Restaurant Elite 90 years

To celebrate Elite’s 90th anniversary, we want to tell you the story of Elite for a decade – from the moment the restaurant doors first open. The monthly changing nostalgia menu, based on the favorite dishes of its time, as well as the events held in the restaurant take the colorful history of the Elite to the center. Read more below and welcome to join!


Workers, artists and funkis style

Restaurant Elite started in a commercial apartment on Museokatu, where restaurateur Ernst Mattas opened its doors for the first time on April 25, 1932, just two weeks after the prohibition came to an end. Although the majority of the customers were ordinary Helsinki residents, businessmen, office workers and the builders of Töölö, the residents of the artist home Lalluka next to Elite soon found their way to the restaurant – Elite gained the reputation of an artist restaurant from the first years.


”One flows here quite automatically, down the hill. ”

Said filmmaker Heikki Partanen, who once lived near Lallukka.

In 1938, Elite moved to its current premises on Southern Hesperiankatu – Reitz’s brand new and modern house, designed by Jalmari Peltonen. The restaurant was decorated by Stockmann’s architectural firm Jung & Jung and the furniture made by carpenters from Kerava was handmade by Werner West. The interior of the restaurant was funky at its most beautiful.

Customers came to Elite to eat and enjoy themselves. In the 1930s, the food was unpretentious and honest, as was the atmosphere of the entire restaurant. The braised chicken by chef Ottilia Bitten was definitely one of the best-selling dishes. In all its simplicity, the dish charmed the customers with their taste. Although the spirit of the time was that appetizers and main courses were considered simple, desserts were already pristine – one of the most popular desserts of the time was Crêpes Suzette, orange flavored crêpes flamed with liqueur.


Coupon portions and broken windows

The early days of Elite were not very rosy due to the wartime, as the war years brought with them a time of scarcity and regulation. However, the restaurant continued to operate. At its worst, they ate frostbitten potatoes and swedes, and one whole steak enjoyed in the restaurant could take away meat coupons for the entire month. According to rumors, meat rations were sold secretly to regular customers – but only to the confident and silent.

The restaurant’s dishes consisted mainly of cooked game dishes, as well as a variety of casseroles and sauces that were not regulated. Fish was also often served and served with cold sourmilk and dill sauce. The fluffy sweet whipped lingonberry porridge was the nobility of desserts.

When the bombing struck, the liqueur cabinets were locked and everybody ran to the bomb shelter on Apollonkatu. The restaurant also suffered external damage during the bombing of Helsinki. In the winter of 1944, most of Elite’s windows were broken during the bombing. Only one of the “Aquarium Windows” painted by Salomon Wuorio Maalaamo on the glass was left intact.

“The constant contradiction of the restaurant is that as the evening gets older, customers are rejuvenating. And when the closing time comes, they feel that life is yet to come. This is that kind of rejuvenation from which one awakens with broken wings. Starting as an adult and stopping as a child ”

described bookwriter Matti Kurjensaari.


Long Sunday lunches

The post-war period of shortage lasted a surprisingly long time, almost until the 1952 Olympic year. However, after the heavy war, people longed for amusements and visits to restaurants became more common. Families gathered at Elite to enjoy a long Sunday lunch and that’s when the tables were full of delicacies. Elite served dishes like pike perch with mushroom sauce, tartar steak made of beef and various broths. A clear broth intermediate dish was made from chicken broth and served with green beans. Dishes based on French cuisine also slowly appeared on the menu, and in addition to French drinks, wines from southern European countries were poured into glasses.

Elite’s customer base was well-established and when visiting there you could come across Tauno Palo, Mika Waltari, Matti Kurjensaari, Lauri Viita or even Ester Helenius and Aarre Merikanto.

“Elite’s regular customers were like part of us. Although everyone was good, Tauno Palo was the best of them. Sang to me many times too. He was a nice and calm man, to his friends and staff. If there was an argument at the table, then Tauno got up, just pointed with his hand and moved to another table. He was such a man of peace. And he always had something fun to say. And Tauno sang if anyone had a milestone, a birthday or something. Never hard, but quietly in the ear of a lady or congratulatory one ”

said Olga Heinonen, the restaurant’s then waitress.


Food, dancing and female parties

After the death of Ernst Mattas, his son Willy Mattas became the restaurant’s managing director in the early 1960s. Willy’s entry into the CEO’s boots was natural step, it was a family business. Despite this, Willy’s wife, Margaretha, was the soul of Elite, as she led on-site operations, supervised, repaired and sat at the checkout for hours.

There were enough customers and more and more people felt the place was theirs. Elite was the place to eat, dance and meet. Although a lonely woman at a restaurant table was a rare sight back in the early ’60s, and not even women’s parties were happy to be admitted to restaurants, this was not the case at Elite. Already during Ernst Mattas, women were considered important customers and Ernst pointed out to the staff that they need to be served well.
However, some women preferred to stay home and let the men run. One of these was Tauno Palo’s wife Kirsti Ortola. According to Elite’s porter, painter Jussi Ahonala, Kirsti often called Elite and asked her husband to go home. Tauno Palo replied to the porter, “Master, can you say I have left. I love my wife, but there are friends here.”

“Everyone came to Elite. Big plans were made, big words used and they got bigger and bigger over the course of the evening. Everyone lived a life that was great because it was topped off from death, ordered double before the lights flashed for the first time. When the lights had flashed three times, the time of greatness was over, ” recalled Henrik Tikkanen, the restaurant’s regular customer, author and artist.


Poetry and poets

In the 70’s, poetry and poets became more common. Elite hosted poetry evenings, writers’ meetings and book flea markets. The restaurant was filled with cigarette smoke and rumors, while guests enjoyed their beers.

At the end of the 70’s, the restaurant’s interior was renovated. This was praised by customers and is also reflected in a letter sent by a regular customer.

“Dear restaurateur Mattas, congratulations on the successful renovation of  “Helsinki Pearl ”. The new look is bright, yet the spirit has remained the same.  As a regular customer of the second generation, I would like one more improvement – a more spacious refrigerator for beer. Thus, excellent food would rinse tastefully in both summer and winter. Best wishes, Yours sincerely, J.J., October 1, 1978. ”

Finland’s first tobacco law was enacted in 1976. However, there was still a long way to go before smoking was banned in the public areas of restaurants in 2007. Since then, smoking has only been allowed inside the restaurant in smoking booths. Did you know that Elite still has an elegant cigar room today, where from time to time you can see your customers smoking a cigar at the end of a meal. The Elite cigar room is already an attraction in itself – precious leather sofas, beautiful cacti and works make the room stylish.


New owner and Tauno Palo’s cream and onion steak

Times changed, but loyal loyal customers remained. It was a time of great change, when in 1985 Mattas’ family of restaurateurs gave up running the business and sold it to Kantaravintolat Oy. When making the deal, it was emphasized that nothing should change. In 1986, the restaurant underwent a comprehensive renovation or so-called restoration. Pekka Perjo Arkkitehtoimisto expanded the restaurant hall by taking over the office space of the restaurateur family at the end of Apollonkatu and opening a larger bar area in the space.

The story goes that before the renovation, regular customers were able to buy the worn off chairs of their high tables – and some of the crockery, from which the food from the kitchen and bar had been enjoyed night after night. These goods had great emotional value for their users and the treasures changed hands. The chairs and lounge benches were renewed according to the old drawings in the spirit of Elite, the sanitary facilities were renovated and the restaurant hall was painted. The paintings of the owner’s family, which had hung on the walls since the beginning of time, remained in their former places.

When the restaurant opened after the restoration, the classic dish Tauno Palo’s cream onion steak was also added to the menu. However, the dish was born a long time ago. The story goes that the classic dish started one evening, when Palo returned from his performance at the National Theater and asked the restaurant Elite if there was still any food available. The butler popped into the kitchen upstairs and returned with happy news: meat would be available, with fried potatoes, plenty of onions and cream sauce. The classic dish Tauno Palo’s onion steak was born.


Recession and art on plate

The recession of the early 90’s brought its own challenges to the restaurant industry. Despite this, Elite kept going with the support of loyal regular customers. As the recession started to ease the menu became more diverse and the drinks familiar from Swedish ships landed on Elite as well – new cocktails with exotic liqueur. In 1997, it was time for a change of ownership again, when the restaurant business was transferred from Kantaravintolat to Royal Ravintolat Oy.

 Art was brought to the plate with the work of the artist Per Stenius in the early 90’s. The classic dessert “Flickan”, still found on Elite’s menu today, was developed together with the artist. This dessert was based on Stenius’ painting of the same name, where a naked woman is reclining on a divan. Vanilla ice cream, cloudberry jam and caramel sauce in an almond basket, topped with a female figure made of chocolate. Have you noticed? This painting still beautifies the restaurant hall.

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