History coming to life at Spa restaurant, banquet center
Porter | A pervasive sense of history springs from the Spa, which has carried its name and provided a platform for celebrations since its inception in the 1920s.
The property, which has been shuttered for more than 10 years, was taken on by owner Jeanne Hoyle and general manager Ed Kis who are reviving the business with a nod to its past.
“It was a farmhouse back in the 1920s offering mineral springs water when that was seen as a way to get healthy. They then paved highway 20 and that put a lot of traffic past the restaurant. When the Depression and Prohibition hit, the gangsters were the people who had money,” Kis said. “They rented homes out here, ate here at the Spa and began providing booze by water as it was too expensive to travel by land. They would dock on the Little Calumet River and bring it right to the back door here.”
The days of Al Capone – who ate at the restaurant – are the focal point of the Speakeasy at the Spa restaurant, which is expected to later this year. The restaurant and bar will feature period pieces, furniture, drinks and music along with costumed wait staff and views of the Little Calumet River and its natural inhabitants. Keeping with the theme, there will be no TVs.
“We will have a piano bar, a chanteuse (female singer), four working fireplaces, a 1920s art deco bar straight out of a saloon in Chicago, an old-fashioned deli and sandwich bar in one area as well as a prime rib house restaurant with additional offerings,” Kis said.
The building has a variety of rooms suited for each chosen purpose: from the “lodge” room in the back, which will be for restaurant seating and party rental, to the “Chairman of the Board” room off in a corner that will feature items related to Frank Sinatra. There are plans for a shop in the front as well that will offer Spa-branded merchandise and souvenirs.
Playing on the Speakeasy aspect will be the entryway and how guests enter the restaurant and bar. They will be greeted by a barber shop and costumed staff playing the role of 1920s gun molls.
Kis said part of the experience will be gaining entry to the Speakeasy as if it was during the Prohibition era. A password will be needed.
“We’re not trying to make Al Capone out to be a Robin Hood or trying to make a hero out of him. We want to tell his story and how this area was developed,” Kis said. “There’s a lot people don’t know that there was a full-fledged casino here in the basement at one time.
“I have heard the story from an 80-ish-year-old woman who was here during her high school prom and there was an issue with the bathrooms. She was escorted down to the basement and saw the casino. That was the highlight of her high school life that she was in an illegal casino at the age of 16 or 17.
“It’s all about bringing some of the history back.”
Part of that history will be more personal for those who have celebrated a special event from weddings to anniversaries to birthdays over the many years that the restaurant and banquet facility have been open.
Kis would love to include old photos on a wall commemorating these memorable occasions and asks community members to share those.
“It would be great to have a big collage and have people relive those things,” he said. “This used to be the place to go for a special event and we hope to bring that back as the place to go to celebrate and have a big blowout.”
The center has been open since fall 2014 and has already been the venue for everything from birthday parties to community organizations’ events.
“Every hall in the area has basically four walls. We have this wall of windows, which makes us unique,” said Kis looking out on the balcony, which includes a view of the Little Calumet River. “On any given day, little guests appear from red fox and coyotes to deer and sandpiper cranes, ducks and geese.”
Kis hope to continue to give back to the community through the special events center by offering reduced rates for organizations hosting fund-raisers.
“By being involved in the not-for-profits out here, we can help them do their fund-raisers and give back to the community,” he said.
His journey to these latest projects includes roots in the restaurant industry. Jean and Ed own and manage Great Lakes Catering, which provides the food for the special events center, and Top Dog in LaPorte County. He also had a hand in a similarly themed restaurant in the late 1980s in Crown Point. The SOB’s Speakeasy spotlighted the Prohibition era and the infamous John Dillinger.
“It was the most fun I ever had doing a restaurant,” Kis said. “The Spa has even more history.”
During the Spa rejuvenation process, Kis turned to the Northwest ISBDC and business adviser Gary Brownlee for assistance on obtaining financing and preparing to meet with bankers.
“I wasn’t sure what he did or how he did it, but I immediately loved the guy,” Kis said. “We had three banks interested and Gary knew where to go. Porter Bank stood out from the beginning. They said, ‘We are a small town bank and more than anyone else in the area, we want to see you succeed.’
“The bank staff has bent over backwards and helped with marketing from within the bank.”
Kis is passionate about carrying on the tradition of the Spa, which has retained its name from the beginning.
“I am pleased with the reception from the local people. Nobody has complained about what we are doing or how slow we are doing it,” he said. “We want to do it right and when we open, we will have something that goes back 90 years to how it originally started.”