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Frank Gray

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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
The Deer Park Pub is planning a party to celebrate the re-opening of the Spring Street bridge Oct. 5.

Bridge work has been ‘prohibition’ for pub

The last 12 months have been a hard time down at Spring Street and Leesburg Road, especially for the little Deer Park Pub.

Last October, the county started tearing up the bridge that runs over the railroad tracks on Spring Street. In the process, workers also closed off a section of Leesburg Road that led to the pub, and even blocked Viola Avenue, a short street with only a handful of houses that led to the pub’s parking lot.

That left the business, owned by Tony Henry, one of the mayor’s brothers, isolated. If you wanted to drive to drop in for a pint, you couldn’t get into the parking lot. It was blocked off. The only way to get there was to take a little alley that the pub uses every year for its 500-yard St. Patrick’s Day parade, the country’s shortest parade.

“We damn near died down in the valley,” Henry said.

Business dropped off by nearly 30 percent.

“We were like a fortress,” he said. “You couldn’t get in. It was tremendously difficult.”

For Henry, it was like prohibition had set in, and he can tell you, prohibition has never been good to his family. He says he had a great-great-grandfather who went to jail for running a speakeasy on Wall Street next to Richard’s Bakery on Wells Street.

The bridge, though, is set to open in a couple of weeks, so Henry, as he likes to do, is going to try to have a huge bash at his little pub, which holds fewer people than a school bus.

At about 4 p.m. on Oct. 5, he’s going to have a ribbon cutting when the bridge opens. He says he’s going to be the first to drive a car across the bridge when it opens. And he’s going to have an end-of-prohibition party.

He’s going to have signs: “We want beer now.” “End prohibition now.” “Open the bridge now.”

Customers are urged to wear prohibition-era garb. He suggests flapper dresses for the ladies and, one presumes, suits that are just a bit too small for the men. He’ll have a table of old-time outfits for people to put on and pose for photographs.

He’s even going to serve some pre-prohibition style brew. Apparently there was a recipe called Batch 19 that was sold by Coors before the government shut down all the breweries, and it’s been re-released.

Henry is even going to have hot dogs and chili from Coney Island, which was in business before prohibition. To Henry, that’s a big deal because “Coney Island never caters,” he said.

“We’re really going to roll out the barrels,” Henry said.

Since the pub only seats about 40 people, there won’t be a lot of seating, but there will be plenty of standing room, which is appropriate, Henry said. During prohibition, people usually drank standing up so they could run if there was a raid.

Finally, Henry is going to try to change the streetscape of Fort Wayne. Alleys usually don’t have names, but he’s going to ask his brother, the mayor, to name the alley that leads to his pub Deer Park Alley.

Talk about pulling strings.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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