With roots that reach back to Prohibition, Charlie Clark’s Steakhouse is billed as the fifth-oldest steakhouse in Arizona. But it’s gone through a few changes on its way to becoming a staple in the White Mountains community of Pinetop-Lakeside. The original proprietor at the site of Charlie Clark’s operated it as a speakeasy in the late 1920s, serving up “corn squeezins,” a slang term for a type of moonshine, while the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. The watering hole later became Jake Renfro’s Log Cabin Cafe. Then, in 1938, Charlie Clark purchased the business and property from Renfro and turned it into his eponymous steakhouse.
But the restaurant didn’t operate as steakhouses do today. Instead of serving pre-cut steaks and already-cooked sides, Clark was cutting and cooking the meat as it was ordered, then weighing it and charging by the pound. Next, he’d move on to peeling potatoes, heating the oil and fixing sides from scratch. Meanwhile, customers were responsible for mixing their own libations and serving as bartenders — perhaps to make the time go by, given that a meal at Charlie’s could take up to three hours.
Although Clark died in 1952, his legacy of friendly customer service and delicious food has lived on in the White Mountains. The restaurant has become a meeting place for people in the area, and according to writer Jo Baeza in a story from the September 2000 issue of Arizona Highways, many federal land exchanges and developments, including those that created the White Mountain and Pinetop country clubs, started over a table at Charlie’s.
Current owners Bill and Trish Gibson bought the steakhouse in 1981 and have kept its name and legacy alive. “Charlie’s has always been there for travelers, tourists and hunters,” Bill says. “We’ve kept it cowboy style to fit the mountains, and we’ve mainly stayed open to support the community.”
While there’s a larger variety of food these days (and it’s served more quickly than it was in the 1940s), the core experience for customers at Charlie Clark’s remains the same: a hearty meal in a place that feels like home. Most Saturday nights, patrons can kick back and enjoy live music with their meals, and during the summer months, they can hang out in a 2.5-acre space, part of a historic homestead, that’s been transformed into “The Orchard,” a bar and patio area.
Charlie Clark’s Steakhouse
1701 E. White Mountain Boulevard