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About Gray Duck
Launched in May 2017, Gray Duck Tavern’s name pays homage to the decidedly Minnesota game, Duck Duck Gray Duck and it is located in one of Saint Paul’s most historic buildings, the former Lowry Hotel.
Built in 1928, the eleven-story building, noted as one of the only multi-story buildings constructed in Saint Paul between 1919 and 1929, has been home to a glamorous hotel, a nightclub, several restaurants and now Gray Duck Tavern.
The Lowry Hotel in its heyday in the 1920s and 30s welcomed celebrities and a couple presidents, from Charles Lindbergh, and Bing Crosby, to Harry S. Truman, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The hotel’s grand ballroom was large enough to host big bands and both Glenn Miller, and Benny Goodman performed concerts in it. Rates for the hotel in 1937 were between $2 and $4 per day for a private bath and the building was touted as “fireproof”.
As time passed, travel styles changed and the hotel was closed in 1970. However, the intrigue with the building continued. The Mayor of Saint Paul negotiated its sale to himself, but the city council and comptroller stopped that deal from going through. A close associate of the Mayor then bought the hotel, as well as the Saint Paul Hotel and announced his plan to turn Saint Peter Street into its own version of Bourbon Street. Unfortunately, none of that happened and the only tenant who remained in the building was the former Mayor!
In the late 1970s, the former basement and barbershop of the hotel opened as The Oz Night Club on Valentine’s Day 1979. It is said that the producers who created Lipps Inc. and the huge hit “Funkytown” played early versions of the song in the club. In the 1980s and the last open restaurant in the space was Horatio Hornblower’s.
Madison Restaurant Group is proud to open Gray Duck Tavern in the historic space, and certain to create another chapter of great stories for years to come.
Although he has lived and cooked in Minnesota since 2004, Chef Donald Gonzalez is channeling his global roots and peripatetic life to create the menu for Gray Duck Tavern, offering his version of comfort food from around the world.
Gonzalez was born in California. His appreciation for flavors and different foods was learned from his three grandmothers, all great cooks, one British, one Puerto Rican, and one Mexican. Christmas meals would include traditional British high tea, many varieties of cookies, followed by fresh tortillas and Mexican dishes. After commenting on his mother’s cooking when he was 12, she recruited him to cook meals for the family at least twice a week. Throughout his life, with his father in the Air Force, the family moved and traveled, and spent a few years in Germany.
After proudly serving in the Marine’s, Gonzalez began his career as a chef, completing a three-year apprenticeship at the prestigious Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado. As a working Chef, Gonzalez has cooked in many countries, several states, for several renowned Chefs and in many well-known restaurants in Minnesota. He has worked with Thomas Keller at the French Laundry in Napa, California, Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Jean-Georges in the Chambers Hotel, and at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. In the Twin Cities, Gonzalez was most recently heralded for his menu Forepaugh’s in Saint Paul.
Marrying his wife Colleen, who grew up in Minnesota originally brought him to the state he now loves and is firmly rooted in. Raising his children here, Gonzalez is of course, teaching them the right way to play Duck Duck Gray Duck.
Aaron Johnson has the hospitality gene in his DNA. His passion for hospitality was nurtured by his family, and in particular, by his grandfather. His grandfather for a time was the Foodservice Director at the University of Wisconsin Stout, as well as an avid gardener. Johnson spent many hours with him in the garden, and then in the kitchen with his grandmother, who taught him how to cook what they harvested. This spurred a love for food and its preparation, so for college, Johnson chose the University of Wisconsin Stout and graduated with a degree in hotel and restaurant management.
Wanting to learn every part of the business, Johnson after working in several restaurants, attended culinary school and graduated from the first class at Le Cordon Bleu. He relished the opportunity to further study and understand the financial side of the business, as well as the beverage side, learning about wine. While in culinary school he worked at Aquavit in Minneapolis and had an internship at Daniel in New York City, owned by Daniel Boulud. One of his most favorite experiences was further study at the Universitat de les Illes Balears in Spain.
During his career, Johnson has been well known and well liked as co-owner and operator of several beloved Twin Cities restaurants including the pioneering Town Talk Diner in Minneapolis, and Strip Club Meat and Fish in Saint Paul. Johnson joined Madison Restaurant Group earlier this year.
He firmly believes his legacy is not in the restaurants he created or worked in, but through the people he has inspired, served, taught and mentored.
“You have to want to take care of people to be successful and thrive in this demanding industry,” said Johnson, “It is hard work, but I get to make a difference in people’s lives everyday – simply by welcoming them and ensuring their experience is the best, a smile and thank you makes it all worth it.”
There are a number of parking lots nearby Gray Duck. Please use the map to search for a convenient option.