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)
A new podcast series featuring the story of 50 years in Grendel's Den, told by the people who dined, drank, cried, laughed and worked in this historic bar. Available everywhere podcasts are heard.
Grendel's In the News
Odds Bodkin’s enchanting voice, musical prowess, and larger-than-life persona have earned him an illustrious career as a master storyteller.
Grendel’s Den later posted its own laminated public safety notice in restrooms reminding people that “drugging people without consent is not only illegal, but is a total scumbag *sshole d*ckhead move that will not be tolerated.”
Grendel’s Den has 50 years of stories to recount and is doing it in their new podcast A Peoples History of Food & Drink, 5x10 Decades In the Den.
A 1982 Supreme Court decision involving Harvard Square restaurant Grendel’s Den could serve as legal precedent to overturn Texas’s recent law banning most abortions, Harvard emeritus professors Laurence H. Tribe ’62 and David Rosenberg wrote in a Boston Globe opinion piece last week.
A legal decision once prevented a church from vetoing a Harvard Square restaurant’s liquor license. Now it could prevent other private parties from wielding government power. In the Grendel’s Den case, the unbridled veto power interfered not with a service to which anyone had a constitutional right, like abortion, but just with serving liquor.
Grendel’s Den, a classic Harvard Square hangout for more than 50 years, has just become the site of a coronavirus experiment: Twice a week, the restaurant will gather nose samples from up to 10 staffers, combine them and take them for processing to the company CIC Health a couple of miles away in Kendall Square.
During the pandemic small companies like Grendel’s Den went from being a terrific cool bar to selling groceries in order to stay relevant. Restaurants were disappointed to have to turn to platforms like Grubhub or Doordash, but it was a matter of survival.
Kuelzer said business always drops somewhat in December and January because college students are home for winter break, but this year, the drop in business was noticeable.
The case has been elevated to national news, sparking hope near and wide, Grendel’s was receiving love from all around the country via online sales of merch such as mugs, blankets and T-shirts. In just the past three weeks, the bar has made almost four times what its collective all-time online revenue had been to date.