Grendel's Den


1961 – present


89 Winthrop Street, Harvard Square


Somewhere in between white table cloth and cafeteria




Shortly after Harvard's Pi Eta Club moved out of 89 Winthrop Street in the 1960's, Sue and Herbert Kuelzer took notice of the building as an attractive location for the restaurant they were planning to open in Harvard Square. Their vision was for a full service restaurant serving "casual gourmet" food at reasonable prices. The space at 89 Winthrop, underneath "The Troll House" a dress shop which sold Marimeko style clothing, captured their imagination.

Leveraging their neighbor's moniker, and Sue's BA in English Lit, they came up with the name Grendel's Den - a name which suited both the cave-like dining room and their slightly less civilized take on gourmet dining. Situated in a fairly new market position of being neither "white table cloth" nor "cafeteria", Grendel's quickly became a popular place to eat.

In the 1970's the surrounding blocks were far less developed with restaurant and retail than one finds today. Grendel's and Winthrop Street had the feel of being on the fringes of Harvard Square, with few establishments other than a gas station between Winthrop Street and the Charles River. In 1974, Grendel's expanded, taking over the main floor of the building where the Troll House previously existed and they opened Grendel's Upstairs. This was the home of the famous "Grendel's Salad Bar," two fireplaces, and a sunny, plant filled, evolution which sprang from Grendel's basement origins. Grendel had been tamed, but the new Beggar's Banquet and voluminous salad bar remained true to its happy marriage of gourmet and gourmand. Outdoor tables, extremely popular in summer, were available year round, as evidenced by photos depicting the blue-check covered tables peeking out from 10 foot snow banks during the famous and well documented Blizzard of '78.

In the mid 1970's, Grendel's launched a legal battle with the help of Sue's cousin Ira Marowitz and his advisor at Harvard Law School, Laurence Tribe. A seven-year long journey brought the case to the United State Supreme court, which ruled in favor of Grendel's position that a Massachusetts State law allowing churches to veto liquor licenses was unconstitutional as it violated the separation of church and state. This victory allowed Grendel's to begin serving alcohol, a key factor in resurrecting the use of the original basement space, which needed a way of differentiating its offerings from the sunnier, more spacious upstairs dining room.

The historic legal precedent changed laws and enabled Grendel's Bar to open downstairs in 1983, and quickly became known as a spot to sample newly popular micro-brewed beer from Sam Adams and Cambridge Brewing Company. State restrictions on Happy Hours banned discounting libations (aka cheap booze), so instead, Grendel's offered free food if you bought a drink! While other bars drew customers with events, TV's, or live music, Grendel's Bar remained a cozy spot to gather in good company and chat without distraction. The popularity of Grendel's bar scene and the happy noisy din its regulars create on a nightly basis has continued over the past forty years.

Development on the river side of Harvard Square, began with the construction of the Galleria, and Charles Square (no more gas station!), and led to the 1999 construction boom and overhaul of the entire block of Winthrop to Eliot to Mount Auburn Street. Grendel's closed for one year during the construction, and reopened in 2000. At which point, the semi-retired Herbert & Sue, decided to focus their efforts back on the basement only. The prospect of updating the entire building was a time consuming and costly undertaking which was not how they envisioned spending their golden years at Grendel's!

The new Grendel's Den Restaurant & Bar was a far superior streamlined operation which made it an easy transition for Herbert & Sue's daughter Kari Kuelzer to assume management of the restaurant in 2004 following the extremely sad and premature death of Sue from breast cancer. Grendel's Den connected its two former iterations as Restaurant upstairs and bar downstairs into one, always busy, dining and drinking neighborhood institution that caters to Harvard Square's students, academics, tourists and residents from late morning to late night.

The positive civic improvements on the block, including the rehabilitation of Winthrop Park in the early 90's, brought numerous retailers and restaurants to this section of Harvard Square. The advocacy of the Harvard Square Business Association, an organization in which both Sue and Kari have served many as board members, helped encourage the City of Cambridge's 2006 implementation of a sidewalk alcohol policy that allowed for Grendel's to provide one of the nicest al-fresco dining spots in the area. Customers "of legal drinking age" were granted permission to enjoy an adult beverage on Grendel's patio and enjoy the sights and sounds of Harvard Square's ever changing street life. The HSBA in partnership with the City of Cambridge, Harvard University, and local business owners were effective in capital improvements to Winthrop Street which was newly cobbled and closed to vehicles from 11:00 am until 2:00 am in 2008. The new Winthrop Street has turned into a veritable restaurant-row, where Grendel's has sat cozily in its "family-run" den for over four decades.

Photo courtesy of the Cambridge Historical Commission