Phil Romano’s 1980s dinner club and former North Side water park spark readers’ memories

Photo of Paula Allen

When I first started writing this column in February 1992, it wasn’t uncommon to get questions — and answers — from readers who remembered places and events from the 1930s. This week, we’re looking into places that were popular in the early 1980s and are now part of local history, even if not well-represented in the written record.

There was a very high-end restaurant/bar behind the Alamo Café on I-10 or across the street from the Dianne Flack furniture store on Bluemel in the early 1980s. The employees wore tuxedos, (including) the valet drivers. I worked at USAA; none of us can remember the name of it. We thought it might have Mafia connections.

— Laura Redwine

The only family this posh dining spot belonged to is the family of restaurants started by entrepreneur Phil Romano.

Before the first Fuddruckers or Macaroni Grill, there was Enoch’s Dinner Club, opened in 1978 at 2619 Mossrock Drive. With the growing South Texas Medical Center, Datapoint Corp. and USAA all nearby, this part of Northwest San Antonio was a good place to start a hospitality business.

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Like most of Romano’s ventures, it started with a concept.

Enoch’s was a private club for traditional fine dining in an intimate space that once was the former Fat Robert’s restaurant that opened and closed in the mid-’70s. Never a chain, Enoch’s was intended to be exclusive, serving classic fare such as steaks, presented to diners before they were cooked, and Caesar salads, prepared at tableside. Prices were stated only upon request.

The diners themselves were hand-picked, starting with 25 people Romano invited to a free preview dinner. Acting as a focus group, they were asked what they thought of the experience, and — if they’d enjoyed it — to provide names of 10 people who also should receive invitations to belong.

As the process was repeated, the growing clientele could be fairly sure of meeting people they knew — or would like to know — over dinner at Enoch’s.

Membership cost $100, and the list eventually reached 6,000. Romano opened a second sophisticated venue, Barclay’s bar, in 1979, nearby at 2615 Mossrock. Another members-only enterprise, this one took advantage of the ’70s craze for the ancient board game of backgammon, reaching 2,000 members during Romano’s time as proprietor. Like Enoch’s, Barclay’s was a one-off; also like the dinner club, the neighboring bar didn’t hold its founder’s interest very long.

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Romano sold Enoch’s after a few years. It’s listed in San Antonio city directories through 1987, with Dow L. Roberts as proprietor from 1983 onward. Likewise, Romano sold Barclay’s in the early ’80s and was succeeded by Mike Pfeffer, then Ray Hymel before the bar dropped out of the directory at the end of the decade.

At about the same time Enoch’s and Barclay’s were finding success, Romano was working on his next venture, Fuddruckers, a build-it-yourself better-burger chain that eventually went national. Romano’s Macaroni Grill, launched in 1988 in Leon Springs, was a reproducible take on a neighborhood Italian restaurant. It also became a successful chain.

Profiles of Romano available online often highlight his San Antonio years, including the two relatively obscure membership clubs.

Anyone with memories or photographs of Enoch’s to share may contact this column.

Your (Aug. 13, 2022) article on San Francisco Steak House reminded me of the infamous Super Slide water park located right next door (or across the street, I believe it's a bank now).

It was built on a hill, now completely gone. There were two water slides that went down it, and that is all it was. It was only open one or two years, 1979-1980. From what I gather from vague memories of friends and family, they had a bracelet system, where one group could ride as much as they wanted for 20-30 minutes, while the other group took a break, then the groups would switch.

A fatal accident closed it permanently on May 17, 1980. A young boy hid in the caged-off intake area in order to ride more (during the group switch-off) and got sucked into the intake pipe. He did not die of drowning. I can remember seeing this on the news so I imagine there is a newspaper article on it somewhere.

I hope you can write an article on this to gather more information and possibly a photo. It seems everyone who was a kid during that time went there at least once; it was very popular while it was open. But since it was completely razed, there are some people that don't even believe it ever existed. There is so little information on this, and I have never seen a photo of it, but we all remember how it ended.

— Brian Sonnen

This was the short-lived Super Water Slides amusement park at 10331 Desert Sands Drive, near but not related to the Old San Francisco Steak House at 10223 Sahara Drive in the Harmony Hills subdivision (covered here Sept, 12, 2021). I didn’t find a photo, but the 1979 Bexar County plat map shows that the irregularly shaped site, owned by Hamby Enterprises, was bounded on the north by San Pedro Avenue, on the west by Morocco Drive and on the east by the access road of U.S. 281.

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It wasn’t a very elaborate amusement park. “The water slide facility in north San Antonio features four water-filled flumes running down a 50-foot hill,” says an Associated Press story about the tragic accident you remember. “Patrons ride down the stream of water on rubber mats and into a 3-foot-deep landing pool.”

It’s not entirely clear why or how 13-year-old Eric M. Hayden lost his life while playing with his friends on a Saturday at the water park. A police officer quoted in the AP story said the boy “apparently slipped through an 8-inch opening at the top of a concrete duct under the slides” that carried water from the landing pool to a covered tank leading directly to the huge pumps (that) recirculated water back up to the top of the hill.”

It was a small space for a boy his age to have squeezed through, and “authorities said it was not entirely clear how Hayden got over the barrier and into the pumping tank,” but he was thought to have been sucked into one of the pumps feet first.

When he didn’t return home, his parents and the park owner searched for him. He was found when the pumps were reversed for cleaning later that night. According to his death certificate, Hayden died of “asphyxiation due to drowning” before his body reached the pumping mechanism, as ruled by Bexar County Deputy Medical Examiner Nina Hollander.

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The park was closed after the accident, and screens were placed over the two ducts a few days later. A later AP story says that preventive measures also were being taken at “a similar facility on I-35 north of San Antonio.”

It’s not clear whether Super Water Slides ever reopened. Deed-record research by Beth Standifird, San Antonio Conservation Society Foundation librarian, shows that “three different suppliers of construction materials placed mechanics liens on the property to ensure payment between June and August 1979,” which may indicate a loss of income.

The fatality is one of many incidents at amusement parks mentioned in a 1983 Consumer Products Safety report to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health and Safety. In response to the manner of Hayden’s death, inspections at “a number of other water slide installations (led to modifications) to ensure that each park’s inlet pipes were closed off, so access, whether intentional or accidental, could not be gained.”| Twitter: @sahistorycolumn| Facebook: SanAntoniohistorycolumn