New restaurant a dream come true for Red Bud man

Red Bud native David Dannenberg has returned home to run a new restaurant, Opera House Bistro, at the corner of Main and Market streets. (Alan Dooley photo)

David Dannenberg has just finished one month with his new Red Bud restaurant and it’s more than just the name that is generating something to sing about.

The Opera House Bistro sits at the corner of Main and Market streets and is rapidly emerging as a dining experience landmark.

“My goal is to provide a big city dining experience in a small town setting,” Dannenberg said. “I want to offer the best of both worlds – exciting dining and the warmth of small town America. I want it to be more than just a meal.”

Dannenberg got into the restaurant business as a 15-year-old, washing dishes in a local eatery.

“I moved to the stove when I was 16,” the 2002 Red Bud High School graduate said, “and embarked from there on a cooking career.”

At age 19, he moved to Orlando, Fla., to attend the Orlando Culinary Academy, from where he was graduated. Between 2005 and 2006, Dannenberg worked at the St. Louis Embassy Suites, where the Lumiere Casino now sits.  Over the next decade, he changed locations from St. Louis to Kentucky and back, before returning home.

“If I didn’t feel I was moving ahead, improving or learning something, I changed direction,” he affirmed. “I was always solidly committed to food preparation, but I felt there was so much new to try, to keep growing, and to keep reinventing myself.”

In addition to working relentlessly to build his resume, Dannenberg has overcome loss of a leg to cancer. He doesn’t mention it and only acknowledged that it was easier to overcome as a young person. It certainly doesn’t seem to slow him down.

During a tour of his restaurant, he offered visions for the future and a history of the building.
On the ground floor, the entrance is through the saloon, where a bar and tall tables and stools await. Next door is the One-O-Eight Room, named for the establishment’s address – 108 Main Street. This room is targeted at families, with tables and booths.  Going the opposite way from the saloon, one enters the daylight flooded Texaco Room. That’s at the rounded corner of the building which today closes in what old timers will remember as a drive-through, single pump Texaco gas station.

Other rooms occupy what was once an auto repair shop, complete with a vehicle lift that was accommodated by a high ceiling. Next to it is a room called The Warehouse. Instead of being large, it is intimate and will feature a chef’s table where small groups of 10 to 12 people will dine on specially made multi-course meals. Each course will be prepared on scene and explained by the chef as it is served.

And that’s just the ground floor.

The third floor of the building is a true marvel, including an expansive ballroom that once gave the 1860s era building its name: “The Opera House.” The room – able to comfortably seat 180 – will host its first wedding reception the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  At one end of the long room is a stage.

“Touring entertainers once performed there,” Dannenberg explained.

Concerning reception and banquet food, Dannenberg emphasized that it is being prepared on site. It is not being catered in.

If you are put off by the climb to the third floor, fear not.  A brand new, shiny elevator awaits.

“There was a fascinating old elevator in the same shaft, with a huge pulley at the top,” he explained.  “But it would never have passed code and so it had to be replaced.”

Outside the ballroom is an open roof area slated eventually to become a patio deck to host large indoor-outdoor groups using the ballroom.

In between the two restaurant floors lies the 4-year-old Red Bud Area Museum, which today houses a collection of artifacts, historic objects and documents telling the story of the community and area. It offers an interesting place to visit.  Off to one side of the second floor lies the Shoe Factory, where shoes were manufactured in a bygone era. Not long from now, it will offer seating for up to 80 in smaller dining groups.

Then there is Dannenberg’s favorite place — the basement.

“I am told that this was a favorite gathering place for young people here years ago,” he said.

He intends eventually to renew it as an evening pub destination with a speakeasy atmosphere.

“It even has a side entrance and stairway leading down from the alley,” he pointed out.

Kenny Voges owns the building, Dannenberg said.

“Without his vision, it might have eventually been lost to the community. But he saw the possibilities, loved it and saved it from possible condemnation and demolition,” he said.

Touring the basement, Dannenberg pointed to steel structural beams that have been wormed into and under the building to renew its strength.

“He tied it back together,” Dannenberg related.

The work spanned a decade and more.

Jerry Moll drove much of the work to bring the Opera House back to life, too, Dannenberg said.

“He brought the carpentry and building skills and hard work necessary.  If there was dirty work to be done, he was in the middle of it,” he said.

The menu blends well with the history and atmosphere of the building.  White shirted and bloused wait-staff in black trousers and long skirts, scurried about purposefully, getting ready for a busy evening ahead.

The menu lists starters, soups and salads, sandwiches, house specialties, sides and even a kids menu. Beverages from sodas to adult varieties are at hand as well. There are special menu items on specific nights and each month offers a journey to a new country.

This month, German dishes are featured on Thursday nights. Friday will feature the freshest seafoods.

“We prepare everything locally,” Dannenberg emphasized. “I want this to be a ‘go-to’ place for a super culinary delight.”

In addition to savoring the new restaurant, Dannenberg told how happy he was to be home with family. In fact, his  father, Don, was sorting through Christmas decorations in anticipation of the forthcoming season during our visit.

“I’m still adding new foods and ways to prepare them, but I have a long-term commitment to this endeavor,” he said.

The menu, ambience, history and everything that is happening at Opera House Bistro makes it appear that folks from all around will have something to sing about for a long time.

Hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Thanksgiving week schedule is different – closed on Thursday to allow employees to be with families and closed to the public on Friday to accommodate a large wedding event.

For more information, go to or call 282-1861.

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Alan Dooley

Alan is a photojournalist -- he both shoots pictures and writes for the R-T. A 31-year Navy vet, he has lived worldwide, but with his wife Sherry, calls a rambling house south of Waterloo home. Alan counts astronomy as a hobby and is fascinated by just about everything scientific.
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