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Why is George’s called “George’s Buffet” when there’s no buffet? – Elizabeth, Iowa City, via the Your Village feature on LV’s homepage
At this point, the most accurate answer is probably “tradition.”
Apparently, when George Kanak opened the bar in February 1939, he meant to make it stand out from other bars that served food by offering a full buffet. But if George’s ever had an actual buffet while Kanak owned it, he never advertised that fact.
The first newspaper ad for the “tap room” mentions sandwiches and soups as the available foods, alongside “All Popular Bottle Beers” and Miller High-Life on tap. The Press-Citizen’s brief notice about the opening of George’s doesn’t mention food at all, focusing on the bar’s new two-story building instead.
“The building features the latest in fixtures, lighting, and modern construction,” the Press-Citizen said.
An ad from 1947, the final year Kanak owned George’s, lists “sandwiches—cigarettes” as the bar’s non-booze offerings.
The buffet-less Iowa City institution has also been George-less since Clarence Ruppert bought the place from Kanak in 1948. Ruppert, of course, kept the name, instead of making it Clarence’s. It had two more owners — an Ed and a James — before Mike Karr, who had been a bartender there since the mid-late 1970s, bought the bar in 1989. Karr has maintained George’s unique atmosphere, from its name to the flocked wallpaper it has had since the 1960s.
Karr has also kept the decades-old tradition of serving great cheeseburgers, prepared on 1950s Clark electric broilers. Those burgers may be one of the reasons no one minds the absence of a buffet. In 2012, the burgers got George’s on Esquire’s list of “the nation’s 24 best late-night food establishments.”
Little Village readers agree. The Best of CRANDIC Awards are only two years old, and voters selected George’s as “Best Late Night Food” both years. “The simplicity of the burgers here contradict the overwhelming joy experienced when you’re consuming one,” reader Kyle W. said. He added, “Especially when you’re drunk.”