The Flame Room
Building near Guaranty Bank evolved into one of Cedar Rapids' fine dining restaurants
The door between the bank and the theater opened onto a food related business more often than anything else. As far back as 1918, 310 Third Ave. SE was Sleight’s Restaurant. W.L. Sleight and his son ran the restaurant for a little more than a year, but on April 1, 1919, patrons were given notice that “your last meal there will be served today, and tomorrow workmen will begin to remodel the rooms for a modern bakery.”
The Federal System of Bakeries opened there eight days later, offering “the most modern, scientific and sanitary method known to the baking art.” Customers were invited to watch bread being baked in glass ovens. The bakery had to offer an apology to its patrons for selling out of bread early on its opening day.
“We baked what we thought would supply our opening demand. We are indeed sorry that so many of our customers were disappointed.”
In the 1940s, the Legion Town Club claimed the address. The club, which spread through the basements of three buildings between Third and Fourth Streets, was directly associated with Hanford Legion Post No. 5 and often served dinners to its members. It also applied each year for a beer permit. On July 18, 1949, the club was raided during a stag party. The wife of the Legion commander, R.D. Spooner, signed a complaint with the police that broke up a ham dinner. Town Club manager Harold Ballard was charged with illegal possession of liquor and gambling devices after state, county and city officers seized 20 slot machines, 40 bottles of assorted liquors, two dice tables and a chuck-a-luck wheel with $113. Angry club patrons voiced their objections to the raid from the alley behind the building until uniformed police officers arrived to back up the plainclothes officers. As a result of the raid, the Linn County school fund gained $874.94 when detectives emptied the slot machines.
On Dec. 17, 1945, a raiding party seized 14 slot machines and 976 bottles of liquor.
In March 1954, veterans of World Wars I and II and the Korean War gathered at the Legion Town Club as part of a nationwide observance of the founding of the American Legion in Paris 35 years before. That was the last year for the Town Club at the site. The owners of the Butterfly Café, which operated above the club, acquired the lease for the club on Nov. 8, 1955. Butterfly owners George Alberts and Eugene Haddy began advertising the Butterfly Town Room for private parties with food served by the Butterfly Café.
By July 1956, the Butterfly Town Room evolved into one of Cedar Rapids’ fine dining restaurants, the Flame Room. One of the memorable dining programs during the Flame Room’s early years was the Dinner of the Month Club. Members paid $5 a year and were given a book of certificates that entitled them to a free dinner when one was purchased. Other participating restaurants were the Farm House in the Roosevelt Hotel, Ross’ Steak House, the Shorewood, Old Hickory Inn, The Country Inn in Anamosa, Le Gourmet Restaurant, Nick’s Fine Foods, Twin Towers Restaurant, Holiday House in Mount Vernon, Krebs Dutch Girl and Club Ced-Rel.
The Flame Room shared an entrance with the Hardendorf Camera Shop until 1963, when the new Fox and Hounds Lounge was added to the Flame Room. The Fox and Hounds featured entertainment and a piano bar.
Disaster struck on March 6, 1966, when a fire erupted in an overheated cooling unit at Lapes Florist Shop, next door to the Butterfly Café. The fire caused more than $200,000 in heat and smoke damage to the shop, the cafe, the Flame Room, the Fox and Hounds Lounge and the World Theater. Firefighters used a foam machine purchased in 1964 for the first time on an actual fire. The foam spilled out of the flower shop’s doors and into the street.
The Flame Room kept its reputation as a destination for fine dining for decades. The Haddy family operated it into the mid-1980s until brother-sister team Devin and Betsy Pipkin took over. The restaurant hit rough times and by 1990, the Pipkins were looking to sell it. Devin Pipkin said they had experienced “an excellent lunch crowd, but the nighttime business is tough.”
The siblings wanted to get out of a lease that tied them to the restaurant until 1991 and sell the fixtures and equipment. Lease holder Harold Becker of Acme Investment Co. did not comment on the future of the Flame Room
Devin Pipkin said, “We’re going to leave the place just like it was set up for dinner, so hopefully anybody who comes in will keep it pretty much the same. And I’d love to see the name stay the same.”
Several months later Denny’s Green Square Pub owner Denny Van Tomme purchased the restaurant from Becker.
The first few days after the early September 1990 reopening were busy, but The Flame Room closed in June 1991 when Van Tomme was unable to reach an agreement with building owner Home Investment Co. Inc. about repairs.
The building was absorbed into the Guaranty Bank & World Theater Buildings Urban Revitalization Project in 1994.