There were just a pair of marigold colored envelopes labeled “Murray’s Restaurant” in the Star Tribune’s basement clip morgue. Between the two of them, they contained about two dozen yellowing, fragile articles.
I was expecting to encounter more, but the morgue is a hit-and-miss kind of place (nothing on the New French Cafe, for example). Besides, what I unearthed was as prime as the steaks that have been a hallmark of this 69-year-old, family-owned landmark. The oldest article dates to Jan. 7, 1946, and it lays out the very beginning of what grew into one of the city's most enduring dining-and-drinking establishments.
The headline: “Cafe Man Buys Loop Building: Murray to Open New Restaurant.”
“Purchase of a three-story building at 24-26 Sixth St. S., by Murray’s, Inc., Arthur J. Murray, secretary-treasurer, and Mrs. Murray, president, was disclosed Sunday.
"The building was purchased from Minneapolis Shareholders Co. for a reported $75,000 [that’s $920,000 in 2015 dollars].
"Present tenants of the building, Delaney’s bar, at 24 Sixth St. S, and Weil’s toy shop at 26 Sixth St. S., have been ordered to vacate by March 15, when extensive remodeling and air conditioning of the building will begin, Murray said.
"Murray, who formerly operated the Red Feather Cafe, 18 Fourth St. S. [present-day site of the Minneapolis Central Library], said he would open a restaurant at the Sixth St. address after the remodeling has been completed.”
Murray’s opened for business on Aug. 5, 1946.
Curious about the origins of the restaurant’s famed Silver Butter Knife Steak? Here’s a story -- byline unknown, but my guess is that it's the work of man-about-town columnist Will Jones -- from Feb. 1, 1956:
“In the pro-steak end of the eating business, there was a to-do this week at Murray’s. A man named Maurice Dreicer, who set himself up a few years ago as a traveling steak expert, awarded Murray’s a gold butter knife.
He’s the same man who awarded them a silver butter knife in 1951."
That's Art Murray on the right (pictured, above), being presented his golden butter knife award by Maurice Dreicer on Jan. 31, 1956. "The award is testimony to the fact that certain steaks served in the restaurant can be cut by a butterknife," reads the photo's caption. "The golden butterknife also marks an addition to the cutlery available at the restaurant since Murray previously was awarded a silver butterknife by Dreicer."
Back to the story: "Dreicer said he gives his expensive butter knives only to restaurateurs who serve worthy steaks. Besides being cutable with a butter knife, a Dreicer-approved steak has to be served on time, be big enough and be the right temperature (120 degrees).
"He carries an alarm wrist watch, a scale and a thermometer to do his checking. What it all means is that Murray’s is now going to serve a gold butter knife steak – a four-pound porterhouse for two – at $15 [that would be $132 today].
"The place will continue to offer its silver butter knife steak, a double sirloin, at $9.50 [$84 in today's dollars; the current menu's 28-oz. double strip sirloin, still known as the Silver Butter Knife steak for two, carved tableside, is $99]. Menus will list the $15 steaks “when available.”
“‘'We can only cut one steak from a 50-pound loin,’ said Art Murray. ‘On a day when we use six loins, for instance, it means we’ll have six of the gold butter knife steaks to serve, and that’s all.’
"I sampled a gold butter knife steak at an introductory lunch for newspaper, radio and TV people. I must confess that my appreciation for steaks stops at the silver butter knife level. Murray’s has been doing well enough with the silver butter knife steak all these years, and I couldn’t detect any improvement in the new offering. I asked Dreicer to explain the difference.
‘Prime beef,’ he snapped. ‘More flavor.’”
Steak isn’t the only signature item on the Murray’s tradition-laden menu. The kitchen’s garlic toast has been famous for more than half a century. Here’s a tidbit from June 13, 1957:
“Art Murray’s restaurant makes news again, this time on a national scale. Murray’s happens to be one of the largest users of butter in the Upper Midwest. Art bought the golden stuff to the tune of 30,000 pounds last year. Now a Minnesota Dairy Industry ad featured Princess Kay of the Milky Way enjoying one of Art’s butter-soaked steak dinners will hit newspapers not only all over the Upper Midwest but also on a national basis. You may be familiar with that butter-garlic toast featured at Murray’s. That specialty takes 30 pounds of butter a day just to prepare.”
This was how red-hot Murray’s was in 1958 (specifically, Feb. 21, 1958):
“Art Murray, the restaurateur, received an accolade that he perhaps doesn’t even know about. An advertising agency conducted a survey among restaurant and night club owners this week and among the questions asked was this: ‘If you could own one restaurant or cafe in the city of Minneapolis, which one would it be?’ Twenty-seven owners were asked the question and every one of the 27 contacted answered ‘Murray’s.’”
Murray’s reputation was outpaced by the restaurant’s revenues. This item dates to May 13, 1958:
“Art and Marie Murray, the Sixth Street restaurateurs, have received another national award. This time they both have elected to American Restaurant magazine’s Hall of Fame, one of the top honors in the nation in the food business. Announcement of the award also revealed the rather startling information that Murray’s restaurant does a $1 million annual gross. And Art, himself, says he has felt no recession – March and April volume has been up 6 percent over the same months last year.”
By the way: One million dollars in sales? That’s $8.3 million in 2015 dollars.
A final fun fact, from Oct. 30, 1954: Art Murray tried to open a drive-in restaurant at E. Lake Street and 39th Avenue S. in Minneapolis. Neighborhood opposition led Murray to withdraw his proposal.