Firehaus brings new things to bars on campus

By Sabrina Willmer

You hear the talk – a new bar in Campustown called Firehaus just opened. As you walk in with your head full of usual expectations, you cross over a brilliant marbled smoke and fire mosaic emblazoned on a Brazilian slate basket-weaved floor. You feel the early fall breeze, which ushers through the two rolled-up engine doors in the front as you check the football score on one of the 17 plasma screens scattered throughout the bar. Your hand touches the fire engine red iron railing as you ascend to the main floor and navigate toward the imposing rounded bar. You place your hand on the faux wood top of the glossy mixed-wood bar and order a $4 martini as part of Monday’s special. A 22-foot high, 16-foot wide hand-painted dome transcends over your head as you watch a plasma screen above the bar.

The delectable homemade smells billow from behind the bar and lure you to a south booth where you order from a diverse menu of appetizers, soups, chili, sandwiches, salads, pizzas and chicken. After a tough decision between the caramelized pear, Proscuitto and Walnut salad, the Backdraft Burger, and the Survivor Coconut chicken, you order the chicken with the “Combustible Nachos” appetizer. While sipping imported beer and listening to music playing from your booth’s speaker, you glance at an illuminated photograph encased in the wall of a Champaign fire.

Firehaus, 708 S. Sixth St., celebrated its grand opening on Thursday Sept. 22 after three years of meticulous construction. In the spring of 2001, Scott Cochrane, owner of Firehaus, planned to remodel old R&R; Sports Grill, which started life as Round Robin in 1961. Remodeling, which commenced in 2002, uncovered the need for significant repairs on the basement and foundation, damaged from two previous fires-hence the idea to design a firehouse. The designer, Soozie Robinson, who also designed Clybourne, and artist Barb Hoganson transformed R&R; Sports Grill into a colorful, custom-made firehouse.

“Everything here is custom-made and custom-ordered,” said J.J. Dupuy, general manager at Firehaus. Dupuy, who has managed off-campus bars for 15 years, described Firehaus as a “more laid-back,” “lounge-style” bar, based primarily on visuals.

The bar boasts a $17,000 stereo system with speakers in each booth that can be silenced for meetings, he said.

Dupuy said the bar caters to an older crowd, mostly faculty and graduate students, restricting people under age 21 from entering after 9 p.m.

“It’s time we have nicer bars,” he said. “We just really want the faculty and students to come here, and not think it’s a campus bar.”

The bar currently has a capacity of 310 people, but will hold up to 518 once the patio opens, after staining is finished.

Anthony Conte, a senior in Aviation who dined Saturday night with his friends, said he enjoyed the openness and cleanliness of the bar. “It has more of a restaurant feel,” he said.

“It’s got a cool atmosphere,” said alumnus Frank Alonzo. “You don’t usually see a bar like this on campus.”

Sue Pruitt, who works for the Alumni Association, said she enjoyed the place. “We will probably come at lunchtime,” she said. “I love the d‚cor.”

After dinner, you observe international fire helmets hanging on the north booth walls, before marching up to the second floor. A 22-foot-high coffered barrel ceiling, which took over three months to construct, looms above the stairs that lead to the second floor bar. As you round the right corner on the top floor, a door leads to an outside patio, undergoing finishing touches. After a few hours of socializing with an older crowd, you leave the place with all, but the usual thoughts in your mind.

Firehaus is open Monday through Saturday 11 am to 2 am and Sundays noon to 1 a.m. Full menu is served until 9 p.m., but food until midnight.