popular restaurant in the decades after World War Two.
Opening in 1890, the local institution has served up clam chowder, fried fish and oysters for generations.
The Spenger family left the business in the 1990s and Houston-based McCormick & Schmick took over the restaurant.
Customer Sam Benson was saddened by the closure, but not surprised.
“They just fixed the neon sigh three weeks ago,” said Benson. “You know, the food started to go downhill over time. But it was more about the place itself, the atmosphere.”
The restaurant is covered in historic maritime artifacts from around the world, collected by generations of the Spenger family over the decades.
“It’s a very sad day for Berkeley,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arrgui. “I didn’t hear of any financial hardship the restaurant was facing or indication they planned to close. It just happened very suddenly.”
Employees heard a different story from management.
“Well, they gathered us all together for a meeting and then just said, ‘Hey, sorry, we just can’t keep this going anymore,'” said Spenger’s server and bartender Cate Del Signore.
Final checks were distributed. Some staff showed up today for final goodbyes.
“It’s my understanding, that at one time, Spenger’s sold more booze than any other bar west of the Mississippi. That was their claim to fame,” said Benson.
It is unclear what will happen to 4th Street location.