Grendel’s Den, a Harvard Square mainstay, celebrates its 40th birthday today.
Founded by Sue and Herbert Kuelzer in 1971, the restaurant has withstood an upstairs expansion, a Supreme Court battle over Massachusetts’ liquor license policy, and was originally home to Harvard’s Pi Eta Club, a now defunct final club.
When Grendel’s originally opened, it was barred from selling liquor by a Massachusetts law stating that a church or school had the ability to block any liquor license of an establishment within 500 feet.
Harvard Law School Professor Laurence H. Tribe ’62 represented Grendel’s in the case. The Supreme Court voted 8-1 in favor of Grendel’s, ruling that the law violated the First Amendment establishment clause. The case changed existing laws in nine states.
Recently featured in Ben Affleck’s 2010 film The Town, Grendel’s serves casual gourmet food like the Spinach Pie and Greek Salad, which have both been on the menu since its opening.
Grendel’s bartender Emil Kabawat said that a group of loyal customers gives the restaurant a special atmosphere, comparing it to the bar in the television show Cheers, where the bartender knows each regular customer and their drink.
"The students really make the place pop on weekends," he said. "Every Friday night, I see the same 30 or so kids, and everyone has a great time. There’s just no other place that looks like this."
Kari Kuelzer, current Grendel’s owner and daughter of the founders, said that when one-time members of the former Pi Eta club return to the space they say it reminds them of their old club.
"It was still the same vibe somehow as the fun times they used to have here," Kuelzer said.
To celebrate their 40th year, Grendel’s will have food, live music, Grendel’s trivia, raffle prizes, specialty cake, and a photo booth where guests can pose in a Grendel’s costume.
"The cake will show the back wall of the restaurant and the table in the back where the staff hangs out, and it’ll be held up by a frosting version of Grendel," said Nick Ghilardi, Grendel’s employee and professional cake decorator.
The event will begin at 9 p.m. and from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. new arrivals will be admitted as space permits with no charge.
Proceeds will benefit CitySprouts, a non-profit organization that provides sustainable schoolyard gardens and educational programs for Cambridge public schools.