Gilbert's, St. Clair Shores ‘institution,’ badly damaged in early morning fire

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published October 10, 2013

 St. Clair Shores Police and Fire departments were investigating a fire at Gilberts Lodge Oct. 10.

St. Clair Shores Police and Fire departments were investigating a fire at Gilberts Lodge Oct. 10.

Photo by Kristyne Demske

An anonymous witness called in just two hours after closing time at Gilbert's Lodge. The report: flames and smoke coming from the building.

Sgt. Jason Brown, fire investigator for the St. Clair Shores Police Department, said the call came in to the dispatch center around 4:22 a.m. Oct. 10.

But because of the proximity of the department to the Harper Avenue restaurant, Fire Chief George Morehouse said firefighters were on the scene within a minute of the call.

They were able to knock the fire down inside, he said, and didn’t have to just “surround and soak,” which he hopes saved the building. He said the south wall of the building is showing signs of fatigue with cracking from the metal trusses expanding and contracting.

“It appears to have started in the kitchen area,” Brown said. “No cause to believe there’s arson.”

Inside, Brown said, he saw extensive damage from smoke, heat and water, but he thought that the building might still be structurally sound. The steel roof, however, added to the damage.

“It’s going to hold the heat in,” he said.

Morehouse said the insurance company would now conduct its investigation to decide how to proceed.

“They’ll have to get engineers involved,” he said.

Morehouse said management told him the eatery closed around 2:20 a.m. Dispatch first received a call at 4:10 a.m. that the burglar alarm was going off; Morehouse suspects that was because the wires shorted out in the fire.

“They did an excellent job,” he said of his firefighters. “It got close.”

Hours after the flames were extinguished, employees and restaurant patrons descended on the scene to assess the damage and figure out what comes next.

Lisa Smart has tended bar at Gilbert's Lodge for the past two years. When the manager called to tell her the news that morning, she was shocked.

“We were all just in here last night,” she said. “Not a problem, full house. It’s devastating.”

She said she doesn’t know what the employees and the community will do without the restaurant, which has been around since about 1963.

“We got a lot of people here, no jobs,” she said.

Twelve-year veteran waitress Chris Miller said she was dumbfounded. The community, she said, will feel its loss.

“There’s tons of people. We have so many regulars, I don’t know what they’re going to do,” she said.

Louie and Mary Bricolas have owned the restaurant since 1985. Family and representatives of the owners did not want to comment Oct. 10.

 “It’s sad, Gilbert's is an icon in the city,” said Mayor Kip Walby after surveying the scene. “Everybody knows Gilbert's Lodge. It’s an institution here.”

He said he was happy to hear no one was hurt in the fire, and hopes they rebuild.

“We’ve got to have a Gilbert's Lodge in St. Clair Shores,” he said.

A second alarm was called after all units in the St. Clair Shores Fire Department responded to the scene, bringing assistance from Eastpointe, Roseville, Harrison Township and Warren fire departments. Sterling Heights firefighters were called in to staff the St. Clair Shores stations while personnel were on the scene.

Phil Carlisi — the bass player for the Jody Raffoul Band known as “Greasy” — was in the restaurant the night of Oct. 9 for his birthday.

“Me and the wife went here for dinner and we played,” he said. “There was no sign of any fire.”

He said he was stunned to see the police tape surrounding the building.

“What a great place,” he said. “I hope they rebuild.”