This place has hosted good times a’plenty since the 1920s. Whether it was called Red & Mel’s, the Coronado Inn or Jack’s Gourmet Restaurant, it has been Columbia’s centerpiece of cultural continuity. Weddings, birthdays, graduations, retirements, election eve landslides, first dates both disastrous and delightful – Jack’s has been the scene of celebrations for generations.But Jack’s is a living history, transcending lore and legend with a stubborn dedication to sumptuous elegance that defines this restaurant. Jack’s Gourmet is a destination, an enduring social tradition that surpasses any mere dining experience. Some may look at the thick, luxurious carpeting, the crisp, white table cloths, the large chandelier that dominates the center of the main dining room, and dismiss this dated lushness as anachronistic in an era of sleek surfaces, small servings and lighter fare unencumbered by fat or flavor. It’s your grandparents’ Las Vegas, minus the gambling and the heat. There is an unmistakable aura of Mafia chic. Bright red, oversized booths embrace and envelop you, like the supple scarlet pout of a long-forgotten starlet.
The isolation invites intimate conversation. Above the undertone, delicate piano stylings hang suspended in perpetual twilight. Those curved, high-backed “lovers booths” that line the walls are a key to the room’s ambiance, according to owner Ken Applegate, the heartbeat of Jack’s Gourmet since 1973. Tables, he believes, are not conducive to sitting with one’s significant other. “You can sit across from them or next to them,” he says, “but only in Jack’s, where the booths intimately draw people together, can two people really sit with each other.” “Every day here is Valentine’s Day,” he says. “So many people have gotten engaged here. I think this is the most romantic place on Earth.”