Weiss Cafe

20 N. Main St. ~ 1907 to 1957

Interior of the Weiss Cafe
Date Unknown
• Perhaps circa 1920


Long regarded as one of the finest restaurants between the Twin Cities and Seattle, the Weiss Cafe flourished primarily between 1907 and 1943, under the management / ownership of Zebulon P. Melhorn (1871-1952). Melhorn sold out in 1943. In it's heyday the Weiss was noted for game dishes, and also for their coffee.

Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the front door was reportedly never locked from 1907 to 1935, when minor earthquake damage necessitated a brief closure. The story goes that the key was nowhere to be found, so the door had to be nailed shut.

The Weiss cafe operated under various owners, including noted Helena restaurateur
Eddie Gallivan, until about 1957. The space was subsequently occupied by at least two short-lived eateries. The Martha Hotel building, which housed the Weiss and sundry other businesses, was destroyed by fire on April 28, 1965.

On the Map...


The Weiss Cafe Was Noted for Its Coffee...




Restaurant Expanded, 1907

Electric Waffles at the Weiss, 1922


Zeb Melhorn Retires, 1943


Maurice Weiss, Co-founder, Dies 1948



Popular Restaurateur Eddie Gallivan Buys Weiss Cafe, 1950

Eddy Gallivan 1879-1955

Zeb Melhorn Dies, 1952

Weiss Cafe and Neighboring Busineses, Early 1950s


The latter-day history of the Weiss Cafe is hard to decipher from the newspaper archives. About 1957, the Weiss was purchased by Emmett and Georgia Watson. The Watsons also owned the Hitchin' Post Drive-In in the 1800 block of 11th Avenue. According to legal notices in the Helena newpaper archives, the Watsons suffered substantial financial and legal difficulties in 1957-58. Mentions of them in the archives stop after 1958; I don't where they went or exactly what happened with the ownership of the Weiss.

The Weiss Cafe and the adjacent Mint Bar were put up for sale (by someone) in early 1958. In 1959 a Mrs. Helen Hale of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, obtained permits to remodel the cafe and bar. She was still the owner when the building burned in 1965.

The short-lived Mischel's Restaurant was in the Weiss space 1959-60. Late in 1960, the location was known as Jim's Cafe -- another apparently short-lived venture, disapperaing from the archives in 1961. I don't know who Jim was.

The 1963 and 1964 Polk's Helena City Directory shows the address as being vacant. The building was destroyed in a spectacular fire on April 28, 1965.


"Weiss Cafe - A Porter's Lament"
A poem by William C. Ford (1888-1964), former porter at the Weiss
Courtesy of Mickey Czerniski

William C. Ford

"Perhaps we, in the future wherever we are,
In this dear old place or scattered afar,
Will look back in remembrance, ecstasy and bliss
Even on such silly things as this."

I served my country, in World War One,
I have a slug in my chest, from a Heinie's gun.
I stopped machine gun bullets with the seat of my pants,
I wear the Purple Heart and the Cross of France.

In the War of the Pacific - as old as I am
I served three years in Burma - Siam -
Transferred from the Aleutians ice and snow
To the tropical quarters of "Vinegar Joe."

Thru Indo China's jungles deep,
I marched three days and nights without food or sleep.
Then on a pagan god I hung my hat,
And slept with the apes at Banghor Vat.

I have been in tough places; I have held tough jobs,
I have taken punishment in heaps and gobs --
But the toughest assignment of my day
Is the Porter's job at the Weiss Cafe.

At four A.M. I come alive,
And am under fire at a quarter to five.
With mop and bucket, broom and pan
I make the rounds as fast as I can.

I am just getting started, when a waitress comes thru,
Yells, "The lights are out in number two,
The laundry chute is all plugged up,
Get on the ball --you lazy pup!"

There's Alder Gulch mud on the dining room floor.
The aisles are smeared with grease and gore,
The floor furnace smokes and the fans won't run.
Everything's wrong and it ain't no fun.

The booths are like the leopard's lair,
Meat and bones lay here and there.
Ketchup is sprayed on wall and chair,
Broken dishes, silverware and dirty napkins everywhere.

The house is packed but a waitress calls out.
"Your pants are slipping, you careless lout,
Your socks are down and your shirt tails out,
Your eyes are watery; your hair is thin
And there's egg yolk on your ugly chin!"

Waiter and Waitress, little or much,
Are wizards of wisecracks, slang and such,
They are such a wanting, wishing bunch,
Each want different things and all want it at once.

The way it looks from where I stand,
I am persuaded that every man
Will do his work the best he can -
And every woman, large or small,
Will let the poor man do it all.

Now let it here be understood,
I would not change it if I could
And before I lay this pen away,
In conclusion, this I say -

Eddie, Ivar, Frank and Dan,
Madge and Marge and Martha Ann,
Mattie, Mary, Edith, Grace,
John and Charlie, Tom and Ace,
Ruth and Bennie, Jack and Bill,
With all your faults, "I love you still."

January 1, 1949

In 1956, Mr. Ford added this postscript upon the passing of owner Eddie Gallivan...
January 1, 1956

Six years have passed since the above poem was written. Now the famous old cafe has a new
Manager and a new porter. Most of the old help, true to the traditions of their trade have scattered and drifted to other fields. Only Mattie, Marge and Ruth remain. Age has retired Tom and Ace, while John and Charlie have gone to their reward in a land where hunger is unknown and where no distinction is made between a good and poor cook.
Our old manager's beloved daughter Martha Ann passed away suddenly and at her funeral he placed his hand upon her casket and said "Goodbye dear child, I shall follow soon." Not long after at the age of seventy-six, he passed away peacefully in his sleep.

So ended the full and fruitful life of that "grand old man" EDDIE L. GALLIVAN. His faults were negligible and will soon be forgotten. His virtues were many -- their influence will live down through the ages. We, his employees, miss him. By his death we lost a true friend and our city lost a loyal citizen, businessman and benefactor. However our loss is heaven's gain. Be it ever thus.

William C. Ford