The Powder Plant

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The Duke’s

Dear Vance: When I was a kid, my parents took me to a barbecue place called Duke’s. Where was this? — g.h., germantown

Dear G.H.: It was actually called The Duke’s, and over the years it opened at three different places around town. I wasn’t able to find a photo of any of them, even after a long 15 minutes of searching, but I did manage to dig up a great shot of the neon sign that beckoned diners to The Duke’s on Lamar, courtesy of the Balton Sign Company.

The restaurant got its start in 1940, when Evelyn McNeill opened a small café at 454 North Watkins. Old city directories indicate that her husband, I.C. (I don’t know what the “I.C.” stands for), was a “sandwichman” at this time, but then he dropped out of the listings for four years, indicating (to me, at least) that he probably served in the military during World War II.

After the war, though, I.C. teamed up with a former chauffeur named Rowe Belcher, and they renamed the place The Duke’s. Since two men were involved, I don’t know which of them was the actual Duke. They soon opened two more establishments — at 2536 Summer in a place that had housed the curiously named Eleven Brothers Restaurant, and at 2935 Lamar, close to the Rainbow Lake bowling alley and swimming pool.

The North Watkins location closed in the early 1960s when Sears Crosstown, just across the street, needed that space for its new garden center, and The Duke’s on Lamar closed and became Gray’s Drive-in. The Summer location stayed in business until 1965, when it became a used-car lot for Pryor Oldsmobile. I hoped that the neon sign shown here had somehow survived, but I was wrong. 


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