Steak n Shake owner plans $3M rooftop tavern next to Fieldhouse

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Renderings courtesy Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission

The owner of two prominent historic buildings near Gainbridge Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis plans to build a rooftop speakeasy-style bar on the buildings overlooking the arena.

Sardar Biglari, owner of Steak n Shake and the six-story C.A. Schrader Co. building at 101 S. Pennsylvania St., expects to spend at least $3 million to renovate the building’s top floor and construct an addition on top of the adjacent four-story Nutz & Grosskopf Building to the south, at 105 S. Pennsylvania, which he also owns.

The project will involve the removal of a greenhouse from the roof of the Nutz & Grosskopf Building, replacing it with a new, elevated structure that will house part of the bar. The roughly 1,300-square-foot addition will be built primarily with glass and metal materials and connect to the C.A. Schrader building through new openings in the building’s south wall.

The proposal was presented July 6 to the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission by Bryan Strube, a principal at Ratio Architects, the firm overseeing design on the project. It must be approved by the board because it is in the city’s historic Wholesale District.

“The project is envisioned by the owner to contribute to the vitality of the development” already underway at the Fieldhouse, including the construction of the $28 million Bicentennial Unity Plaza and a new building from Pacers Sports & Entertainment along Delaware Street, said Strube.

Ratio and Steak n Shake are the C.A. Schrader building’s primary tenants.

A new entrance is proposed for the southeast corner of the shorter building, which would feature a hallway to an elevator with direct access to the bar. The entrance would be located along a service drive on the southern boundary of the property, separated from the new plaza by a concrete and brick wall.

The sixth floor of the C.A. Schrader building’s eastern elevation would also see the addition of new windows that would overlook the plaza. The speakeasy, which could accommodate about 100 people, would include lounge seating, small tables and a wrap-around bar top straddling the existing building and the new structure. The bar wouldn’t have outdoor seating.

Preliminary estimates call for about $1.8 million in exterior work and $1.2 million in interior improvements, according to filings with the city. Overall, the project is expected to take up about 4,100 square feet.

Branding for the speakeasy hasn’t yet been determined, but if the project moves forward, the development team would be required to return to the IHPC to get permission to erect signage on the building.

The existing signage on the side of the Schader building, known as a ghost sign because it has faded over the past few decades, is expected to be preserved as part of the project—albeit partially obstructed by the new speakeasy.

Most of the commissioners said they’re generally supportive of the rooftop addition and the effort to bring new uses to the property. Many, however, added they would like to see the project avoid using piers to elevate the addition, or move the addition further back from the edge of the roof.

Strube said the addition to the shorter building “is a modern architectural intervention,” but it’s pulled back from the roofline in a manner consistent with the existing greenhouse.

The project was continued to the Aug. 3 meeting to allow the development team more time to refine the design to remove a sign, improve the eastern window openings and answer some questions about the project’s overall composition. Strube said there’s hopes of having the project completed in time for NBA All-Star Weekend in February 2024.

In an email to IBJ, Strube said Biglari did not have any comment on the project “at this time.”

The C.A. Schrader Building, designed by D.A. Bohlen & Son, was constructed by William P. Jungclaus in 1901. Wholesale grocer C.A. Schrader, the original tenant, remained in the building for more than 50 years. Business Furniture Corp. later spent more than 40 years in the building.

The Nutz & Grosskopf Building was built in 1906 and 1907. German immigrants Peter Nutz and Adam Grosskopf operated a leather shop there for several decades.

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21 thoughts on “Steak n Shake owner plans $3M rooftop tavern next to Fieldhouse

  1. Nice to see local developers making huge investments into downtown Indy. This could be a win win for everyone and makes downtown Indy a more vibrant place to visit and gives convention goers things to do after attending conventions and sporting events in the city. I would suggest adding more live and adult entertainment to really make a statement.

  2. I honor him for chasing his passion. They told me i was nuts for taking on such a project. My nuts was my passion and it worked for me. Wishing you well and success with your dream

  3. I look forward to how this place works out, since I assume that they won’t have bartenders or servers, just touch-screen computers in their place. And, presumably, a big picture of Biglari in the entrance.

    I shall forever call it the Sarbar.

    1. Whatever the name is, tacking on the “by Biglari” is his MO.

      Sarbar by Biglari.

      I give it two years until there’s a sign on the side of the building offering someone the opportunity to “own” the place if they pay $10,000 and give Biglari half the profits…

  4. How much in public funding will he demand? As pointed out above, this guy is the farthest thing from a civic minded “local investor”, and yes there will be some sort of bizarre naming rights clause that will be overlooked

  5. He absolutely ruined Steak ‘n’ Shake, both for shareholders and for customers. Has tried to take over Cracker Barrel—shareholders (noticing what a mess he’s made of S’n’S), have fought him off five times now.

    1. This. All this.

      There’s a reason there are so many Culver’s and Freddy’s spreading throughout the area while they beg people to take over SnS franchises. It’s because Biglari completely destroyed his brand in a market segment he was the leader in.

      People wanted a slightly premium experience over fast food and Big Larry’s slavish devotion to price over quality product eventually burned him.

  6. He’s a vulture capitalist who destroyed SnS. He leveraged up their debt, used them as a piggybank, and now they’re doing the Sears slow death trick. He deserves zero support as he’s a menace to society.

  7. I believe your track record matters. Biglari completely trashed Steak n Shake and hopefully Cracker Barrel just ignores him. This guy doesn’t know much about the food and beverage business and it’s a tough business for even skilled operators.

    1. Great idea until I read no outdoor seating (VIEWS?!). Throw in the issues the property owner and it’s a NAW.

  8. This guy is one of the biggest tools I’ve ever met. Additionally, what about this exactly is a speakeasy? …Such a tired concept these days.