Inside St. Louis

J. Garavaglia’s Hilltop Inn

An original water color of The Hilltop by local artist Marilynne Bradley.










     It doesn’t take much imagination to picture Popeye’s hamburger eating buddy Wimpy, J. Wellington, best know just as Wimpy, consuming those delicacies at the Hilltop on Morganford. Of course he’d con customers with the line “I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” But that wouldn’t be a problem as the price is really right at the Hilltop. But don’t whip out your plastic as this is a cash only operation. A full hot blue-plate lunch’ll set you back a paltry $6.75. Hamburger fanciers from far and wide, converge at the Hilltop Monday through Friday at lunch-time, 11:30 to 2, for this Inn’s freshly ground Kenrick beef burger. The exact method of their making in the basement kitchen is a well-protected secret but suffice to say, the end result is habit-forming. Chief cook and bottle-washer, as well as Hilltop owner, Rosalie (Rosie) La Gates, daughter of the J’s, Joe and Julia, as in J. Garavaglia, sees to it that the family recipe is faithfully followed. By the way, the forever young Rosie, is about to embark on her 43rd year working at the Hilltop, but she’s actually been there her whole life as the family was raised in the same building, just on the other side of the restaurant’s wall. There are a good number of good hamburgers around town say at locally operated locations such as Blueberry Hill, O’Connell’s, Schneithorst’s Kaffee Haus, Lester’s, John’s Town Hall, Carl’s Drive In, Cunetto’s…but that Hilltop hamburger is right up there with any of ‘em.
















     There’s more than hamburgers to enjoy at the Hilltop, with it’s classic A & Eagle Budweiser marquee sign over the front entrance, and to wet your whistle there’s a full bar with draft Bud for a buck and bottled beer for $2. The made from scratch eats are as good as it gets, Miller bone-in ham sandwich or plate, wonderful juicy roast beef, beefy chili, chicken soup - sometimes with ravioli, a pasta such as rigatoni, spaghetti or penne (the Garavaglia’s are from The Hill), oven browned potatoes, salad, Polish sausage with kraut (John Auble’s favorite), Polish Reuben with kraut and melted Swiss on a French roll, etc., all served from what well may be the smallest steam table in town. And the Hilltop itself is of diminutive dimensions as well, seating but 38 for table service and 11 at the bar. There’s adequate parking right in front on Morganford, but just so you know, there are 9 steps at the front, that you’ll need to ascend, then descend, at your departure. So if that’s not on your exercise regimen use the wheelchair accessible back door.

















     Let’s say you were hangin’ around during at least a portion of those halcyon days of the “Golden Age” of radio from the late ‘20s into the late ‘50s. If that’s your case, you may well recall the soap opera “Hilltop House” when you pass by, or drop in, the Hilltop Inn, one door off the southeast corner of Morganford and Loughborough in the venerable Carondelet neighborhood. Going back to the late ‘20s through most of the ‘30s George Schwartz’s filling station was at the corner, at a site that before it was leveled, to give easy access to motorcars, was actually higher than that now occupied by the Hilltop. George and his wife Ella ran a saloon in the building that now houses the Hilltop. It’s said that during the “dry” years they just might have made a little moonshine there. But that may well be an urban legend. Henry and Bill Gockel’s grocery store was on the other side of the wall at what’s now the Hilltop building, but they’d later move the market to the end of the block at Quincy. They did home grocery delivery in a 1920s era GMC truck. Oh, That Hilltop House 15 minute radio show, sponsored by Palmolive, was about the activities of those who worked or lived in an orphanage. It emanated from the Columbia Broadcasting System and was heard here over KMOX at 4:45 p.m. weekdays. Our Hilltop Inn opened for thirsty and hungry Southsiders when the Great Depression was petering out in ‘39 and war was yet to cast its dark shadow from over there to over here. Radio’s Hilltop House had started spinning its stories two years earlier, but it bit the dust in ’57, while the Hilltop Inn, much like ‘Ol Man River just keeps rollin’ along.
















     The Hilltop, or as it was sometimes called, Hill Top, is truly perched on a hill, not far from where, in 1673, Father Jacques Marquette explored the area at the mouth of what we now call River Des Peres when this was Indian territory. Jesuits formed a mission there, and that’s how the river came to be called River of the Fathers. The mission shut down in 1703 subsequent to the Indians moving on. Not much activity occurred in the area until some 60 years later when Laclede, Chouteau and company were setting up shop at a place they’d name St. Louis, in honor of King Louis IX of France. Three years later, the Village of Carondelet was created by Clement Delor de Treget and named for Francois Louis Hector Baron de Carondelet. Early on it was also known as Vide Poche (empty pockets), Delor’s Village, Louisborough and Prairie a Catalan. The town competed in many ways with it’s big neighbor to the north and remained independent until 1870 when it was gobbled up by The City of St. Louis. There’s a worth reading novel titled “Louisiana Purchase” by A. E. Hotchner that delves into the oft unfriendly relations between the leaders of the two cities. The book should be available at book-sellers and at the Carondelet branch of the St. Louis City Library on Michigan just north of Loughborough. If you can’t find it, you can order a copy from local Virginia Publishing Co. at 314 367 6612 extension 22, or get it on line at or Barnes and












     For the most part, the Hilltop’s, general area contemporaries serving food and drink have faded away. A few examples: Orrin “Bud” Dieckmeyer’s place at 6201 S. Broadway, noted for brain sandwiches; the previous Rex Café at 6201 Michigan, owned by Ted and Chris Stratos, “exiled” so to speak, from Olive and Newstead; Big Blo’s bar in the 6800 block of Michigan owned by Manuel Muniz who was a leader of the Spanish Society; Little Bevo on Morganford on the west side of the still operating Bevo Mill and Fran Musial’s Chrome Bar on Gravois on the east side of Bevo Mill. Pat Hartmann’s Itaska tavern, later, Ruppert’s, at 4701 Morganford, Carl Roggi’s La Roma café at 7310 Gravois, the Golden Horn at 6983 Gravois, Ray David’s tavern at 6931 Gravois and Lee’s Grill at Gravois and Hampton have all bowed out as has the Silverwood which was at Gravois and Loughborough.








     As the lay of the land falls away from The Hilltop overlooking the fertile River Des Peres valley, it’s hard today to picture that into the mid-20th century much of this property was taken up by truck farms, in addition to cemeteries. The farms are no more, having been gradually replaced after World War II by subdivisions and a small shopping center, but the cemeteries remain. The Weinreich farm, which preceded the Civil War, covered the area from Loughborough down to Robert and east on Sharp. When the original owner passed, the three children of that founding farmer each inherited a 20 acre parcel of the farm.





     Some folks still remember Charlie and Minnie Weinreich. Today Charles and Marvin Weinreich have a truck farm in the vicinity of Union Road and Reavis Barracks Road. A mushroom farmer named Schultz was just a bit west off Loughborough and old-timers recall he, as the story goes, brought cultivated mushrooms and the first electric car to St. Louis. There was the Brinkmann farm with its huge garden center; it was replaced in part by a Kroger supermarket and later a Medicare-Glaser drug store.










     Near there was Ed Moehlenhoff’s farm near Morgan Ford (it started when some still called it Morgan’s Ford) and Loughborough (named for the surveyor John M. Loughborough). Denny and Pam Moehlenhoff would run the realty company in later years. Other farms included one operated by a man named Schnell and another by the Lammert family. The Lammert farm was north across the intersection from the Hilltop Inn. All of these now mostly forgotten truck farms filled the landscape now covered by houses. In those by-gone days there was the Loughborough Rock Road district that required sprinkler trucks to keep rock dust from roads to a minimum. Still other farms have been replaced by streets such as Blow and Leona. Blow was named for paint manufacturer and Congressmen Henry Blow, whose daughter Susan, started the first Kindergarten in America in the then new Des Peres School at 6303 Michigan, now home of the Carondelet Historical Society. Her restored classroom, along with thousands of other nostalgic and historic artifacts, including an entire room devoted to Cleveland High School memorabilia is open the public.











     Time has a subtle and sneaky way of changing our world. But the Hilltop, somewhat like a place you might see in a Twilight Zone episode, stays the same. And that’s a good thing.


     In addition to Rosalie, your servers will likely be her daughter-in-law, Gwen, or Cindy, who is a cousin. And chances are the barkeep will be Rosie’s husband Al La Gates. It really is a family affair. The cozy Hilltop, perfect for casual attire, is clean, not noisy or smoky; though smoking is allowed. It’s a friendly, authentic, old-time neighborhood place with the true ambiance of Cheers. You’ll like it, and they’ll like you. By the by, they also have one of those snazzy new Internet jukeboxes with thousands of songs as well as some coin-operated games.


     A place with a similar feel, or vibe, in today’s vernacular is Beffa Brothers Buffet at 2700 Olive St. at the corner of Beaumont Ave., a block west of Jefferson Blvd.


Written by Johnny Rabbitt

Click here to view all of the images from the Hilltop.


Contact Information

The Hilltop Inn

6902 Morganford Rd.
St. Louis, Missouri 63116


Hours of Operation

Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 1:00 a.m
Saturday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Lunch is served 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and carry outs are available.

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