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Varsity Restaurant, 2706 North Main Street: 1970s   25 comments

Posted at 2:09 am in historic,restaurants

I think I vaguely remember the Varsity Restaurant being open, but never ate there. It was apparently a fixture in Columbia for decades. The old building is in sad disrepair, and seems to have been remodelled several times, judging by this postcard shot at flikr.

The 1970 Yellow Pages ad pitches the pizza, so I guess they were trying to stay current in a changing world -- that certainly wouldn't have been on the menu in 1935. There is currently a Varsity D Jasz restaurnt nearby the old Varsity (at 1212 Sunset Drive, almost at the corner of North Main and Sunset), but I have no idea if its related to the old one at all. It appears to be a small lunch-counter type operation.

UPDATE 6 Feb 2013 -- It looks as though somebody started renovations on the old Varsity building, but didn't get too far before the city stopped them:

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UPDATE 13 July 2014 -- final days (pix from 10 November 2013):

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UPDATE 15 July 2014 Buh-bye! (pix from 5 April 2014):

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Written by ted on November 5th, 2009

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25 Responses to 'Varsity Restaurant, 2706 North Main Street: 1970s'

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  1. This restaurant, the old restaurant in front of the Impulse Club on Two Notch (The Ranch - I think - or what is now This Is It!), and the Captain's Kitchen were the main restaurants my family patronized in the '60s. My father died in 1968 and the Varsity may have been the last place we visited as a complete family. I think it was the first place I tried bleu cheese dressing on my salad, and there after I was in love with moldy cheese dressing. Yummy!

    Michael Taylor

    5 Nov 09 at 3:20 am

  2. I remember its brick wall in the parking lot having murals featuring mascots of in-state teams.

    There also used to be a Varsitity in Spartanburg, but it recently closed I believe. Of course the Varsity in Atlanata is a local fixture.

    Tom

    5 Nov 09 at 6:41 am

  3. That postcard picture seems to have the left and right reversed on the buiding. Look at the door and window placement on the card vs the building. Weird.

    jamie

    5 Nov 09 at 9:07 am

  4. Yeah, I was trying to make sense of that too. Obviously it *is* the same building -- look at the door with the border of art-deco glass bricks..

    The postcard can't be reversed, because all the signage is OK. It looks to me like the building was originally wider than it is now, with the glass-brick flanked door in the middle rather than on the left side. Why anyone would tear down half the building though I don't know..

    ted

    5 Nov 09 at 12:34 pm

  5. It was a "dance" club for a couple of years in the mid-90s when I was living in Cottontown. That red door was the main entrance then. That's the last time I ever remember seeing it occupied.

    Jim

    5 Nov 09 at 12:41 pm

  6. Hmmm...it does look like the two rightmost front windows (on the postcard version) were removed and the building flipped. You're right about the signage.

    Got me.

    jamie

    5 Nov 09 at 2:40 pm

  7. Wow, funny what I missed when I started reminiscing how this was probably the last place I ate dinner out with my father. Good eyes Jamie.

    I've put this postcard image in Photoshop and flipped it horizontally and that's the only way it could work without major remodeling. But then of course the signage is backwards. If the postcard had been done with Photoshop, I'd say no problem, reversing images (signage) is one of the many things that you can do in Photoshop with very little trouble, but of course Photoshop is not that old. The one thing wrong with the "reversed image theory" is that I distinctly remember the main parking lot being where it is in the postcard. In the postcard it looks like there is mostly bushes and grass on the right side of the lot.

    After I posted my first comment I started remembering there being something "odd" about how the inside was divided into two distinct sections such that the right (or middle) was higher in elevation and that's where you went if you were going to drink (brown-bagging) with your meal or something like that; this was before smoking segregation so that wouldn't have been an issue. If you look at the postcard, this "raised floor" area memory is supported by the fact that the raised roof is clearly visible going all the way to the back. In Ted's current photographs of the place, it certainly looks like the raised roof has been moved to the left.

    Let's do some remodeling from the viewpoint of a contractor and see if we can make sense of this conundrum: if you were to go one window to the left of the glass blocked entrance in the postcard and cut that section out to the back, that would leave you three windows to the right of that door, which matches the current pictures. Well, two and a half windows. The left cut-off part also happens to be right under the left side of the raised roof section which is also indicated in Ted's recent photography. Now just move the unadorned entrance to the right and squeeze it into the remaining windows and we have that part taken care of, kind of haphazardly at that. In the postcard it looks like the raised roof goes all the way to the end of the right side but that's just some sort of stylized vertical soffit that makes the roof look bigger than it really is and obscures where the actual raised roof ends. In the postcard, if you follow the actual right side of the raised roof down roughly between the letters 'I' and 'T' of the Varsity Restaurant sign to the ground, it goes a little bit to the right of the window immediately to the right of the glass blocked entrance, which is also indicated in the current pictures. The last thing I notice is that when you view Ted's photographs of the left side of the building in magnification you can see the tell-tale signs of major brick remodeling which would indicate filling in a whole wall section that had been removed.

    My opinion is that someone went to the trouble of hacking off the left side of the whole building one window over from the glass block adorned entrance, moved the other door to the right, and called it even. And because of the way they did it, it looks like someone did a Photoshop reverse of the building in the process. It's kind of weird that someone would actually go to the trouble of TAKING AWAY space when so many people go to the trouble of ADDING space, but if that's not what happened, cue the "Twilight Zone" theme music.

    Any thoughts?

    Michael Taylor

    7 Nov 09 at 2:08 am

  8. Check out Eau Claire Memories, published in 2000 by Warner Montgomery and me. There are several interior and exterior photos of the old Varsity, Doug Broom's and Angelo's Zesto on North Main Street. I have an old promotional postcard of The Varsity from its early days. A very cool thing about the Varsity was that each booth had a state college or university motif. Daddy and I ALWAYS sat at the Clemson booth!

    Becky

    15 Jun 10 at 1:11 am

  9. That was a cool book, becky. I liked seeing the American bantams that family used to deliver food.

    One nit, though: the metal house on Timrod Street is a Lustron home built in 49-50.

    http://www.lustronconnection.org/whatislustron.html

    There is another one off Forest Drive.

    Anyway, great book, I really enjoyed it.

    jamie

    15 Jun 10 at 7:21 am

  10. Thanks, Jamie, for the scoop on the Lustron homes. I had no idea! We just knew they were "steel." Book 2 is in the making!

    Becky

    15 Jun 10 at 7:24 pm

  11. I hope it covers what caused the 'downfall' of Eau Claire. I keep hearing it was when the Seminary threatened to leave ijn the seventies.

    jamie

    16 Jun 10 at 7:44 am

  12. Jamie: I would not say that the "downfall" of Eau Claire was a result of the Seminary threatening to leave the area. In fact, that was the catalyst that sparked the renewal of the area. As I understand it, it was in the late 70s when a retired Army Colonel, Dorcas Elledge, moved into the neighborhood. She was white, and though a lot of white folks fled the area thanks to so-called "block busters," those white families who remained along with a number of black residents tired of the decay and bad press, got together and formed an alliance. By the mid-80s, Elledge enlisted a number of community activists who wrote a write paper, called it the Eau Claire Green Book, and set up the first 10-year master plan for the area. They convinced the Seminary to stay and were instrumental in keeping Columbia College in the area as well. Both institutions have since spent millions on capital improvements and are integrally involved in the renewal of North Columbia. Last year, the City of Columbia adopted the North Columbia Master Plan, an effort of more than 40 North Columbia communities, which maps out development in the area for the coming 20 years. In the past two years, the North Columbia Business Association has gained a formidable presence and reputation in the area. If you haven't been out this way lately, come on! With the new streetscaping changing the landscape, this community is on the move!

    Becky

    17 Jun 10 at 12:55 am

  13. My grandmother worked at the Varsity for many many years. We would travel to Eau Claire for Sunday dinner at the restaurant from time to time. If was definitely great food and fun experience for us kids.

    Robert Motley

    23 Feb 11 at 12:52 pm

  14. Moved to Cola Jan 1970. Lunch buffet(meat/2) at Varsity Restaurant: ice tea, dessert(?) included $1.25 or 1.50. Bull St ended where Harden St stoplight is now. Turn right onto a dirt driveway to back of DHEC parking lot (Front half of DHEC was there, back half finished early 1974).

    Retired

    1 Mar 11 at 11:36 pm

  15. After the demise of the Varsity, was this the drive in that -- with drive-in awnings removed -- became a place called "The End Zone?"

    If so, I ventured in there in the early 1980s thinking it would be what we now call a sports bar. I was the lest-stylishly dressed person in the place. I ordered a beer and looked around. To my amazement, it was a beer joint/dance club that catered to a -- ahem! -- gay (by that time, the term gay no longer meant happy) clientele. To my dismay, I ran into some businessmen I knew from my professional life. Quaffed my beer and got out, hoping they'd never mention my presence to anyone outside there.

    Whew! Have been uneasy venturing into any apparent sports bar since.

    No Name

    5 Feb 12 at 11:05 pm

  16. Was told the city ordered them (original twin brothers owners from North Augusta - I met last year) to take down the cool retro Gold Border along the roofline saying it posed a fire hazard?

    Went inside - it still smelled very clean and all the chairs and fictures are still there as the day they closed.

    Shame they were ordered to remove the gold border awnings - it now looks really bad and rain can get in and start to rot the building.

    Actually saw a Sparrow Hawk perched on top and fly inside the newly exposed opening just below the roofline. Guess she was making a nest?

    CottonResident

    9 Feb 13 at 11:32 am

  17. Sidney

    30 Oct 13 at 8:33 pm

  18. Well that's too bad.

    And awkwardly worded:

    the building where The Varsity restaurant and Park Avenue Night Club once stood.

    ted

    31 Oct 13 at 12:15 am

  19. Too bad. Cool building.

    As an aside, the much vaunted North Main streetscaping is five years on, and I can't say that I see bidness flocking back to the area.

    Hey, Becky, is that second book of Eau Clair Memories out yet?

    tonkatoy

    31 Oct 13 at 7:01 am

  20. tonkatoy

    4 Nov 13 at 8:35 am

  21. Nothing but a slab, now.

    tonkatoy

    11 Dec 13 at 9:44 am

  22. Nothing but a slab, now.

    tonkatoy

    11 Dec 13 at 9:44 am

  23. I grew up in Eau Claire in the 1960's, and I remember The Varsity well. It was the favorite spot for Eau Claire High School students to park in the drive in and socialize, while Seawells Restaurant, which was right across the street, was the "hang-out" for mostly Columbia High School students. During football season, the two restaurants were the busiest on Thursday & Friday nights after the games as that was THE place to be to celebrate a win or nurse a loss after the games. The Varsity was originally owned by the Capilos family, and their Greek salads were the best that Columbia has EVER had. They also had the BEST home-made hamburgers and shakes. It's hard to believe this landmark ended up the way it did. I sure do miss those days of drive-ins and family fun.

    Gwen

    19 Dec 13 at 8:39 am

  24. I can also sort of remember Doug Broome's Big Boy/ Big Joy Drive In on North Main when the entire parking lot would be full of people on weekends, and when Woody Windham did his radio broadcast there on top of the building that he had to climb a ladder to get up to the booth. This would have been in the early to mid 60's. Columbia used to have a lot of good places to go to, but then everthing changed..and not for the better.

    CayceKid

    19 Dec 13 at 10:36 am

  25. Well, this is sort of depressing! A very interesting website and concept you have here.

    Where I live, textiles used to be the big game in town for a long time, but that time has mostly come and gone. There are plenty of old buildings/houses/factories around. It's interesting to see them and imagine what it was like "back in the day".

    That being said, though, there are still some old businesses still up and running, despite any population migration, technology changes or Wal-Marts coming to town. I think a sister website to yours would be nice, one that focuses on either new businesses or old businesses that are still "hanging on". It might be good advertisement for old companies that have a long history but are in dire straits.

    Ryan

    3 Sep 14 at 8:26 pm

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