In an area jam packed with restaurants it is easy for a simple diner to get overlooked, even if that diner is the biggest, brightest building on the block. I have rode my bike past The Firehouse on the cusp of Venice and Santa Monica on Main Street countless times but never really gave it much more than a glance. Little did I know that the Firehouse was full of all sorts of surprises.
Confirmed from what I presumed by owner Leiko Hamada this restaurant was indeed originally a firehouse dating back to 1902-1907 depending on who you ask. It was not until the mid ‘50s that it ceased to be a firehouse and it was not until 1986 that Leiko purchased the property. One of the keys to owning a former firehouse is finding a good painter. Leiko went through three different painters until she found one who was able to give The Firehouse a deep red coat that could stand the sands of time and not fade away into an unappealing pink. The enormous building truly has a tale of two halves. It is essentially two different restaurants under one roof.
They made a name for themselves back in the mid to late ‘80s when the area was a body building Mecca. Gold’s Gym being blocks away attracted many weight lifters asking for an egg white breakfast. While The Firehouse offers up your standard omelets, breakfast sandwiches, and from what I hear, a very good eggs Benedict on the weekends, the diner developed a menu catering to the bodybuilder’s palate too.
The Bodybuilder Breakfast consists of 8-ounce scrambled egg whites, three pancakes or oatmeal, and a choice of 6-ounce chicken breast, steak, or other meat ranging from $8.95 to $14.95. Ask any strongman and they will tell you that is a lot of protein bang for your buck.
While the back area serves up food to regulars and bodybuilders alike, the front of the house is a different story. In 1993 director James Cameron opened a post production company blocks away from The Firehouse. In uncanny timing the restaurant just received their liquor license and subsequently opened their bar up front. Alcohol to editors is like egg whites to bodybuilders. It is not a rare occurrence to see post production people discussing their projects over rounds of beers at The Firehouse. Along with a solid selection of beers and wines, the kitchen offers up an eclectic mix of salads, entrees, and of course fireman’s chili.
The Firehouse has a pretty enticing happy hour menu as well. From 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. they offer up $3 domestics and $4 to $5 imports, and an assortment of $5 appetizers. In another twist, the front area also has a sushi bar. While usually this would be out of place in such an establishment, the fact that Leiko used to own a sushi restaurant before The Firehouse gives it merit. Plus how could you complain with $5 rolls during happy hour?
With the Google offices moving in down the street, things may get even more hectic in the area. Certainly good for business, but Leiko confessed she did enjoy things when they were quieter years back. The Firehouse attracts a variety of different customers but locals and families are still their solid base. The menu at first glance may seem completely random, but once you know a little of the history of the 100-plus-year-old firehouse, you start to realize everything is there for a reason.
If You Go
213 Rose Ave.
Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike. To reach him visit his Twitter at twitter.com/greaseweek or his website at tourdefeast.net