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Amboy pub experiences year of change

Upgrades fueled by benefits and video gambling

Published: Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
(Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM)
The Last Alarm Firehouse Pub, at the end of the block on East Avenue in Amboy, has undergone a big makeover in the past year but has kept its firehouse theme. The pub's sign is shaped with a traditional firefighter rank insignia.
(Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM)
Bartender Gerri Arntzen pours a beer while discussing how the number of people coming to The Last Alarm has increased in spite of the struggling economy. She credits the success to owner Barb Harrison and all of the work she has put toward remodeling the neighborhood bar.
(Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM)
A breathing apparatus and tank hang on the wall at The Last Alarm Firehouse Pub in Amboy. It is one of many firehouse memorabilia pieces decorating the walls.
(Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM)
Two of five video gaming machines available at The Last Alarm Firehouse Pub. The bar in Amboy has seen many new customers since the machines were installed last spring.

AMBOY – For the past 10 years, Barb Harrison, owner of The Last Alarm Firehouse Pub, has dreamed of big changes. Little by little, she has seen them come to fruition. The past year, however, has been her biggest year of change.

The firefighter theme is about the only thing she didn’t want to alter.

“Our department is an instrumental part of the community,” Harrison said, “and this is a good way to honor them for all they do.”

Outside, on the red building at the end of the block on East Avenue, the pub’s sign is shaped with a traditional firefighter rank insignia.

Along the interior, antique firehouse relics line the walls.

Inside a mounted display case, Harrison has memorabilia from departments and their members locally and as far away as New York, including a memorial to firefighter Robert J. Foti of FDNY, who died in the line of duty on Sept. 11, 2001.

The revamp began 5 years ago with new bathrooms and a roof, things that, Harrison said, had to be addressed first.

Renovations this year included a new wood floor, ceiling, bar stools and a complete redesign of the bartender station with new coolers.

She replaced the concrete behind the business, where flooding often was a problem, and upgraded the air conditioning.

“I worked here when it was Dempsey’s Tap, and you can’t believe the difference,” bartender Gerri Arntzen said. “She’s done so much, it’s incredible.”

A customer, Mike Mead, agrees.

“The work Barb has done with renovating her establishment, along with her friendly staff, has really made Last Alarm an even friendlier and more enjoyable place to relax and get a refreshing beverage,” Mead said.

The improvements, Harrison said, were made possible in part by the installation of five video gambling machines the bar received at the beginning of last year.

“I love having them here,” she said. “They are being well used. They have brought in new faces. Some people come in just for that.”

The most someone can win on a spin, Harrison said, is $500.

“But there have been people who won $1,100 who continue to play on their winnings,” she said.

The payout slip that players receive when they win can include amounts as low as a penny. Players often give those smaller winnings to Harrison or one of her staff of six to add to their tips.

“We started collecting them [payout slips], and in a couple months, we have a couple hundred dollars that we can donate,” she said. “You’d be surprised how fast they add up.

“We’ve given what we collect to CASA, Muscular Dystrophy, the food pantry, United Way, the Lions Club, and usually it’s a couple hundred dollars. It’s great being able to do that.”

Harrison also attributes growing popularity of Last Alarm to the benefits she hosts.

Inviting people and community organizations to use her bar as a facility to raise funds allows her and her neighbors to give back, she said.

“The human spirit is just wonderful,” she said.

St. Patrick Catholic Church’s Food Pantry and United Way each sponsor an annual guest bartending event. The guest bartenders donate all tips back to the organization. Those events, Harrison said, have brought in many new customers.

The first benefit she hosted was an eye-opener.

“I didn’t know three-quarters of the people,” she said. “Some said they never have been in here before and lived in town all their life. They may not come back every week, but they do come back, and I remember them when they do.”

Last Alarm offers darts and pool, a digital jukebox, and recently had a lottery machine installed.

“I wanted to fix up the bar so bad, just couldn’t afford it,” Harrison said. “I would never have been able to do half of the stuff I wanted to do without the changes the last year has brought. I wanted my customers to have a nice place to come, and now … I feel like they do.”

About The Last Alarm

Located at 43 S. East Ave. in Amboy, The Last Alarm Firehouse Pub hours are 11 to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.

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