Prohibition had just ended and drinking openly must have felt a little criminal when the Frank Fox family opened their new “Fox’s Jail House” restaurant and bar in 1933. The jail-themed business was located just east of downtown on the southeast corner of East Washington Street and Highland Avenue.

Frank J. and Iva (Keeter) Fox had operated a grocery store in several locations before opening “Fox’s Mary Lou Lunch Room,” named after their young granddaughter. This 1928 yearbook ad shows Fox’s flair for marketing with the clever ploy of giving away a free new Ford automobile. Sons Lawrence and Raymond worked for the family business. (Indianapolis College of Pharmacy yearbook, 1928)

One can only speculate if Fox’s sold a little alcohol during Prohibition (1919-33), but shortly around the time it ended, the family unveiled their new cinder-block building that housed Fox’s Jail House at 1205-13 E. Washington Street. The jail theme probably appealed to a public fascinated with gangsters and John Dillinger on the loose. Signs advertise soda, candy, beer, steaks & chops, and Lunch Banquet Ice Cream (made one block south). Neon signs in the windows promote Falls City Beer, Falls City On Tap, Sterling Beer, Kamm’s Beer, and Anheuser-Busch On Draught. Is that an electric chair painted on the car? (Posted on Flickr by TwoGuysonPotts)

This real photo postcard of the interior shows a faux block wall and the date “AD 1933” in the keystone at the top. Patrons dined in booths in private jail cells. Family members report that granddaughter Mary Lou Fox is standing in the center booth. (Posted on Flickr by TwoGuysonPotts)

By the time of this later postcard, the jail theme had been toned down and the building had been modified or rebuilt. City directories of the 1940s list the restaurant as Fox’s Steak House. (Posted on Flickr by TwoGuysonPotts)

(Posted on Flickr by TwoGuysonPotts)

Frank and Iva Fox had long been involved with bowling. As early as 1922, Frank Fox sponsored “women pin smashers” in Fox’s Five bowling team and Iva was captain. Sometime in the 1930s they built a twelve-lane bowling alley behind their restaurant. (Indianapolis Star, February 19, 1923, p. 12)

Along with partner Jack B. Hunt, Frank Fox operated the Fox-Hunt Bowling Alley. Family members say the restaurant building was demolished in about 1980, while the building containing the bowling alley was apparently converted to an industrial use. (Posted on Flickr by TwoGuysonPotts)

Today the restaurant lives on only in postcards and memories. The former bowling alley building stood until about 2006, when it and two neighboring structures on the parcel from Washington Street to Southeastern Avenue were leveled. The former site in the 1200 block of E. Washington Street is now an empty lot waiting for new development. (Google Street View, 2009)

With the current trend of 1930s-style bars and Prohibition-era cocktails (1933 Lounge, Ball and Biscuit, Libertine), it is exciting to find historic images from an Indianapolis tavern and restaurant shortly after the ban on selling alcohol was lifted. Where did your family hang-out during Prohibition? Share your stories and photos with us!

[Would you like to see your old photographs featured in this Then and Now column? If so, attach a high resolution jpeg or png and any details about the building within our “Say Hi” link in the footer of our website.]


8 responses to “Then and Now: Fox’s Jail House Restaurant, 1205-13 E. Washington Street”

  1. Leslie says:

    What a fascinating bit of history. I both love to read these and hate to read these, knowing that all these wonderful bits of history have been torn down. What a cool place and I love that they had their own bowling alley too. Thanks for the post!

  2. KurtL says:

    I hear they are brewing Falls City beer again down in Louisville. Just no distribution outside of town.

    As far as where my family hung out during Prohibition, my mother’s side of the family didn’t do alcohol, so it wasn’t speakeasies where they might have been found. My father was too young to remember, so most of those stories weren’t bandied about when I was a child. Still, I imagine my paternal grandfather knew where to get a drink (in Terre Haute), though I doubt he would have frequented the “Rod & Gun Club”, which was miles north of where he lived.

  3. Robert R Bass Jr. says:

    My maternal grandfather, Clarence Myers. Was a silent partner with Fox and Hunt and was their bookkeeper and accountant until his death which i think was in 1953 when he was 73.. I spent a lot of time at Fox-Hunt bowl when I was little.

  4. Joan Hostetler says:

    Robert…I love it when people can share personal stories about these sites. Do have have any photographs of the business or partners? Did Clarence Myers live near the bowling alley? Was Fox’s Steak Houses still there then?

  5. Donna Winsted says:

    My family lived in Chicago during prohibition – right in the thick of things!!!! I missed all the good stuff, however, because I wasn’t born until 1940!

    BTW – there was a car dealership at 819 E Washington St and they had a catchy radio ad:

    Foxworthy Ford just can’t be beat,
    819 E Washington St

    As soon as I saw that the Fox Jail House restaurant gave away Fords, I wondered if the dealership might have been owned by one of the Fox family.

    Great article!

  6. Miriam says:

    My mother (born in 1928) says she has/had a picture of her as a little girl with a cup of home brew. She also remembers someone in her family making dandelion wine during prohibition.

  7. Joe Ogle says:

    Thank you so much for this retrospective. Frank Fox was my great-grandfather, Lawrence (Larry) Fox was my grandfather. The first restaurant (the Mary Lou Lunch Room) was named for my mother.

    Frank was barely a first generation US-born member of a Prussian immigrant family that first settled in the Four Corners area of Jennings County (I say “barely” first generation as his father, Peter J. Fox, was born a mere 8 months before he and his family arrived in 1847). The family relocated to Indianapolis sometime around 1890.

    The restaurant and bowling alley closed down soon after my grandmother’s death in 1962.

    Thanks again for posting this!

  8. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    This is what is so great about H.I. –How did you come across this article, Joe? Do you have any other photos of the restaurant or the family? So glad to hear from you!

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