The City of Oil City was booming in the mid-1950s.

The population was listed as 18,500-plus residents while the jobs sector ranged from major U.S. companies such as Jones & Laughlin Steel, U.S. Steel, Continental Can, Koppers and Worthington to dozens of small shops and professional offices. The community boasted three hotels, three motion picture theaters, a 175-bed hospital, eight public schools, a busy railroad system and much more.

Included in that inventory for 1954 were 40-plus restaurants within the city limits in 1954. The listing also included taverns that offered a limited menu to patrons.

Only one “cocktail bar” was included in the 1954 directory. It was for the City Hotel in the East End, a building that later housed Kay’s Smorgasbord and Skruby’s Bar. It advertised it had 24-hour food service, free parking, overnight rates of $2 a person, a dining room and bar and offered “meals at all hours, plus entrees for banquets, weddings, parties and bridge luncheons.”

Two establishments are listed only under the owner’s names: Julia Drelick at 82 Spruce Street and Katherine Streczywilk at 310 Cooper Avenue. The 1954 list does not include the lunch counters at Kresge’s, Woolworth’s and Grants, all five-and-ten-cent stores on Seneca Street.

By the mid-1950s, Oil City sported two distinct diners – the Elm Street Dinor and the Main Street Deluxe Diner. Both were in converted railroad cars. Bill Hennies ran the Elm Street Dinor and his mother provided the business with her famous homemade pies. The Main Street Diner was run by Albert Morehouse at 178 Main Street.

A decade later, the city would boast fewer restaurants at 41. Still in business today and bearing their original names are McNerney’s, Famoore’s, Scierka’s and the Marvic.

Here are the restaurants/taverns:

  • Arlington Hotel, 46 Seneca Street
  • Avery’s, National Transit Building
  • Bridge Lunch, 102 E. Front Street
  • Butiste’s, 211 Sycamore Street
  • Central Plaza, 13 Central Avenue
  • Chacona’s, 218 Elm Street
  • City Hotel, 211 E. 2nd Street
  • The Club House, 1 Main Street
  • Cocktail Lounge, 212 Elm Street
  • Cunningham’s, 279 Seneca Street
  • Diamond Café, 408 Seneca Street
  • Dick’s, 277 Seneca Street
  • Drake Grille, 275 Seneca Street
  • Drelick’s, 82 Spruce Street
  • Elm Dining Room, 282 Elm Street
  • Elm Street Dinor, 234 Elm Street
  • Falco’s Amberglow, 545 Colbert Avenue
  • Famoore’s, 18 E. 1st Street
  • Flamingo Grill, 301 E. 2nd Street
  • Flynn’s Grill, 220 Center Street
  • Gajewski Grill, 2 Spring Street
  • Isaly’s, 14 E. 1st Sreet and 217 Seneca Street
  • Italian Village, 11 Central Avenue
  • Johnny’s Bar, 61 Main Street
  • Kozy’s Inn, 109 Main Street
  • Little Dutch Inn, 587 Seneca Street
  • Main Street Deluxe Diner, 178 Main St.
  • Marvic Tavern, 401 E. 2nd Street
  • McNerney’s, 245 Seneca Street
  • New York Grill, 129 Main Street
  • Rosen’s Grill, 107 State Street
  • Royal, 201 Sycamore Street
  • Scierka’s, 100 Elk Street
  • Skruby’s Inn, 308 E. 2nd Street
  • Sumbar, 143 Main Street
  • Tex’s Tavern, 23 Elm Street
  • Valley Lunch, 1005 Seneca Street
  • Venetian Dining Room, 7 E. Front Street
  • White Bridge Inn, 411 Seneca Street
  • White Eagle Inn, 617 Seneca Street
  • Willows Tavern, 557 Colbert Avenue
  • YMCA cafeteria, 290 Seneca Street

Oil City had a distinction of having three nationally known five-and-ten-cent stores all within two blocks of each other. Located on Seneca Street were Grant’s, Woolworth’s and Kresge’s. Each had a lunch counter that was very popular with patrons.

Oil City had an Isaly’s store and deli on both sides of the city. This photograph shows the Isaly’s at 217 Seneca Street. The South Side store was at 14 E. 1st Street. They opened in the 1940s and closed in the late 1980s.
Rosen’s Grill was located at 101 State Street. In the mid-1950s, it was owned by Samuel Rosen and Abraham Salkin.
Chacona’s restaurant began as a confectionery and candy store but quickly grew into a well-known steakhouse in Oil City. The restaurant later became the Yellow Dog Restaurant.
The McNerney family has owned the popular Seneca Street business for generations.

Among the most popular Oil City restaurants were three Italian ones – Butiste’s, Italian Village and Central Plaza – and two steak and seafood places – Chacona’s and Falco’s Amberglow.

Oil City also boasted two distinct diners which resembled old railroad cars refashioned as shiny chrome restaurants. They were shipped by the Sorge Diner Co. of New York to Oil City and set up as the Elm Street Dinor and the Main Street Deluxe Diner.

Oil City boasted three national brand 5-and-10-cent stores that had entrances on both Seneca and Elm streets. They were Kresge’s, Grant’s and Woolworth’s and each one had a lunch counter.
The Bridge Lunch was located at 102 E. Front Street. The building was distinctive because of the porthole-like windows.

The first chain restaurant-like business to make its way into Oil City was Isaly’s. Each side of town offered an Isaly’s outlet.

Tex’s Tavern, located across from where McDonald’s restaurant is now on Elm Street, was owned by George and Frank Hajduk.
Central Avenue featured two very well known restaurants – Central Avenue Plaza Restaurant and the Italian Village. Customers at the Italian Village could take an empty pot into the restaurant and the owner would fill it with take-out sauce and meatballs. Family members then could cart it home for dinner.

By the late 1950s, some restaurants were changing their business models to serve more baby boom teenagers. They included Sam Sanfilippo’s Pizza Villa, Roby Nelson’s Famoore’s, Cunningham’s, Rollie and Freda Phillips’ Rollie’s Pizza Shop, Hale’s Drive-In on Riverside Drive, Log Cabin in Seneca and Schenck’s Drive-in in Reno.

In 1971, Oil City got its first national franchise restaurant when Kentucky Fried Chicken opened on Center Street. McDonald’s followed in 1973 and Arby’s in 1978.

Many dining rooms featured live music for dancing while others provided a jukebox to draw in patrons. Games of chance, too, were sometimes available in back rooms.

This advertisement includes information on four Oil City restaurants: the Cocktail Lounge (“dance … to Phil Runzo’s Orchestra), Rosen’s Grill, (BIG hamburgers, fries and cole slaw for 50-cents), Royal Restaurant (“try the fresh lobsters”), the Venetian (“served everyday in our AIR CONDITIONED dining room”).
The Broaster Villa featured an innovative method for cooking in this advertisement.
This 1954 advertisement notes the Royal Restaurant, located at 201 Sycamore Street, was reopening after a complete remodeling project. The business was owned by the Veloudis family.

Cunningham’s Restaurant, previously known as the Coney Island Restaurant, was owned by John Benekos. The favorite noontime stop advertised itself as “An adventure in eating with a specialty of just good food.” It featured gleaming stainless steel appliances, a lunch counter and booths.

The Arlington Hotel featured 106 rooms, a dining room complete with linen tablecloths, china serving dishes and the Coral Room bar. In its earlier years, the owners included Loren Venner and his brother-in-law, Herbert Statler, a direct descendant of Casper Statler who is credited with being the first innkeeper – the Statler chain of hotels – in the eastern U.S.

John Koziara owned Kozy’s, previously called Eddie’s Place, at 109 Main Street. The mid-1960s redevelopment project on Main Street forced him to relocate to 629 Seneca Street. His restaurant there was known as Kozy’s Karousel.

The Oil City YMCA at 290 Seneca Street featured a public cafeteria in the basement. Entry was by way of steps going down to the basement level.
The Cocktail Lounge and restaurant was located at 212 Elm Street. The business was owned by the Angros family.

Written by Judy Etzel with research by Kay Dawson and design by Natalie Cubbon.


Helen & Dave Heinzer

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