Monday, October 19, 2020

Palace of Poison

In 1947, a local St. Louis, Missouri entrepreneur named Arthur Wild opened a hamburger stand with a twist in Lemay, a community in south St. Louis County.  With a passion for the weird and unusual, he named his restaurant "Wild's Palace of Poison".  Situated at 1500 Lemay Ferry, one of the main thoroughfare's in South St. Louis County, it became a popular hangout for teens of the 1950's.

A few weeks ago, I attended the estate sale of Art's widow (Art having passed away about a decade ago).  There were few mementos left of the restaurant, but I did pick up this facsimile of an original menu.

As evidenced by the menu, Art adopted a gruesome nickname for each item offered.  A simple hamburger became a "Murder Burger", a BLT a "Vampire's Kiss", Chili a "Phantom's Kiss", an ice cream Sundae a "Black Widow" and even a regular cup of coffee became "Witches Brew".  Art topped off all orders with the offer of a signed Death Certificate for his "unfortunate"victims customers.

Positioned across the street from an actual cemetery, Art had his own mock cemetery of gravestones with such epitaphs as "Here lies poor old Cousin Tillie. All she had was a bowl of chili."

Even the restaurant's phone number was a play on the poison angle: HUdson-9896 (Nine ate, Nine Sick).

Perhaps the most amazing element of Wild's Palace of Poison was the palace itself.  Topped with a $6000 (in 1940's dollars) neon sign of a skull and crossbones and another neon sign challenging consumers to "Eat Here If It Kills You", Wild's couldn't help but draw a curious (and hungry) crowd.

Art did make an attempt at franchising the business, but investors were leery of a poison-themed restaurant.  Art was a man ahead of his time.

The restaurant was successful for 17 years, but when a Steak 'n Shake restaurant opened a few doors down from Art in 1964, the nail was driven into the coffin of the Palace of Poison.

Art sold his restaurant and it remained a hamburger stand, under a different name, "Burger Fair". Art himself became the manager of another local restaurant.  Shortly afterward, the neon signs were unceremoniously torn down by the new owner.

At the sale, I also bought this photo of Art (far right) and his first wife Ann inside the Palace. Though I wasn't able to determine the exact date, based on the St. Louis Globe-Democrat headline from the newspaper hanging on the wall behind them which appears to read "Big 3 Sets Indo-China Peace Talks(?)", it's sometime in 1954.

Today, Art Wild's Palace of Poison is remembered fondly by nostalgia buffs and 80-year-old teenagers.  Many may have eaten there and "died", but the memories live on.


I had to add the following photos to this post because they are too great to leave out. These were posted by an online friend recently.   These include the first color photos of The Palace of Poison I've ever seen.


  1. "Ho-made" chili? Well, at least it keeps 'em off the streets.

    1. That's how low the unemployment rate was in the '50's.

  2. wow, what a score! i can't believe you got to go to the estate sale for this stuff. that place was incredible, and i wish we could've gone there. that last nighttime photo is one of my rotating desktop photos. i always wondered (until now) what happened to the neon... what a loss! he truly was ahead of his time -- i think this place would be super popular these days. the sense of macabre humor is right on. and it was done in by a Steak & Shake? yet another reason for me to hate that chain, lol.

  3. What a shame about that big neon sign. That was so cool. He was ahead of his time - what a great concept.

  4. My uncle tells me stories about this place all the time. He used to “cruise it” when he was a teenage

    1. I would have loved to have seen it in its day.

  5. I'd love to get some stickers from here on my 51 chevy.

  6. In the late 60s we cruised Palace of Poison, STEAK 'n Shake, Chuck-A-Burger and Burger Chef. No bullets flying. Ah the good old days.


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