Spengers Fish Grotto

KCBS/Megan Goldsby

Spenger's Fish Grotto, The Oldest East Bay Restaurant, Sails Into The Sunset

Megan Goldsby
October 25, 2018 - 10:45 am

BERKELEY (KCBS Radio) — The bright neon light outside Spenger's Fish Grotto in Berkeley was the last sign of life on Wednesday at what had been the East Bay's oldest restaurant.

The restaurant was empty and dark, with the doors locked tight, and a slip of paper stuck to the ship's wheel on the front door informing would-be patrons that the restaurant had served its last meal.

Spenger's Fish Grotto, which first opened in 1890, was long considered an important piece of Berkeley history, although its reputation had faded in recent years, according to online reviews. 

Still, customers were heartbroken to hear that the mainstay of 4th Street had abruptly closed without advance warning.

"I'm sorry to hear it. I have great memories there," said a Novato woman who gave her name as Sunny who's been dining at Spenger's for more than 40 years. She recalled a night when her husband feasted on two lobsters. "It was delicious." 

The sign stuck to the 128-year-old restaurant's door apologized for the abrupt closure without explaining what led to the decision. 

Recent reviews, however, were often critical. The restaurant averaged just over two stars on Yelp reviews.

Despite her fondness for it, Sunny agreed that Spenger's had gone downhill. But she holds a soft spot for the place.

"It was still good. The sourdough bread was great," she said. "Things change. I just came from across the street, and that's a wonderful restaurant, so if I had my choice, I would go there as opposed to Spenger's, just because it had slipped. But it was a landmark." 

A report in the San Francisco Chronicle said a public notice posted on the building indicated that the parent company of the seafood chain Joe's Crab Shack has applied for a permit to open an outlet in that location.

Written by Diana Shook.