The Elephant Walk


In 1964, a change in the state’s liquor laws prompted Bill Ritter and
Jack Jenkins to open the Elephant Walk club at the Hotel Frederick.

Courtesy of James E. Casto


One of Huntington’s best-remembered restaurants was opened as
 a result of a 1961 change in West Virginia’s liquor laws.

Article VI of the West Virginia State Constitution, passed to repeal prohibition in 1934,
 prohibits the consumption of “intoxicating liquors” in a “saloon or other public
 place.” In 1948, the state worked around that ban by approving the sale
of liquor by the drink in private clubs, such as veterans’
organizations, fraternal groups, and golf and country
 clubs, on the theory that these were
not “public places.”

Then, in 1961, after years of controversy and debate, state lawmakers
legalized the serving of liquor to bar and restaurant patrons
 by deeming them to be members of a private club.

In 1964, the legalization of liquor by the drink in private clubs prompted
 Bill Ritter and Jack Jenkins to open a club at the Hotel Frederick,
 which Ritter owned. The two men fruitlessly looked for a
 theme and name for the club until Ritter woke up one
night and saw the book “Elephant Walk”
 on his nightstand.

Once they decided to use this as the name of the club, they ordered
all manner of elephant decor for the room — colorful paintings,
a carpet with elephant footprints and barstools fashioned
to look like elephant feet. It’s said that Ritter,
eager to show off the new club, once
 brought a baby elephant into the
room. But that may be
just a legend.

After the Elephant Walk closed, Ming Eng moved his popular
Polynesian-style restaurant from the Route 60 Holiday Inn
to the former Elephant Walk space. His Ming’s
restaurant operated there for 30 years. Today,
 the space is home to one of the city’s most
elegant restaurants, 21 at the Frederick.

And the elephants? After nearly 60 years they’re still there,
 proudly parading along the restaurant’s walls.


Note:  This Article and picture appeared in the Herald-Dispatch Newspaper on Dec. 26, 2023.


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