Walking in to Gordy’s Steakhouse is like taking a trip back in time, when a night out meant sharply dressed couples enjoying sumptuous steaks and ice-cold martinis in dimly lit corner booths. The restaurant, nestled in the heart of Willernie, the 500-person town bordered on all sides by Mahtomedi, pays homage to the supper clubs of the past and the city’s unique history as a favorite vacation destination for some of Prohibition’s most notorious gangsters.
“It’s got a cool mystique, and it’s still a destination point,” says Gordy Johnson, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Eve.
During the Prohibition era, visitors from St. Paul spent 10 cents to take the streetcar out to visit Wildwood Amusement Park on the southeast shore of White Bear Lake.
The resort community also attracted some famous outlaws, with the likes of George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Doc Barker and John Dillinger seen around town at The Plantation nightclub and Guarnera’s Spaghetti Shack in Mahtomedi.
Gordy’s occupies the oldest building in Willernie; originally a streetcar roundhouse, it was once home to the Shore Club, a supper club and piano bar. When the Johnsons, service-industry veterans who met working at Axels in Mendota, toured the space, they knew they could bring that 1940s glamour back to life.
Opened in 2005, the intimate 130-seat steakhouse is awash in dark wood and mood lighting. Votive candles and spotless tableware await guests at each cozy table. The space was decorated by Eve, whose eye for detail is apparent in everything from the luxe textures to the just-right volume of the ’70s love songs playing overhead.
Service is impeccable; the small, tight-knit staff takes immense pride in providing a memorable experience for each and every guest. “Our staff genuinely cares about our clientele,” Eve says. “They know how to make people feel special.”
“We see lots of familiar faces,” adds longtime bartender Pat Flanery, who grew up nearby and started as a bar-back and busboy at Gordy’s 13 years ago. “We spend so much time together, our customers become friends.”
The dinner-only restaurant is a go-to for birthdays, dates and anniversary celebrations, and special occasions are marked with little surprises like a champagne toast or dessert. Craft beers on tap and a varied wine list complement the old-school menu, which features hearty steak and seafood entrees that would make any supper club proud.
While classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned are always popular at Gordy’s, Pat is also an expert in less well-known drinks like the grasshopper, an after-dinner treat made with crème de menthe and real ice cream.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel; it’s about consistent quality,” Gordy says. “We’re the place where you can get a great martini and a great cut of steak and know that it’s always going to be there, where you feel like part of our family.”
The husband-and-wife team has equally high standards for the restaurant’s food and the service experience, but Gordy’s is completely devoid of stuffiness. “We’re like the Mahtomedi Cheers,” Eve says.
There are several restaurants within walking distance of Gordy’s, but little sense of competition. “There is a community amongst the restaurants here,” Gordy says. “We really complement each other.”
By the Numbers
68: Number of years the building that houses Gordy’s has been a restaurant.
8: Beers on tap, including craft brews from Founders and Alaskan.
1919: Year the Volstead Act ushered in prohibition and the era of bootleggers.
1,000: Number of weekend visitors per day to Wildwood Amusement Park.
(Sources: Gordy’s and the Washington County Historical Society page on Mahtomedi)