Like many graduate students at U of I, I live near, but not on campus.I noticed that if I ever parked in my spot after 6 p.m., there was an incredibly loud and lively place —FireHaus. Campustown has the major perk of not having a lot of people around in the summer, so I asked several of my co-workers to come with me to try out FireHaus.
FireHaus' exterior fits the theme perfectly. The outside looks like an older, decommissioned fire station-turned-restaurant. The blazoned name stands atop the center window. Each outer door is labeled 1, 2, 3, as if any second some fire trucks could park their massive vehicles inside. From the outside, one would think there is only room for a front section, but with two floors, a full bar, and window side tables, this open-air sit-down restaurant packs a lot in it. Built in 2005, employees of FireHaus told me that building used to house a barber shop and then an Asian grocery store before being converted into the current restaurant.
The interior is very much down-to-Earth. It's a classic sports bar that fits Champaign perfectly. Touting nearly 10 TVs by the bar, you can watch any sports channel (or even movies sometimes). The openings to outside allow for a breath of fresh air. Everything is decorated to fit the fire station theme with rustic reds, darker yellows, and bright oranges throughout the building. Even within the restrooms, there are pictures of old fire stations/firemen, red tiles, and an alarmingly loud hand-dryer.
Not only does FireHaus get into the groove of their theme, but their bar has a college themed "Draught Board" where the sections are "Underclassmen," "Senior Year," "Grad School," "Master's Degree," and "Doctorate." Being in grad school, myself, I went for the Riggs Hefe, a local Hefeweizen made in Urbana at Riggs Brewery. It is a sweeter wheat beer, with notes of banana ($3). The12oz Hefeweizen is well worth the small pricetag. Around my table there were $2 Blue Moons, $3 Coke and Bacardi, $4 Pineapple Juice and Grey Goose, and $5 Stone DOUBLICIOUS Double IPA. FireHaus changes Happy Hours and Specials every couple of months; most of the drinks we ordered were part of the specials.
black n'bleu sandwich
mac n'cheese burger
We ordered a range of food, including the spicy chicken quesadilla ($7.99), mac n'cheese burger ($8.99), and the Firehaus fries ($7.99). The dishes everyone got were filled to the brim. I ordered the monthly special, the black n'blue sandwich which included roast beef, gooey bleu cheese, grilled onions, and Sriracha aioli. This sandwich was all sorts of hearty, messy food that you want with a cold brew next to you. Lucky, that Hefeweizen was still going strong. As another co-worker joined us, they ordered the Haus wings with a Thai chili sauce ($8.99/$16.49). While this was no surprise to me, the breading and juiciness of the boneless wings were out of this world. For $9 you get 10 medium, boneless wings and trust me, I would never go back to Bdubs if I could get FireHaus wings.
However, two things stand out amongst the rest. The mac and cheese that FireHaus puts out is a combination of mozzarella and montrey jack, which keeps this mac smooth, creamy, and oh-so-filling. You can get a big plate of mac for $8, or a side for $5. I'm a Southern boy, and there is very little that does justice like phenomenal mac and cheese. Secondly, the Haus fries were the best part of the entire meal: Crispy, crunchy, but still soft on the inside fries topped with melted cheddar and jack cheeses, drizzled ranch dressing, chopped, fresh bacon, and some clean, vibrant green onions. I hate ordering something like this and missing some cheese, some bacon, or literally anything on the fry, but FireHaus encases 95% of those fries with a little something for us all. Even though I loved my sandwich, I know that the sandwich was monthly, and these fries are forever on that FireHaus menu.
After visiting FireHaus, I can definitely see why there is such a hubbub when undergraduates get back. Without a doubt, I know I will be back to FireHaus and will be expecting to see even better specials as time goes on.
Firehaus is located at 708 South Sixth Street, Champaign, and open daily 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
All photos by A.J. Taylor.