course, Dave couldn't leave well enough alone. One day in
1989 he climbed into a cave high on the face of the rock
bluff that overlooks the river. The cave was full of pigeon
droppings and nests. It was dank. It was dark. Dave emerged
and said to Connie: "You know, I bet I can build a
restaurant up there." "You are out of your mind," Connie
replied. Well, maybe, thought Dave. A religious man, he
prayed about it, asking that his image of a restaurant in a
cave go away. It didn't. So Dave started to work. Naturally,
so did Connie, since wives always get lassoed into such
||Dave bought a
jackhammer. He bought carts. He bought sledgehammers, picks, shovels
and pry bars. He hired a guy who knew about blasting. All the while,
neighbors figured that Dave was certifiable, ready for the guys with
the white coats and nets. No matter. Over four years, Dave, Connie
and a few helpers almost broke their backs taking 2,160 tons of rock
out of the cave and turning it into a magic place that can seat 225
people. They put in air conditioners and dehumidifiers. They built
fish-stocked fountains and waterfalls to mask any remaining seepage
that the mechanical devices couldn't take care of. The cave is dry.
||And more. There's a huge
panoramic window overlooking the river 100 feet below. There's an
elevator and carpeting and furnishings and service that would do any
high-class restaurant in St. Louis or Kansas City proud.
"Since we've opened,
we've fed 35,000 people. And not from just around here. Name a state
or country and we've had people from there."
The menu is American -
steaks, fish and chicken. Dave said that folks don't go away hungry.
The restaurant is open for dinner Wednesday through Friday, and
lunch and dinner on weekends. "Back in the 1920's, believe it or
not," said Dave, "this was a dance hall. That's what it was called -
Dance Hall Cave. People would come, climb up an old rickety ladder
and have dances."
Dave tells it, a hard charger named Ed Steckle built the
resort and constructed the low-water bridge across the
river. That bridge, incidentally, was Steckle's undoing. He
was on it one day during high water, trying to clear off
piled-up flotsam. A tree branch snagged a leg, and he
"For years afterward this just sat empty," said Dave. "Old
Steckle must've been a dreamer." No more so than Dave, who
didn't see just an old Missouri cave. He saw a restaurant.
Dig and they will come. "Some of the locals thought people
would be attracted to the novelty," he said. "Well, novelty
is fine, but you better have good food and service. "Are
they surprised? I think so. Especially when the big tour
buses pull in and people pile out."
-Excerpt from article by James J. Fisher