Although he bought into the business in 1986, co-owner Tom Flynn has been with Balaban's for more than 20 years of the place's existence, making him something of the official historian for one of St. Louis' most storied restaurants. He got his start in the restaurant biz in 1972, the year of Balaban's founding, working just down the street at the also-brand-new Duff's, scraping mortar off the exposed bricks.
The Balaban name is of Ukranian origin and was at least one of the surnames of original owner Herb Balaban, who sometimes has also been known as Herb Balaban Carp since taking his mother's remarried name. Herb and wife Adelaide were the social chairpersons of the revitalizing Central West End in the early '70s, and Herb also opened and ran the first very visible gay bar in town, Herbie's, which occupied the space that now houses Magic Wok, at the corner of Euclid and Maryland.
Flynn's rehabbing experience at Duff's came in handy in 1978, when he and Herb served as general contractors for construction of the enclosure that became the cafe space at Balaban's. He also notes that Balaban's was the first restaurant in St. Louis to use mesquite grilling -- a technique he learned by working with the Tadich Grill in San Francisco -- and, later, the first local restaurant to serve West Coast oysters.
Flynn and partner Steve McIntyre found chef and ultimate third partner David Timney in the late '80s through connections with Jimmy Schmidt, who was chef at the Chop House in Detroit and later opened the Rattlesnake Club in Denver with Santa Monica restaurateur Michael McCarty.
Balaban's also boasts a remarkable alumni club, including David Guempel at Zinnia, Tommy Bahn at Cousin Hugo's, Sean Gallagher at Neruda, Brian Clinton at Café Campagnard and caterer Bryan Young. Although Herb and Adelaide Balaban now divide their time between Chicago and Montana, they have no connection with Balaban's Fine Foods, a gourmet deli located in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago just a turnip's toss away from the renowned Charlie Trotter's restaurant.
For the immediate future, the newest introduction to Balaban's bag of tricks is live jazz on Tuesday nights, at press time slated for Tuesday, Nov. 16.