L.S. Ayres at the Indiana State Museum

The tea room, as recreated in a museum. An idea for other institutions.

How about a hopeful story of a brand that came back? Reader Brian Stevens of Indiana writes to us that the L. S. Ayres & Company was a fixture in Indianapolis (along with department stores like Block’s, Wasson’s, and L. Strauss) from 1872 until it was swallowed up by what he calls the “Great Non-Descript Department Store MegaBlob du Jour” in 1991. Stevens writes:

The L.S. Ayres Tea Room was a beautiful, high class tradition from 1905 to 1990 when it closed. Everyone, of every social class ate there, many during back-to-school or Christmas shopping trip downtown. Most of that wonderful “downtown experience” of shopping, strolling. Eating and seeing the sights is long gone as it has disappeared, I’m sure, from most metropolitan cities around the country. Funny, how we don’t miss these traditions until they’re gone or we simply let them slip through our fingers so slowly?

Amen to that.

The store closed and the contents of the Ayres Tea Room were dispersed.

Recently, the Indiana State Museum reopened the L.S. Ayres Tea Room as a restaurant when it opened its new location in White River State Park in Indianapolis. Says Stevens, “As you tell, a little, by the photos, they have lovingly restored all the atmosphere and elegance of the original and brought a tradition that can once again be shared by families from all over Indiana and parts unknown. We have Circle Center Mall now so they can also shop.”

A bit about the restaurant, which is operated by Crystal Food Services. Info is taken from the state museum’s website:

  • Visitors sit at the actual tables and chairs from the original Tea Room that were found in Café Max in Culver, Indiana. The café’s owners had purchased the furniture from auction after the Tea Room closed in 1990.
  • Reproductions of Tea Room wall coverings, draperies, furniture, chandeliers, the treasure chest and a re–design of the reception desk are included.
  • Menu items include the popular Chicken Velvet Soup, Chicken Pot Pie and Pecan Ball.
  • The children’s menu features items such as the Hobo lunch and Ice Cream Clown.

The L.S. Ayres Tea Room is not the only reconstituted restaurant in a museum. In fact, moving an old restaurant TO a museum is a perfect match for both. The museum gets income, and the public gets a real, living taste of its culinary history. For instance, Colonial Williamsburg has recreated a number of actual taverns from the Colonial period.

In Pensacola, the Navy’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation department operates the Cubi Bar Cafe at the National Naval Aviation Museum. That restaurant was once on our Navy base at Subic Bay, Philippines.


  • Garland Pollard

    J. Garland Pollard IV is editor/publisher of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website BrandlandUSA.com has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands.


  1. Wickedwonder… Hmmmmmm. Let me guess!

    Did you ever stop to think that attitudes like YOURS might have been why your family wasn’t there sooner?

    Anonymous… EVERY restaurant has roaches. Trust me! Oh, and even restaurants that get flying colors from the BOH partake in nauseatingly filthy practices. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant (even the finest) you know exactly what I mean!

  2. I worked at the Downtown Ayres store in the mid 80s. What most people don’t know is that the employee cafeteria was one floor above the Tea Room, just about as large, cheaper, and had cool depression moderne chairs and atmosphere. When it was removed and the credit dept moved into its spot, the many cockroaches from the Tea Room would come up and hide under the warm monitors. If you ever sat by the darkly decorated walls in the Tea Room they would be visible on the walls. Never ate there after witnessing that.

  3. My thing about the LS Ayres Tea Room is that my parents couldn’t eat there until a couple of years before I was born, give or take. The person who said that all social classes ate there was either very blind to who was sitting around or thought that working there equalled eating there. Until they address that, I don’t want any part of that restaurant.

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