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

Posted on: March 21st, 2014 by Lauren Walser 5 Comments

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
951.676.6160
$$ | 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
406.782.5534
$$ | 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
303.292.5065
$$$$ | 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
630.665.2265
$$$ | 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
216.696.2767
$$$$ | 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.

Read more about Crop Bistro & Bar and its impressive restoration from Preservation magazine’s resident Ohioan, David Robert Weible.

*****

Yellow Brick Bank Restaurant
201 East German St.
Shepherdstown, WV 25443
304.876.2208
$$$ | 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
843.414.7060
$$$$ | 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.

And, as always, we would love to hear your recommendations in the comments below.

*****

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

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

Preservation Magazine, Travel

5 Responses

  1. Robert Johnson

    March 21, 2014

    The Odenton Heritage Society of Odenton, MD has restored the Citizens Bank Building which sits at the edge of the parking lot of the Odenton MARC station. The interior is rented to a vendor who runs a coffee shop during weekday morning rush hour serving the DC commuters. The rental fees have been a real boon to the Society.
    http://www.odentonheritage.org/visit.php

  2. Elizabeth Rosin

    March 21, 2014

    There is also one in Spring Green, WI that makes a great complement to a Taliesin tour.

  3. Craig Tebon

    March 21, 2014

    The Treasury, located at 114 Watson Street in historic downtown Ripon, Wisconsin, features “casual fine dining” in the former First National Bank building. The Treasury, an unusually styled 1930s Art Deco commercial building constructed of Texas Limestone, is a monument to the modern image the banking industry was trying to portray during the great depression.

    After years of robberies by the likes of Capone and Dillinger, the First National Bank was designed and constructed as a massive structure in an effort to restore confidence with their customers. Inside the lobby area, two gun ports are still located on the wall behind the marble teller counter where armed security guards stood watch protecting customers from the threat of robbery.

    The lobby has been transformed into an elegant dining room, the teller line serves as the bar, and private dining is available in the vault as well as the presidents office and board room. Half of the menu includes an eclectic selection of “tapas” (small plates for individuals or to share) with somewhat of a Tuscan flair. The remainder of the menu includes seasonal entrees with traditional selections of steak, poultry and seafood. The over all theme is excellence of food served in a casual and inviting atmosphere.

  4. RD Wolff

    March 26, 2014

    In my town, a former Farmer’s bank built ca 1914 next to my 1910 building was adapted to a florist business.
    It has glazed white terracotta elements and I’m told the vault is still in the basement, which explains why the foundation of MY building on that side is just a massive chunk of solid concrete, enough to build a 10-12 story brick building on top yet my building is only 21 ft tall.
    The bank building exterior is unchanged.

    On the opposite corner was another bank, it was adapted to what they call the Cornerstone Suites- a very nicely done renovation in Victorian style for use as a hotel with just four suites.

  5. Jefferson Davis

    April 6, 2014

    There’s a really cool place in downtown Tulsa, OK called The Vault. They’ve really reused this space well and have some great mid-century drinks and menu items. The view of downtown as great appeal to it as well. It’s a really cool place to chill out and makes a great stop before & after events downtown.
    http://vaulttulsa.com