A Journey Through Time: Peacock Alley

5 mins read

Est. 1933

The Peacock Alley American Grill and Bar, a notable piece of Bismarck’s history, opened its doors in 1933, right at the close of Prohibition. It found its home in the Patterson Hotel, an establishment renowned for its luxury and as a hub for the Non-Partisan League. Notably, the construction of the hotel stretched over two decades, marking it as a significant landmark in Bismarck. The hotel, especially popular among politicians, saw its lobby transform into the current site of the Peacock Alley Bar, which originally opened on New Year’s Day, 1911.

Did You Know?

In the 91 years of Peacock Alley’s existence, the business has only transitioned through five ownerships!

When it first welcomed guests, the Patterson Hotel was a marvel in Bismarck. Standing seven stories high with 150 rooms, it was the tallest building in the city until 1934, overshadowed only by the completion of the new North Dakota State Capitol. The hotel’s founder, Edward Patterson, wasn’t just a businessman; his passion for amateur boxing brought legendary figures like Gene Tunney, Jack Dempsey, and Joe Louis to its doors. The hotel’s prestige was further highlighted by visits from several US Presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson.

The Patterson Hotel had its share of secrets, too. During Prohibition, it clandestinely served alcohol and reportedly had an intricate alarm system to deter unwanted visitors. It was also a center for illegal gambling and rumored to have facilitated other illicit activities. There were whispers about an underground tunnel linking the hotel to the nearby train depot, adding to its mystique. After the passing of Rose Patterson, the building faced tough times, ending hotel operations in the late 1970s. It was nearly demolished in the early 1980s but was saved and repurposed in 1984, transforming from 212 hotel rooms into 117 senior housing apartments. This closure and subsequent reopening marked a new chapter for the establishment, often referred to by the Zimmermans as ‘Peacock 2.0.’

Q&A with Dale Zimmerman, Owner of Peacock Alley

Q: How has Peacock Alley adjusted to changing times over the years to remain relevant and successful today?

A: As most people know, most restaurants have a very short lifespan, with most closing within the first three years. To be around since 1933 is pretty amazing, and it says a lot more about the community than it does about anything. We’re at the cornerstone of downtown Bismarck and we know that this area has changed so much over the decades. Peacock Alley has gone through the end of The Great Depression, recessions, business booms, and so much more, yet it’s still going strong all these years later.

In the last 14 years that my wife [Melodie Zimmerman] and I have owned Peacock Alley, we’ve tried to adapt to trends that we see in other successful areas, such as different drink specials and other new additions, but we still keep the classics at all times. We try to keep ourselves unique in what we do without being over the top in terms of portions and prices like other restaurants across the country. We try to give customers a big value in their meals while still keeping true to our core values, which is serving the highest-quality ingredients at the best price that we can.

Q: Are you looking at trends nationwide or across the globe?

A: In my past life, I spent a lot of time traveling in different cities and communities across Europe and the United States. I could see this hunger starting to catch in people wanting to go downtown, park once, and experience the community. A city’s downtown is like the lifeblood of a community that shows just how vibrant they are. We wanted to capture that feeling, which is what we’ve been continuously working on for the last 14 years.

Q: Tell me a bit about the role that Peacock Alley has played in North Dakota’s politics over the years.

A: Peacock Alley has always been proud to be a political hub. I heard a quote from the late Bob Stenehjem, the former North Dakota Senate Majority Leader, who said “The Capitol is where the votes are cast, but the work prior to that is done at Peacock Alley.” A lot of deal-making is done outside of the Bismarck Capitol, but we’ve always represented ourselves as an environment that caters to both political sides by playing the neutral ground. We’ve had visitors and politicians from all over the world come to Bismarck, especially during the last oil boom. It’s always an eye-opening experience to see their take on what we have in our community.

Q: Looking ahead, does Peacock Alley have any specific plans or aspirations moving forward?

A: We’re always riding the waves and continuing to do what we do best. KLG Engineering recently moved to downtown Bismarck, which is going to be huge for businesses downtown with more employees in the office and going out for business lunches and other meetings during the daytime. With more apartments being built as well, we’re thinking that 2024 is going to be a huge year of people coming back downtown more often.

A Story of Inspiration

Did You Know?

Peacock Alley has served four United States Presidents over the years!

  • Theodore Roosevelt (26th president of the United States, 1901-1909)
  • Calvin Coolidge (30th president of the United States, 1923-1929)
  • John F. Kennedy (35th president of the United States, 1961-1963)
  • Lyndon B. Johnson (36th president of the United States, 1963-1969)

"As long as I can remember, we've had a picture up at Peacock Alley of four men standing in front of the firehouse, with one of them on a motorcycle. One day, two women were sitting at the table that that picture hung in front of during lunch. There were plenty of other tables available, but when a group came in for lunch, they requested to wait for that specific table to clear, which I found a bit odd. I politely asked them why they wanted that specific table, and they told me that the man on the motorcycle was their father. They told me that having moved apart, they come back to Peacock Alley every year to have lunch in front of that picture. It brought a tear to my eye immediately. That was when I realized that I wasn't just running a restaurant or bar; I was running something truly important to the fabric of this community and who we are, and I have to be a great steward of that. So the personal responsibility for this business has become much bigger than I ever could have imagined."

Investing in your Employees

"I learned at a young age to retain what you have, because the next one might not be as good. We take that perspective with our employees by nurturing, training, and catering to the ones that we have, rather than always looking for the next one. We've been blessed with people who have worked with us for many, many decades. The only problem that we'll face is when they retire, as that's when we'll have to dive back into the employee pool and find some more hard workers to train, but these people will be hard to replace."

Q: What does the history behind Peacock Alley mean to to you?

A: I’ve always thought that Peacock Alley has a great location and history, but I never truly understood how much this history plays into people’s memories until [Melodie and I] became more cemented in our roles as owners. It’s an unbelievable eye-opening experience to see people who are in their 70s and 80s come in and talk about how they were fond of visiting as children. Senator Conrad, a former United States Senator, has said that he used to spend every Sunday in Peacock Alley and the Patterson building visiting his grandma. 

There are so many stories of connection that people have fond memories of people getting engaged, celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, and so many other things, and I’m sure there’ll be plenty more stories to be made over the years to come.

Peacock Alley

American Grill & Bar EST. 1933

[email protected]
Facebook | /PeacockAlleyBismarck
422 E Main Ave
Bismarck, ND 58501