January 1, 2014

Firehouse Kitchens: Tasty Examples of Adaptive Reuse

Hook and ladder gastronomy heats up as chefs venture beyond four-alarm chili in adapted firehouses.

  • By: Dennis Hockman


438 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington,
DC 20001 | 202.506.2455 | sixthengine.com
$$ | American

After mostly sitting vacant since 1974, the oldest firehouse in Washington, D.C., was transformed in 2011 into the Sixth Engine restaurant and bar. Former home of the Metropolitan Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 and Engine Company No. 6, the 1855 red brick building was the first completed project designed by Adolf Cluss, architect of the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building.

Gavin Coleman, one of five partners who run the Sixth Engine, describes it as a “contemporary American bistro” serving satisfying sandwich and entree options as well as craft beers and signature cocktails.

Coleman and his partners restored the building’s exterior to match an 1890 photograph. “Inside, we saved as much as we could,” he says, “including the exposed turnbuckle beams and rafters, the original windows, and the exposed brick on the second floor.”


56 Stutson St., Rochester, NY 14612
585.621.2200 | hose22.com
$$ | American

Built in 1916 and closed in 1962, Rochester’s Hose Company No. 22 firehouse sat largely abandoned for half a century. Then Craig Ristuccia rehabbed the deteriorated brick structure as a destination restaurant, which has become popular among locals as well as visitors from throughout the region.

Relying on historical photographs of the building to help him replicate architectural details, Ristuccia completed the interiors with restored original radiators and period fire poles shipped in from Seattle. A wrought iron balcony, slate roof, and copper gutters return the exterior to its former glory. In 2012, the building was recognized with a preservation award from the Landmark Society of Western New York.

The menu puts a firehouse twist on the American grill, says Ristuccia. “We’re high-end comfort food with signature favorites like our pork chops, Engine House Ribs, and mac and cheese.”


1401 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60605
312.786.1401 | chicagofirehouse.com
$$$$ | American

Proprietor Matthew O’Malley says the initial goal of Chicago Firehouse was to serve American fare, but the restaurant -- located in a 1905 South Side fire station -- quickly became known as a steakhouse among patrons and the local media.

The yellow brick-and-limestone structure originally served the tony Prairie Avenue community, but since 2000, it has been serving up steaks, seafood, and other classics to Chicagoans and American presidents alike.

The renovation preserved key architectural elements and updated the interior to create a warm, approachable atmosphere. Original features include fire poles in the bar, a pressed tin ceiling, and subway tile walls. Of note, the upstairs banquet space, which was converted from the firemen’s living quarters, also served as a filming location for the movie Backdraft.

$ = Value, $10–19; $$ = Moderate, $20–29; $$$ = Fancy, $30–39; $$$$ = Splurge, $40

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Dennis Hockman is editor in chief of Preservation magazine. He’s lived in historic apartments and houses all over the United States and knows that all old buildings have stories to tell if you care to find them.

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