Shortly after Harvard’s Pi Eta Club moved out of 89 Winthrop Street in the 1960’s, Sue and Herbert Kuelzer took notice of the building as an attractive location for the restaurant they were planning to open in Harvard Square. Their vision for the space was a full service restaurant serving “casual gourmet” food at reasonable prices. They came up with the name Grendel’s Den, which suited the cave-like dining room and allowed Sue to make good use of her BA in English Literature.
In 1974, Grendel’s expanded, taking over the main floor of the building. This was the home of the famous “Grendel’s Salad Bar,” two fireplaces, and a sunny, plant-filled evolution, which sprang from Grendel’s basement origins. Around this time, the Kuelzers launched a legal battle challenging a Massachusetts State law allowing churches to veto liquor licenses. With the help of Harvard Law School’s Laurence Tribe, the case went all the way to the United States Supreme court, which ruled the law was unconstitutional.
The historic legal precedent* changed similar laws in nine states, and enabled Grendel’s Bar to open downstairs in 1983. The bar quickly became known as a spot to sample newly popular micro-brewed beer from local breweries such as Sam Adams and Cambridge Brewing Company.
State restrictions on Happy Hours banned discounting libations (a.k.a. cheap booze), so instead, Grendel’s offered discounted food if you bought a drink! While other bars drew customers with events, TV’s, or live music, Grendel’s Bar remained a cozy spot to gather in good company and chat without distraction. The popularity of Grendel’s bar scene and the happy, noisy din customers create on a nightly basis has continued over the past forty years.
After an overhaul of the entire block of Winthrop to Eliot to Mount Auburn Street in 1999, Grendel’s Den Restaurant & Bar re-opened in the basement only. Herbert & Sue’s daughter Kari assumed management of the restaurant in 2004 following the extremely sad and premature death of Sue from breast cancer. In its second generation of family ownership, Grendel’s is an always-busy neighborhood institution that caters to Harvard Square’s students, academics, tourists and residents from late morning to late night.
* Larkin v. Grendel’s Den, Inc., 459 U.S. 116 (1982)