Photographer / Jubilee Edgell
One hundred years ago, Bass Lake was a favorite vacation spot for the rich and famous – those that locals called “fine hotel people”. Regulars included household names like L. Frank Baum, author of the “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and its sequels, as well as more notorious figures like Al Capone and “Diamond Joe” Esposito. Thanks to such patronage, the town supported multiple restaurants, stores, clubs, a ballroom, resorts and high-class hotels.
Unfortunately, history isn’t always kind to society’s favorite destinations. America endured a 10-year economic depression and two world wars in a span of approximately three decades. That era changed the nation in every way possible, leaving Bass Lake – and by extension, Starke County – with a significantly reduced economy.
Today, local business owners understand that Bass Lake is still beautiful and beckons its visitors to temporarily forget their troubles and simply enjoy the moment. Greg Wireman, owner of Harbour House, a newly opened restaurant and bar on the northeast side of the lake, understands this very well.
“We need some place that has more of an upscale dining experience for people,” he says. “Instead of having to drive to Valparaiso or to South Bend, or to Culver from our area to get a good steak, I wanted to give that option here.”
However, Wireman also wants the restaurant to be inclusive and inviting, even if guests are coming in after work or are still in their swimsuits.
“[The restaurant] economically fits the area,” he says. “We don’t want to exclude people who don’t want to go and pay the higher prices for steaks. You’re going to get a refined dining experience that will be second to none.”
Few dishes say fine dining better than hand-cut steaks and fresh seafood, and those are exactly the menu items that Wireman hopes Harbour House will become known for. Other menu items include burgers, bratwursts, pasta and chicken.
“Our motto is, ‘The view will bring you in, our food will bring you back,’” Wireman says.
To ensure a great dining experience for guests, Wireman hired Executive Chef Cherie Tolson and Sous-Chef Benji Fetrow, who have more than 35 years of combined experience.
“Boats can dock at the pier to come over and eat,” Wireman adds. “They can call and order food to have it delivered out to the pier so they don’t have to leave the lake. There are so many options we have that are going to be what you don’t expect from a steakhouse.”
Wireman, who owns Med One Mobile and Momma’s Pizzeria in Knox, is thrilled about the opportunity to open a restaurant in his hometown. His team includes Tracy Williams, bar and dining room manager, and Crystal Back, Wireman’s executive secretary.
Wireman has several goals for Harbour House, which are somewhat reflected in its name. First, he wants to make all 8,300 square feet a destination for locals and out-of-towners alike. Thanks the restaurant’s location, the view of the lake from almost every table is optimal. Plus, each guest has the owner’s personal guarantee that they will be treated well.
“Each customer is going to be treated like the only customer we have,” Wireman says. “You can come here and be served and have somebody take care of you, and let you just sit there and enjoy your meal.”
Wireman also sees the restaurant as a way to commemorate, and even partly restore, the glory that Bass Lake enjoyed in the early 1900s.
“When I looked at the place, one of the things that was important for me was to regain that nostalgia, only with a more modern flair,” Wireman says.
Part of the way he intends to do this is by finding pictures from the town’s golden age, between 1870 and 1920, when the property that Wireman now owns was the Best View Hotel, and even later when it was the Shore Room.
Wireman’s third goal is to provide a safe haven for all who enter.
“I just think that when you go out to eat, people should be taken care of,” he says. “Get away from life. Get inside here and leave life at the door.”
Wireman’s desire to make each guest feel at home is even reflected in the restaurant’s interior color scheme. All the beach-themed colors work together to promote a calming dining experience.
The Bass Lake community eagerly awaits the grand opening of Harbour House. To Wireman, it’s humbling to watch his hometown rally around his efforts. It also increased his pride in a community that he believes could be as celebrated as it once was – maybe even more.
“We’re a diamond in the rough,” he says. “I want people to know that just because this is Starke County, why can’t we be Chicago in a sense? A lot of people don’t have the availability to travel very far to get a dining experience that they would expect at a five-star place. It’s going to be right next door to them now. They can come here to get that experience.”
Harbour House is located at 3698 South County Road 210 in Knox. For additional details, visit harbourhousebasslake.com and call 574-249-8123.