ELKHART — A new pub is coming to downtown Elkhart, and behind it are the men and women of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 338.

And future patrons will be able to tell that the firefighters are involved. The front of the narrow building at 411 S. Main St. now has a glass panel garage door, in the style of a historic firehouse. The inside will be decorated in a firehouse style, too.

“This is our place,” said Local 338 president Dustin Flagg, who is excited about making Station 338 a place for both firefighters and the public.

The union bought the building in June 2018 and has been renovating ever since.

The idea is to have a pub that is open to the public like any other bar, but can also be used for fundraising events. And since the firefighter union is a not-for-profit organization, proceeds from the pub operation will go to the union’s community-centered efforts, too.

“We’ve rented different venues to host fundraiser events and stuff like that, and that’s all been money off the top the actual fundraising,” Flagg said.

The proceeds go to things like cancer awareness and scholarships for local students heading to college.

Except for technical installations such as HVAC, the union members and volunteers are doing the renovation themselves, putting in about 150 hours in an average week.

When completed, Station 338 will be just like any other tavern in town, Flagg said. A feature that might attract some will be charity gaming, such as raffles and pull-tab machines, if the union can get the right license. 

“It’s 100% full-time fundraising that we use to put back into the community,” said Flagg.

Local 338 makes sure to have fundraising events all year long so that they’re always ready if a need arises in the community, he said, and the “full-time fundraising” should make that easier. For the same reason, the union has a long-term plan to restore the upstairs of the building and rent it out as an apartment.

During the summer, and especially during downtown events, the garage door will be opened in order to bring in more people from the street. Station 338 is near the corner of Main and Franklin streets and directly across from the Lerner Theatre.

“The location is actually the thing I feel like is the biggest advantage for us,” Flagg said. “Nearly every event that happens in downtown Elkhart happens right outside of our door.”

The firefighter union will start with an experienced bar staff, but Flagg hopes to train union members to work part-time. 

This will be the first union hall that Local 338 has ever had, according to Flagg. One of the reasons for having one is to make it easier for retired members to stay connected.

“They don’t have a real place to congregate,” he said. “The longer you’re retired, the fewer faces you recognize in the fire department, and that kind of keeps them away a little bit.”

Flagg said the building, which was previously a pizza place, had been vacant for about 10 years when the firefighters bought it. 

Since then, the original brick has been exposed and refinished, and a low ceiling has been removed to reveal an elaborate tin ceiling that has been restored through “countless” hours of work.

The tin is mostly dark but has some red, gold and blue colors from heat exposure during a fire. The fire also left charring on one of the brick walls.

“Which is also kind of neat for it being a firefighter-owned establishment,” Flagg said.

Fire has even been used in the restoration work, as a new trim has been made out of bare wood that has been burnt to give it a black and golden color.

Flagg said some firehouse-style decorations for the inside of the bar are being designed and built.

“You’ll see a lot of very recognizable fire service images, and then even some photos of our own guys at work,” he said.

The floor will be vinyl plank, which is made to last but will also keep the old firehouse style, according to Flagg. On the outside, the union hall used to have an awning and facade that turned out to be rotten.

“As we starting taking that down, things started all coming down. It was a definitely a hazard at the time. It was falling apart and it rocked in the wind,” he said.

That meant the firefighters had no choice but to put up a new facade. Currently, the front is covered in plywood, except for the doors. But when completed, the front of Station 338 will be covered in stone veneer. A new awning made with large cedar beams will go on the front as well.

Bringing the union members together outside of the firehouse is one of the advantages of doing the work rather than hiring contractors.

“It builds the brotherhood,” Flagg said.

Some community members have volunteered their labor to the project, and many businesses have contributed materials and services. Flagg said they will all be recognized for their help when Station 338 opens.

One hope is that the bar will help show that firefighters are just regular people in the community, he said.

“We show up for your emergency, and that’s kind of where people imagine us living, in that realm. This is going to be another way for us to connect with our community, so that when we do show up for your emergency, maybe you recognize a face and we can help you feel for comfortable,” he said.

Flagg wouldn’t say how much the union has spent on the purchase and renovation, though he said the former was the larger expense.

“Suffice it to say that we’ve invested a lot of our own money in this project,” he said.

Local 338 had been looking for a facility for about two years before seeing the for-sale sign in the window of 411 S. Main St.

“We got together as quick as we could,” Flagg said, and the union decided to give an offer to the owner, Tony Anagnos, who is the co-owner of 523 Tap & Grill one block to the south. Anagnos agreed.

The process to get building permits from the city has been smooth, according to Flagg.

“Once they kind of had a better idea of the vision that we were all seeing, they were very much on board with it,” he said. “They’ve helped us along the way as much as they could and gave us pointers, because we’re not contractors, we’re firefighters.”

Flagg isn’t ready to give a date for the opening of Station 338, saying he has regretted giving a date every time he has done it. The hope is to open this year, and certainly in time for next summer’s downtown events.

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter @ReadRasmus

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