These elegant swells are enjoying a tipple at “Upper Nicollet’s Oldest Cafe,” as the inside of the matchbook says. “Known far and wide as the one dine and wine spot where everything is ‘tops.’ ” The origins of the establishment’s name aren’t clear. William Gladstone was an English prime minister whose supporters had financial interests in William Washburn’s various endeavors — which is why you’ll find a Gladstone Avenue in the old Washburn addition, now known as Tangletown. There was a Gladstone apartment complex near the restaurant; that might have been the reason. Or the owners just liked the sound of the word. The Gladstone was renamed the Flame in 1942 — and here the story gets a bit tricky. Many people remember the “notorious” Flame, a dodgy joint shut down in ’78 for drugs, brawls and prostitution. That wasn’t the Gladstone. The owners moved the name across the street, stuck it on the old Carousel Cafe, and the Gladstone / Flame was renamed again: the Hoop-D-Doo. Those cocktails on the matchbook were gone. They only sold 3.2 beer. The elegant swells had moved on to shinier places. The building burned in 1957. Nothing’s been built on the site since. A parking lot currently sits on the spot just north of Interstate 94.
James Lileks collects matchbooks for their unique graphics and stories they tell. He will be sharing his collection on these pages.