When its doors opened on June 1, 1890, the Guaranty Loan Restaurant was the talk of the town. It was also way ahead of its time.

The 500-seat restaurant occupied the top floor of the Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building and was famous for its sumptuous decor, fine food and gracious service. There were unparalleled views (even indoors, thanks to a dramatic, skylight-capped atrium), and an open-air rooftop lounge offered live music and other summertime diversions.

The pioneering 12-story skyscraper, at 3rd Street and 2nd Avenue, was the IDS Center of its time. Its ownership wisely entrusted their glitzy crown jewel of a restaurant to a 26-year-old Black hospitality mastermind named Jasper Gibbs.

The Kentucky native had arrived in Minneapolis five years earlier. He landed a waiter job at the just-opened West Hotel — it was the city's first luxury property — and quickly climbed the ranks. Within four years he was the owner of the Beaufort, a busy 3rd-and-Marquette lunch restaurant.

"A gentleman whose experience in catering to the Minneapolis public admirably fits him for the management and successful handling of the largest and finest restaurant west of Chicago," is how the Minneapolis Tribune described Gibbs when he was handed the helm of the Guaranty Loan Restaurant.

Early entrepreneur

It's difficult to conjure up a person's life through online newspaper archives. No photos of Gibbs exist. There are no illuminating profiles, no gushy restaurant reviews. Not even an obituary.

From fleeting mentions in newspaper articles we can glean that he was active in civil rights concerns, Republican Party politics, business associations and the Baptist church, and as the leading restaurateur in the prairie boom town that was late 19th-century Minneapolis, Gibbs and his Guaranty Loan Restaurant (GLR) surely forged new food-and-drink standards for the region.

He certainly kept busy. In 1890, he spent the spring on the road, scoping out dining trends in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Chicago. Two months after the GLR's June debut, he married Ione Wood, a well-educated Louisville native.

"Mr. Gibbs has won for himself in this city the universal confidence, love and respect of the whole community and all citizens join in wishing him and his bride a long and happy life," wrote the St. Paul Appeal.

In September, Gibbs became the GLR's proprietor. A few weeks later, in an outward sign of his financial success, he and Ione moved into a gracious 12-room home in the tony Kenwood neighborhood.

Gibbs then rang in the new year by hosting a free dinner for the city's poor on Jan. 1, 1891, and 1,500 people flooded into the lower floors of the Guaranty Loan Building's atrium.

"The largest affair of the kind ever undertaken in Minneapolis," is how the Tribune described the event. "The children were noticeably happy, and it is quite certain that older people are none the worse for this act of kindly remembrance by Mr. Gibbs."

By all accounts, every element of the GLR was ambitious. Along with the main dining room, there was a ladies' cafe, a men's lounge, a billiards hall and five private dining rooms.

All were serviced by a state-of-the-art kitchen, complete with its own butcher shop and bakery. The restaurant's public areas were outfitted in heavy velvet drapes, plush carpets, frescoed walls and leather-upholstered oak furniture. Waiters wore tuxedos, and food was served on Haviland china.

An early menu lists consommé with rice, broiled shad, lamb chops, roast beef, chicken croquettes with green peas, mashed potatoes, stewed tomatoes, asparagus with cream sauce, pie, assorted cake, coffee and milk. A meal cost 50 cents.

Despite its swanky trappings, Gibbs deliberately gave his enterprise an egalitarian streak by including a moderately priced lunch counter and a soda fountain.

"Mr. Gibbs has, with his many rooms, arranged to cater to everybody — from the richest to the poorest — and to do it in the most acceptable manner," observed the Tribune. He also ensured that the Black community was welcome. "One thing we are proud of, no gentleman or lady has ever been refused accommodation on account of color since the door of the splendid restaurant was opened three years ago," noted the Appeal.

For several years, business boomed. In January 1892, Gibbs launched a second lunch-only restaurant — the Commercial, at 4th and Nicollet — and by June his three businesses were gearing up to serve 6,000 people per day, part of the crush of visitors attending the Republican National Convention.

A depression flattened the economy in 1893, and Gibbs' bubble burst. He and Ione moved out of Kenwood, his two lunch-only operations fizzled and there's a period when someone else is listed as the GLR's proprietor.

But by 1897, Gibbs was back where he belonged. He continued the GLR's central role in the city's social and culinary life, as evidenced by the litany of banquets, private dinners and lavish celebrations that were mentioned in the Tribune over the next five years.

An unhappy ending

The GLR quietly closed in March 1902, and it's unclear why.

The premium top-floor location never returned to its days as a dining destination (the romantic rooftop garden shut down a few years later, after the building changed hands and was renamed for its new owner, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.), and the space reverted to offices. Pillsbury eventually used part of the floor for its test kitchens. The wrecking ball arrived in 1961.

What happened to Gibbs is also a mystery.

After 1902, his name nearly disappears from archival sources. What we do know is that, according to a 1974 oral history by the Minnesota Historical Society, Gibbs abandoned his family around the time the GLR closed.

Ione Gibbs died in 1923, and the couple's five sons — Jasper Jr., Hiram, Morris, Mark and Wendell — built a successful south Minneapolis laundry.

The last archival reference to Gibbs was a 1953 mention in the Minneapolis Star. An obituary for Jasper Gibbs Jr. noted that he was "survived by his father, Jasper, of Rochester, Minn."

At the time, Jasper Gibbs Sr. would have been in his late 80s, and his magical, groundbreaking Guaranty Loan Restaurant was a 51-year-old memory.

Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib