I was out in Fort Wayne seeing one of my dealers late last year and I had some time to kill before I had the appointment. It was just after the noon hour and I decided to go get a burger somewhere. Doing a quick search for burger joints in Fort Wayne, I found that I wasn't far from a place called the Stadium Bar that had good ol' juicy flat-grilled burgers. When I pulled up in front of the Stadium Bar, it wasn't there. It had closed. I wasn't far from downtown, so I went to Plan B - a burger at Henry's was highly recommended. I pulled into the parking lot next to Henry's, walked up to the front door and realized that they didn't open until 4 p.m. Somewhat exasperated, I decided to just cut my losses and head over to a place not far away that I tried to get into late one evening a year or so ago - but they had closed for the evening - Don Hall's Old Gas House.
The Don Hall's restaurant group is well known in the Fort Wayne area. I had a meal at Don Hall's Factory last year (click here to see that entry) and it was pretty good. Don Hall passed away just before Don Hall's Factory opened up and his family continues to run the restaurants and catering service in the Fort Wayne area.
Don Hall's Old Gas House is located along the St. Mary's River in downtown Fort Wayne. (see map) It shares the same building as the Don Hall's Japanese restaurant Takaoke. The building that houses both the Old Gas House and Takaoke was, indeed, an old gas factory in the 19th century. Fort Wayne's street lights in the mid-1800's were lit by artificial gas manufactured in the plant. When the surrounding area of NE Indiana was found to have vast reserves of natural gas in the 1880's, the artificial gas factory shut down. The building was used a brewery for a number of years before Prohibition was enacted in 1919.
In 1958, Don Hall - who owned a popular drive-in restaurant on Fort Wayne's south side - bought the building to turn it into a supper club/fine dining establishment. He put in a bar on the east side of the building and named it the Gashouse Saloon. In the 1970's, Hall placed a statue of Charles Louis Centlivre, one of the brewing pioneers of Fort Wayne, on the corner of the roof of the Gashouse Saloon. Centlivre was the founder of the Old Crown Brewery, a long time brewing facility that began in the 1860's and lasted until the early 70's. Old Crown beer was a staple in taverns in and around Fort Wayne from the end of Prohibition until when the brewery shut down in 1973. Centlivre is depicted with a foot on top of a keg of beer, looking toward where his old brewery once stood on the west bank of the St. Joseph River just north and east of Don Hall's Old Gas House. The statue was commissioned by the Old Crown Brewing Co. and stood in front of the brewery. Once the brewery shut down, Hall got the statue to continue to pay tribute to one of the first brewers in what was a long history of breweries in Fort Wayne in the 19th and 20th centuries.
It was in the Gashouse Saloon where I parked myself at the bar that afternoon. A rather sassy and funny bartender was working that day and she came over to greet me and to give me a lunch menu. Her banter with many of the people in the bar area told me that she would be fun to be around.
The bar area was nice and cozy featuring a three sided bar, a couple three booths and a number of tables. This is the point in the story that I tell you that the pictures that I took at Don Hall's Old Gas House, well, they vanished off my computer. I had pictures of the bar area as well as the main dining room that was a step up next to the bar. I found this picture of the dining room on the Internet. I understand the dining room went through an extensive remodel a few years ago to restore the mid-1800's look to the room. The place seemed to be very popular with the older crowd. A large table of 70-ish women were having what looked like a club meeting in the dining room.
The lunch menu at Don Hall's Old Gas House is pretty extensive. It features burgers, sandwiches, soups (including a shrimp and sausage gumbo) and salads. They have a smattering of some of the dinner entrees in reduced sizes for lunch appetites. Through the week, the Old Gas House features $8.88 daily lunch specials that include lasagna, meat loaf, brisket and stuffed chicken.
The first thing I saw I saw at the top of the burger part of the menu was their Chicago burger - a 10 ounce black angus burger served on an onion bun. For $8.50 you can pick three toppings including six different types of cheese, grilled onions, jalapenos or roasted red peppers. Since I had my heart set on getting a burger at the first two places I stopped, I decided to go with my old standby burger topped with Swiss cheese, mushroom and bacon. For $8.50, I thought it sounded like a pretty good deal.
I also got a side to go along with it. Fries, baked beans, mac & cheese and cole slaw were some of the choices. They also had something like Hall fries and I asked the bartender what the story was on those. "The story is they're basically homemade potato chips," she said. "And you get a bunch of them." I ended up just getting fries.
Now is when I really wish I hadn't lost all those pictures of Don Hall's Old Gas House. This was a big-assed burger. The onion bun was soft and fresh. The burger was thick and juicy. The Swiss cheese was running down the side of the burger patty. The sauteed mushrooms were thick and very tasty. This was one of those burgers where I went, "Mmmmm..." at the first bite.
The fries were just all right - they were typical fries, not skinny, but not like steak fries. This was a big burger with a lot of mushrooms, a couple slices of thick bacon, and a lot of cheese on it. Along with the very tasty onion bun, this was a stellar burger and I was going to concentrate on it and not worry too much about the fries.
Like I say, it was an outstanding burger at Don Hall's Old Gas House. Looking through the dinner menu made me want to go back and have a nice meal there on a future visit to Fort Wayne. But the burger at Don Hall's Old Gas House would be worth another visit any other time. And I thought it was a very good value. Two for two for meals at Don Hall's properties is a pretty good record so far.