(Photo: Jasonk. on Flickr)
Leif Eriksen got a raw deal. All the Norse mariner did was become the first European to set foot in North America -- 500 years before Columbus, mind you. So… where’s his national holiday? Why isn’t Eriksen the capital of Ohio? What a gyp.
However, if Leif time-traveled to the current epoch, his hurt feelings would be assuaged and his mood lightened by striding -- he was a Viking, after all -- into Muncie’s Heorot (Hurr-OUGHT) Pub and Draught House. Done up to resemble a Viking mead hall and named for Beowulf’s crib of legend, Heorot boasts high ceilings, exposed rafters, a long wooden bar and a decor of animal pelts, broadswords, shields and a fierce dragon sculpture that runs the length of the room.
(Photo: Hannah C. on Yelp)
Under mellow lighting, Leif’s continent-straddling thirst would be more than slaked by the 67 ales, meads, lagers and ciders available on draft, and over 300 more served in bottles. The dizzying selection has won Heorot worldwide acclaim: it’s been named to Draft magazine’s list of the 100 Best Beer Bars in America each of the last five years. Upstairs, the Viking theme continues with a replica Viking long hall on the second floor that occasionally hosts larger parties or, more typically, bargoers looking for a quieter revel. Up on the third floor, the owners have recently opened Wolves’ Head Brewery, a micro-brewery whose wares are available downstairs.
For over 20 years, Muncie residents and Ball State students alike have enjoyed board games, live music, a modest food menu (the pizza is cheap, greasy and terrific) and one of the best drink selections on Earth at Heorot. But the fortunes of the building that houses the pub did not match the heroic.
(Photo: Hannah C. on Yelp)
Built in the 1890s, the long, thin three-story structure with a limestone Romanesque Revival façade began life as a gentlemen’s outfitter named Bliss & Fudge. It later housed a confectionery, a produce company, a shoe store and, in 1960, Richey’s Clothing. Richey’s closed in 1975, and the building stood unused for nearly a decade. Its 1984 sale price, a measly $3,470, served as grim witness to the state of Muncie’s downtown in that era of post-industrial urban decay.
But a slow process of rebirth began then, for the structure and its environs. The building’s new owner in ’84 was Dr. Thomas Thornburg, a professor of English at Ball State who gave the Heorot its name and began the slow, occasionally halting transformation from derelict to mead hall. That metamorphosis was completed by current owners Stan and Jeanette Stephens, who bought the establishment in 1994. Their many renovations and improvements to the property over the past 21 years include the restoration of the building’s limestone façade.
At the same time, the neighborhood around Heorot was changing, too: in 1988, a roughly 6-block stretch of 93 buildings was listed in the National Register as the Walnut Street Historic District. The intent of the nomination was to foster commercial rejuvenation and architectural reclamation and, although it didn’t happen overnight, it eventually accomplished exactly that. Local preservationists point to 2005 as the “tipping point” in the restoration of the Walnut Street District, when the most ambitious of several façade improvement grant programs -- all instituted by the City of Muncie beginning around the time of the National Register listing -- was completed.
We raise a glass to a patient preservation success story. The only hard part is choosing which of 400 brews to choose for the toast.
About Hidden Gems Indiana
Indiana Landmarks uses insider knowledge to highlight historic places worth a visit, from the quirky to the sublime: small towns, neighborhoods, restaurants, shops, parks, cemeteries, scenic drives, museums -- you get the idea. Learn more about Indiana Landmarks at www.indianalandmarks.org.