Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto, Berkeley’s oldest restaurant, permanently closes after 128 years

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Vivian Roan/File

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Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto, Berkeley’s oldest restaurant, abruptly closed its doors Friday after 128 years of operation, as first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

People hoping to dine at the seafood restaurant Saturday night were instead greeted by a white sign emblazoned above the handles of a ship’s wheel affixed to the door, declaring that “Spenger’s has closed its doors permanently.”

The closure of the restaurant, located at 1919 Fourth Street, was significantly influenced by the “cost prohibitive employee and labor costs in Berkeley,” according to a statement released by the Kelly Restaurant Group, Spenger’s most recent owner.

“We were left no choice but to discontinue operations,” the Kelly Restaurant Group said in a statement. “Thank you to all the customers for their many years of support.”

Johann Spenger, a Bavarian immigrant and fisherman, first opened the restaurant in 1890 as a clam stand, according to the Historical Marker Database. In the 1930s, generations of Spengers expanded the clam stand into a full-service restaurant that became best known for its clam chowder served with a side of San Francisco sourdough bread, according to Berkeleyside.

Shanl Shay, a waitress at nearby restaurant Bette’s Oceanview Diner, said the fact that the diner is family-owned has helped it sustain business.

The closure of Spenger’s came as a surprise to Niall Cantwell, managing partner of Iyasare, a Fourth Street Japanese restaurant.

“We usually have knowledge of closures ahead of time, since the owners would tell their employees ahead of time, but it seems this did not happen this time,” Cantwell said. “We usually hear about it through the vine of workers.”

Spenger’s joined other Berkeley restaurants that have closed in recent months, including Brennan’s Restaurant, which closed after 60 years, and HS Lordships, which closed after about 50 years.

Contact Yousef Al Refaei at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @RefaeiYousef.