West End Park
Swanson’s was, with Fontana’s and Fitzgerald’s, a member of the postwar expansion of the restaurant community on West End Park. It came along at a propitious time for restaurants. Not only were there lots of new customers as the economy expanded, but Jefferson Parish had legalized gambling. Swanson’s sat athwart the parish line, which was clearly marked on the floor. On one side of the line, you ate and drank. On the other, you played slot machines.
Swanson’s had at least three lives, opening and closing with different owners (although with some connection to the original Swanson family). When I first dined there in the mid-1970s, it served a mix of seafood and Italian food, and I got the impression that the management wasn’t at the top of its game.
A few years later, it was taken over by a young guy named Danny Mayer (not the New York restaurateur). He made Swanson’s into the best seafood house at West End. There was a fine edge on everything they did, but he introduced a great new idea: he served boiled seafood steaming hot. That’s still not often seen. Boiled seafood needs to be chilled for food-safety reasons, but there’s nothing that says you couldn’t give it a quick dip in the boiling pot before serving it. Danny did that, and everybody went wild over it.
But then, still in his thirties, Danny died. Swanson’s kept going, but it wasn’t the same, and it closed. It would open and close once more before Katrina came to take it away.