Maryland Firefighters to Reopen Station as Pub

In a few weeks, retiring Montgomery County, Md. Captain Jeremy Gruber could own a piece of history.

Gruber recently won a bid for the historic Silver Spring Fire Station 1 with plans to open it as a bar and grille. The sale is expected to be finalized in the next couple of weeks and Gruber said he is planning to open it by mid- to late-spring of next year.

"Everyone I've talked to thinks it's the best reuse of the station," Gruber, who worked in the station from 1987-88 and off and on for the last 20 years, said. "I haven't talked to one person who didn't think this was a good idea."

The building was vacated last year when a new station was opened to replace it. Since then, hundreds of potential buyers have looked at the old station with Gruber's bid outlasting them all.

There's a lot of history in the station, which was built in 1914 and doubled as a National Guard armory until 1927. The fire department operated out of the building until last year.

Silver Spring Historical Society President Jerry A. McCoy said the building is listed on the Montgomery County's Locational Atlas and Index of Historic Sites and is a historic landmark.

"We did not want any type of chain in there," he said. "We really wanted to get a small mom and pop type business in there. We are behind this one hundred percent."

While Gruber will serve as the owner while Hook and Ladder Brewing Company -- which he is an investor in -- will brand it. Before investing in the Silver Spring-based brewer last year, Gruber had never met co-founder Rich Fleischer, but they already had a lot in common.

Fleischer also is a firefighter in Montgomery County, having worked on and off since 1988. He is currently a member of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad.

From 1993 to 2002, however, Fleischer lived in California and was later joined by his brother Matt. The two would form Hook and Ladder and even though it had a local following, it never earned a profit.

After returning to Maryland, the brothers retooled their business plan and re-opened in 2005. Since then, Hook and Ladder's list of clients grew and is now served well over a hundred locations with distribution set up from Richmond, Va. through Connecticut.

Rich Fleischer believes the combination of the old firehouse and his fire-themed brew will yield the perfect combination.

"It's absolutely incredible," he said about having a Hook and Ladder branded restaurant located in the historic station. "It was sort of what I wanted to do when I first started in California. It really is a unique opportunity."

He said that a lot of his firefighting counterparts are so interested about the concept that when they spot him at a call, they are more interested in asking him about the restaurant and bar than the job at hand.

"A lot of people are really excited about it," he said.

Matt Fleischer said opening an exclusive location was never the main goal, but was always considered an option.

"It was something that was sort of in the back of our minds," he said. "It was just too great of an opportunity to pass up."

He also said that since Hook and Ladder is based in Silver Spring, it will give them a place to connect with the community. Both the brothers and Gruber see it as a place where local responders can come to relax.

"I've really looked at this as an opportunity to retain the atmosphere of it being a fire station," Gruber said. "It could become a place for firefighters, EMTs and police officers."

There also will be an effort to not only keep the history of the station intact, but to enhance it, they said.

"We are really trying to do everything possible to keep the history as is," Matt Fleischer said. "There will be some internal renovations to convert it into a functional bar and restaurant, but we don't want to change the facade."

Gruber has various ideas for what will be done within the structure, including recognizing the local stations and creating space for local firefighters to contribute their own artifacts.

"I want to add history to it," he said. "I want to people to be able to take what's in their basements and storage rooms and put it in the restaurant."

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