Fifty years ago, on the banks of the Missouri River in Haworth Park, construction began on a landmark restaurant in Bellevue.
The Bellevue Queen, built to resemble a paddlewheel river boat, never carried a single passenger up or down the Mighty Mo, but the Queen was synonymous with Bellevue and the Missouri River.
Wedding receptions, civic events, sports award banquets and family reunions regularly packed the Queen. The Queen reigned in Bellevue.
After numerous changes of ownership and several natural disasters, the once bustling Bellevue Queen was closed and demolished in 1997.
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The late Al Thrower Jr., with a small loan, built the Bellevue Queen in 1969 on leased land from the city.
“My husband was a mover and a shaker,” Phyllis Thrower said. “He was always on the move to do something different.”
Nebraska Lt. Gov. John Everroad christened the Bellevue Queen the flagship of the Nebraska Navy, and the Queen set sail into the city’s lore.
Ambiance aside, restaurants need to have good food to retain customers, and the Queen’s menu was fit for a king as its original menu included seafood, steaks and Italian staples.
A Bellevue High School senior could impress his prom date for less than $20 with a New York strip for her, a broiled lobster tail for him and ice cream for both.
The Throwers, Phyllis said, funded the Queen with a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which she said limited how funds could be used. When the SBA learned of a lien filed against the Queen, it called for the loan to be repayed in full.
The Throwers sold the Queen in 1973 to the SBA, and the SBA in turn sold the restaurant to Harold Stevens, who reopened the restaurant in 1974 and kept the Queen afloat until 1986.
The Queen was at its peak of popularity and stability from 1974 until 1984.
Linda Stevens, Harold’s oldest daughter, said she worked at the restaurant from when her father bought the Queen until it closed in 1986.
“I remember my dad would hold a martini glass in his hand like a character off of ‘Mad Men’ and would socialize with the customers on a Saturday night,” Stevens said.
In addition to the food and drink, entertainment, too, was a staple of the Queen as it provided a setting for singers, musicians, comedians and a stage for the fledgling Bellevue Little Theatre.
Harold Stevens, who died in 2016, even dabbled in movie dining.
“We would serve guests drinks and desserts during the movie, which at the time was an unheard of thought,” Linda Stevens said.
Alicia Holstein worked at the Queen starting when she was 14 and said all 10 of her brothers and sisters plus her father worked at the restaurant.
To this day, she said, her sister uses the Queen’s beef vegetable soup recipe — hence its name, “Queen Soup.”
Business at the Queen slowed in the early 1980s in part due to a national recession but also to a flood in 1984. In time, hopes of regaining the business the Queen once had washed away.
“It just broke my heart because they were busy for so many years and then after the floods, Harold could never get it back,” Holstein said.
Harold Stevens closed the Bellevue Queen toward the end of 1986, and the SBA was back in the picture, taking back the restaurant with a $200,000 bid in an auction. Nearly two years later, Omaha restaurateur Rusty Harmsen began efforts to bring the Queen back to life.
Harmsen, along with former Bellevue City Administrator Jeff Renner and businessman Keith Edquist, formed the partnership “Save the Queen” and the restaurant reopened in August 1988 under the name Bellevue Yacht Club.
Once again, the riverside restaurant was entertaining patrons, this time with the addition of a 3,000 square foot deck, larger river-view windows, a dining room, ballroom, four party rooms, four bars and two kitchens.
In April 1989, the Yacht Club was yet again under new management, this time by the Pasha Corporation headed by Duane Menke and his wife, Pat.
The nearby Bellevue Marina, which was entering its first full summer season, was expected to increase traffic flow to the Bellevue Yacht Club, but the hope of increased business was never fulfilled.
In 1993, after yet more flooding at Haworth Park, the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resource District began exploring the possibility of buying out and demolishing the restaurant, which it did in 1997 after it paid $306,000.
Throughout its history, in good times and bad, the Bellevue Queen was an integral part of the city’s fabric. For two decades, first dates, weddings and business deals were the norm for Bellevue’s restaurant on the river.
The Queen certainly had its struggles, and the riverboat restaurant eventually sank into Bellevue’s history, but for those who dined and worked there, the memories sail on.
What are your memories of the Bellevue Queen? Did you host your wedding reception or celebrate an anniversary there? Did you bus tables or wait on customers? Share your memories on the Bellevue Leader’s Facebook page.