Nothing lasts forever. Times change and with them the people and places that define our lives. However, when Charlotte’s Café closed its doors for the last time, the town of Carlton lost more than just a quaint restaurant. It was the end of an eight-decade tradition; the town had lost a central part of its identity– if not a part of its heart. We hope the reopening of The Streetcar will serve patrons in the same spirit of hospitality established by Charlotte and the Zacher family so long ago.
Recognized as much for its gown-clad, ballroom-dancing owner as for its good food at a reasonable price, Charlotte’s Café began as the Streetcar Inn, a fitting name, as that is exactly what it was. Charlotte’s older brothers purchased The Car for $75 and hauled it from Duluth to its present location in 1928. The teenaged Charlotte worked the 24-hour diner through the Depression era when coffee cost a nickel and a porterhouse dinner .75 cents. Business boomed when the restaurant received one of Minnesot’s first post-Prohibition liquor licenses, later revoked by city when it determined a municipal liquor store would create revenue to lessen residents’ tax burden.
Patrons of the original Streetcar enjoyed sandwiches, soups, and tap beer, along with featured specials: a box of 25 cigars for $1.25, and delivery of a pony keg of beer anywhere in the city for $2.25. Additions and improvements were made to the original structure, including a basement which caused controversy in 1937 when the neighboring wall of The National Tea Company collapsed during the excavation. The basement sported a 60-foot bar with Charlotte serving .05 cent beers downstairs and lunches and dinners upstairs.
When her brothers entered the military in the late 1930’s, Charlotte assumed the mortgage and operations of the diner at age 25, and Charlotte’s Café was born. Her charismatic personality earned her small-town celebrity status. She and her diner were featured in numerous regional news articles, photos showing her cooking or serving while dressed in flowing, sequined gowns. Charlotte’s story aired on Real People, a national television show celebrating unique Americans and their accomplishments. Her real notoriety, however, came from those who frequented her café; there they met a genuinely kind and refreshingly original woman they would never forget.
While dining, feel free to explore the historical photos and accompanying descriptions of the Streetcar and its hometown. Whether you are a regularor a first-time diner, welcome back to The Streetcar. Cheers!