When I read that the Golden Ox was closing and the reactions that quickly followed, I was saddened. Many criticized the restaurant’s food and service, which have been on a slow downhill slide for some time. Others said because of a bad experience, they hadn’t been in years or a decade.
They were all missing the point, I thought.
I tried to explain on my Facebook page:
“Everyone is beating up on the Golden Ox this morning and rightfully so if you look at the recent quality of the food. But I ate there periodically just to soak up the atmosphere. You didn’t go there for the best steak, you went for the branding iron design in the carpeting, the heavy oak ranch-style furniture, the giant murals of drovers, the saddles, the real out-of-town cattlemen in Stetsons enjoying their T-bones, and the sight of meat being seared over real flames in the semi-open kitchen. It was a time capsule like the Savoy Grill and I will miss it terribly. I hope someone reopens it with exactly the same decor and better steaks.”
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And on a page for foodies I belong to, I asked people to share what they will miss most when the Ox closes its doors for good on Dec. 20.
Quickly my dashboard notifications piled up as people chimed in with memories of — in my book — the most quintessentially Kansas City restaurant ever.
Here are some of my favorites.
Mariann Vandenberg: My folks loved the Ox in the ’50s. My dad knew lots of people who worked in the stockyards. After Daddy died in 1960, my Mom worked at Drovers Telegram, now Amigoni. In June 1961, I was at dinner at the Ox before graduation from Paseo High School. He would NOT commit. He was at dinner at the Wish Bone. His dad, Bill Sr, gave him a dime and dared him to call me at the Ox. He did it! On January 31, 1965 we returned to the Ox, the day after our wedding! The memories are very FOND!
Cindy Dobbins: This was one of my first KC Steakhouses visited when we moved out here from Pennsylvania in 1995. Made me feel like we really had moved to the Wild West. Can’t really say I remember much about the food but driving to the West Bottoms was a little scary for a small town girl. Fond memories now almost 20 years later.
Greg Connally: I remember as a kid coming to KC for a Royals game followed by a visit to the Golden Ox. I felt so grown up ordering a T-bone and a Roy Rogers (cherry coke). Visited occasionally for special occasions over the next 35 years. I loved having cocktails in the bar with friends, great ambience.
Julie Rehm: When I was a small town Kansas girl (Bonner Springs was a lot smaller when I was a kid), my family would venture into Kansas City a couple of times a year. Golden Ox was one of our restaurants. The other was Italian Gardens. Seeing the tall buildings was so thrilling.
John Hachmeister: I drifted in alone a week or so ago and ate at the bar. Yeah, the food was not so great but the conversation with the bartender and the crazy big drink was worth it. I hope someone comes to the rescue, the place is a wonder.
Elena Falcon: SOB! SNIFF! I’m SO SAD! Went there last year when was in town visiting my cousin. This place is a time capsule, and a landmark! Why are we so quick to discard the very things we will lament over losing five years from now, and look back on with nostalgic feelings about it being so awesome, and why didn’t we fight harder to save it! It’s been there since 1949!
Karen Jones: So sad to hear Golden Ox is closing. Many memories of eating there when we would take cattle in to the sale. Their surf and turf was to die for!
Mike Schmidt: Always stopped there before concerts at Kemper back in my radio days. My dad and mom first introduced me to the place. It was great way back when. When I was with CARSTAR, we took all new franchisees there to one of the private rooms upstairs. Magic, AND THE HISTORY!
Joyce Fox: My parents thought the Golden Ox and The Savoy Grill (Booth 5) were the place to eat when I was growing up. Can you imagine driving that FAR from Lake Lotawana just to eat dinner and for a night on-the-town?
Chris Akers: My wife and I had a studio in the Livestock Exchange Building. Often times I would take the south stair down, which exits right next to a swinging door leading to the dining room of the Ox. I always felt it was a portal to another world, built for some type of Lynchian western that was never made.
Duane Daugherty: I remember when I turned 21, my late father took me there for a “grown up” meal, and glass of the house burgundy. I told this story to my father-in-law, who farms in rural Kansas, and used to raise livestock. He told me that when he and the boys would bring cattle to KC, they always rewarded themselves with a steak at Golden Ox.
Patti Stites: When I first moved to the KC area in the mid-1970s, the Golden Ox and the Hereford House were among the go-to places for a steak in KC. I can honestly say I enjoyed several delicious steaks there. It was a piece of history.
Jerry Fisher: Here’s something that no longer exists, for better or worse, but not that long ago the Ox would host 15 or 20 of us for a cigar dinner and seat us towards the back of the smoking section. We always worked it out with them way ahead of time, because that is serious cigar stench, and they were always happy to have us on a normally slower weeknight. Massive amounts of food and liquor, excellent times.
Sam Mellinger: First steak I ever had, with my dad. Before a basketball game. I felt like a man. Pretty sure I was like 9. Loved it.
Laura De Angelis: I loved that place for good ol’ Kansas City strangeness and feeling like you just stepped into a twilight zone episode.
Patrick O’Malley: My future (at that time) son-in-law and I had our first official guys nite out at the Golden Ox a little more than two years ago. I wanted to give him an old-fashioned steak house experience. We had just moved to KC and had read that the Golden Ox could give us that experience. Yes the decor was dated, the salad was plain and the steaks just average. But that night confirmed to me that our daughter had a great guy.
Tom Gill: Cowboys and suits, table to table.
Grant Perler: Back when I was chef of R Bar, I normally went out Saturday nights since we were closed Sundays. And so when I would get a ride to my car, the Ox would be the only thing open. I would go in for a scotch. Half the time there would be someone sleeping on a table. Every Sunday in the Ox with that sleeping beauty and my scotching my decisions from the night before away, I felt like a king.
Melissa Wiggins: It was a family kind of restaurant — and my memories are of having my grandparents and parents around the table, ordering me a hamburger while they had steaks. It wasn’t super pricey but it was elegant in its way.
Marilyn Housley Moser: I was lucky enough to eat there during my dating days in the ’70s. The steak was fork tender. Sorry to see this icon leave.
Michael Murphy: Amazing bar paintings...worth having a cocktail just to see them.
Michael Savage: Best salad in town. Basic. Crunchy. Simply good. The dressing: Italian with crumbly blue cheese! Love it. And the brandy Alexanders.
Katherine Swift-Dean: Bring it down here to Matfield Green. Mercy, what a place we could have fun in!
Jasper Mirabile: I love our iconic “old-school” restaurants and hate to see any close. Quite sad this morning.
Kevin Collison: (The Golden Ox) and the Savoy Grill are amazing time capsules to KC’s heyday, leave the interiors alone and just improve the rest.