Fans fired up by new Halligan location

If you've noticed that fire trucks seem to park frequently in the vicinity of West Broad Village, don't worry.

Henrico firefighters haven't discovered a new firetrap; they've discovered a new favorite restaurant.

On Dec. 2, recently retired firefighter Shawn Gregory opened The Halligan Bar & Grill, which has as its centerpiece an antique firetruck with a full bar wrapped around it.

As it turns out, the 1967 Oren (which now houses kegs and pump panel beer taps) is the original fire truck that Gregory's firefighter father rode when beginning his career at the Highland Springs station more than 40 years ago.

While searching for a fire truck to memorialize in the restaurant, Gregory stumbled on the vehicle after a private collector called him to take a look. "When I saw it was from Henrico [Fire], it sparked my interest," he says. "Then I saw it was from [Station] No. 3."

A 20-year-veteran of the same fire department as his father's, Gregory knew his search was over.

VIPs and heroes
Like its sister location in Shockoe Bottom, the new restaurant gets its name from the Halligan bar, a special tool used in fire and rescue service. And just as in the Shockoe Bottom location, the new restaurant is built around the theme of a museum – a tribute to past and present firefighters of all jurisdictions.

"Guys can come in [from other jurisdictions] and say, 'There's the helmet we donated,'" says Gregory. "Or, 'There's my picture with our crew.' It gives them a sense of ownership."

Among the firefighter memorabilia incorporated into the theme are buckets and firefighter helmets suspended from the ceiling to serve as lamps, and fire hoses wound into the railing of the patio.

During opening week, Gregory said the customer feedback centered around one consistent theme: the unique atmosphere.

"[Patrons] don't feel like they're in a corporate chain restaurant; it has an urban, 'Fan' kind of feel to it," Gregory says, noting that the layout also lends itself to meeting people.

"You can come in not knowing anybody – and know 10 people when you leave," he says.

On top of the fire truck are two VIP tables, equipped with Virginia's first table-top beer taps. For $25 an hour, the tables can be rented for eight to ten people, with all reservation fees benefiting Halligan's Heroes.

As a tribute to his profession, Gregory established the non-profit to benefit firefighters and their families through its support of local charities such as the Old Dominion Professional Firefighters Burn Foundation. In the restaurant's first week of business, the VIP section brought in $300 for Halligan's Heroes.

‘Wouldn't it be great?’
Gregory has also had some fun with the firefighting themes on his menu, which features "Wings of Fire," a "Battalion Burger," "Dalmation" corn dog nuggets, "Hazmat" supersized portions, and "Extinguishers" for dessert.

Among the Hazmat items is the Flatliner Challenge, which includes a three-pound sandwich and a pound of fries and is served free of charge if eaten by a single patron in less then 25 minutes. Most people order the item to share, says Gregory, although two patrons recently attempted a stand-off – and both failed to meet the challenge.

As an added treat, patrons who complete the Flatliner or the restaurant's signature shot challenge trigger the fire truck's siren, announcing their feat to the entire establishment (and more often than not, inspiring appreciative applause and imitation from fellow diners).

With the help of his brother Rick – who closed a restaurant in North Carolina and moved to Richmond to run the downtown location – Gregory hopes to keep growing in 2012. His plans include opening a Virginia Beach location, and equipping additional fire trucks with a mobile smoking pit and Kegerator that can be taken to festivals and special
events.

Although he will miss firefighting, Gregory says he takes pride in being able to bring his business into Henrico – the county that the Varina H.S. grad has long called home.

What's more, Gregory adds, Halligan represents not only the culmination of a dream, but the embodiment of an idea that germinated long ago during his firefighter days.

"I used to be a bartender," says Gregory. "And so many times – especially in July – I was standing on the side of a [fire] truck after a call, and I'd be so hot and thirsty.

"And I would think, 'Wouldn't it be great if beer came out of this truck?"
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