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By Kevin Koelling
Sonia Casebolt said Monday she always loved the building she and her husband would eventually buy and turn into the sports bar now known as The Vault.
“Josh and I have been together 15 or 16 years, and we’ve always talked about, ‘we ought to buy that place some day.’ We had absolutely no intention of doing a restaurant,” she said. “We just love the building. Once we got in here and started remodeling it, I just fell in love with it. Our initial plan was to lease it as a restaurant to someone. I just couldn’t do it.”
“I just love the character of the building; I always have since I was a little girl,” she said. “I hated seeing it in such disrepair.”
As the News has previously reported, an organization called Indiana Landmarks bought the structure once known as the Tell City National Bank, then the Glow Room Tavern and more recently, the Dat’s Kajun restaurant.
“The brick-and-limestone building at the corner of Main and Pestalozzi Streets has been a downtown fixture since the mid-1880s, boasting an elaborate stone entrance, marble wainscoting and terrazzo floor,” the organization noted in a February 2011 newsletter article.
With roofing and other exterior work, Landmarks restored the building to a condition that made a purchase feasible, Casebolt said. “It seemed like the right time.”
The interior was “rough” when the couple took over the building, meaning a complete “gutting” was necessary. They shortened a bar that ran along most of the building’s north wall to spin it into the west side of the restaurant’s main room, allowing more space for tables. The ceiling was completely replaced, and when removing drywall to reveal brick walls, they found holes where bricks had been knocked out to run pipes and wiring.
“The first thing I wanted to do was get the Glow Room sign back on the building just because it was history and I thought it was going to get lost,” Casebolt said. “It was so ghost-like; you could just barely see it.”
“The floor had to be ripped off,” she continued. “We took one layer off and it was level, but it was hodge-podge. It didn’t match. I loved the look of it. It was black-and-white checkers, like an old diner. But once we moved the bar, especially, there were two or three different types of flooring in here, so it just had to be done.”
One story above the restaurant is now a spacious one-bedroom apartment after a wall that formed a narrow hallway was removed. Above that, a former storage space that had been “let go for so long” has also been converted into a two-bedroom living space. The original plan was to rent it out, “but the way it turned out, I just absolutely loved it, and my kids are with me all the time … I like for them to be able to go up there. They’ve got video games and they can do their homework upstairs. Especially in the beginning, I’m going to be working here a lot. We’re keeping it for us right now.”
Coming from the landmarks agency, the building has covenants intended to protect its historic value. One is a prohibition against destroying marble on walls that imparted an ”institutional feeling” when it was a bank. “I would have loved to have kept it,” Casebolt said, but it was in such a state of disrepair that it was encased in new walls. Molding and lighting over the first floor are original to the bank.
Also found there as construction was under way were an old powder horn, knife and sheath and some old coins, which now serve as wall decorations among sports memorabilia and newspapers.
Part of what was a dirt-floor basement is new, too, and is the location for three freezers that have become necessary to handle the amount of business the restaurant has been enjoying.
When they were deciding its food offerings, Casebolt said they didn’t want to compete with other Main Street eateries because “I felt like everybody ought to be able to thrive,” which ruled out pizza and pasta. “Everybody who runs businesses down here are our friends, so we went with some different menu items.”
One of those is the Vault’s version of a BLT, “a bacon, lobster, tomato sandwich that everybody just loves.” It and their burgers are big sellers, she explained. “We have certified-Angus half-pound burgers and a Marksman Burger that’s a pound of beef before we put four pieces of bacon on it.”
Business has been good, so far, she said. “I think our menu’s good, I think our food is good … we’re still a work in progress, but I think we’re doing, for being open two weeks, very, very well. I couldn’t be happier. The community‘s been very, very supportive. We already have quite a few return customers. We have one gentleman who comes in almost every day. We have a lot of people who come in just because they want to see it; they were patrons of the Glow Room.”
Casebolt said she’s glad to be contributing to the economic strength of the city with this and the couple’s other business. And while “the people that we have are hard, hard workers, and I love seeing that,” she thought more people would have applied for the jobs the new venture offered, “knowing the economic state of Tell City and the unemployment rate – that has shocked me a little bit.”
Being new is no excuse for bad service, she said.
“Anybody who ever has an issue, I try to go speak with and apologize and we’ll discount meals if they tell us about it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter to them that we just opened. They’re still paying the same amount for their meal. Overall, I’ve had a lot of compliments.”
It could be the novelty of the new place, Casebolt realizes, but she’s happy with the business she’s seen.
“I’ve paid payroll once,” she said, “and we’re still OK. We’re still ordering food and we can still pay all our bills … hopefully, in the summer we’ll pick up.”