This piece is part of a series of articles submitted to The Local Tourist through a cooperation with a 400-level travel writing class at Purdue University.
By Olivia Van Zelst
When I walked into Harry’s Chocolate Shop in West Lafayette, Indiana, my shoes stuck to the old black and white tile floor.
It’s just part of the price you pay to experience a piece of Purdue University cultural history.
There’s a lot of tradition in this corner building near Purdue’s campus. Harry’s opened in 1919 and still stands as the most popular hangout for both students and alumni.
It was a Friday night around 8 p.m. and I was lucky enough to snag a booth with a view of all the students and alumni tumbling in throughout the night.
On the weekends, this bar gets full to the point where you are forced to converse with the stranger you are smushed up next to. The bar gets so packed that on game days, I have seen people paying others in booths just for their table.
This is what makes it such a lively place.
Related: Find more things to do in West Lafayette, Indiana
Since we only had three people at a large booth, people asked to sit at the other half, which is totally normal at this bar. It can be fun as well because people will invite you to join their card games or conversation.
This leads to conversations and new friends just because you offered a small portion of your table.
As I sat with my mom and uncle in a booth conversing and people watching, I decided to get up and make my way to the bar to order a drink. They came with me and we happened to run into the current owner, Herschel E. Cook. My uncle recognized him and we got to talking.
He was so casual with the conversation and was telling us how business was going like we were buddies. He is a pretty popular man here, so he had to run off pretty quickly after talking to us to catch up with everyone in the bar.
Herschel was obviously not the first owner, but he knows a lot about the history behind Harry’s Chocolate Shop.
I learned the restaurant, “The Sweet Shop,” was originally located in Purdue’s Memorial Union, serving very similar items as Harry’s. But there was some serious competition between them.
Therefore, in 1932, the first owner, Harry, Sr., obtained one of the first One Way Permits, and he replaced his ice cream with beer to make their shop different and better than the Sweet Shop in the Union.
Since no hard alcohol was allowed, due to prohibition, but was desired, Harry’s opened a Speakeasy in an area directly under the bar.
The hidden location exists today. When I was sitting back in the booth, I was there just at the right time.
I saw a bartender open a secret underground ladder and walk underneath into the basement, where no one other than workers are allowed to enter today. He came up with a bunch of boxes filled with more bottles; I was so eager to peak down there, but there was no room to see.
You can also catch a glimpse of the history in the decorations when you walk into the bar. The shop has signed black and white photos of celebrities hanging on the walls and names carved into almost every wall and table of the bar.
Each time I visit, I see something I have not noticed before, whether it’s a silly carving on the wall or an old picture of the regulars from 50 years ago. Since my parents also attended Purdue, it is fun to search for their names carved in the table.
We all got hungry as the night went on, so we decided to order some snacks for the table.
The menu consists of many small bites, sandwiches, salads, soups, and much more. They are known for their special chili and also make their own seasoning for Harry’s fresh-made potato chips.
As far as drinks, they have almost everything. This includes pitchers, drafts, domestic cans, specialty and imports, and non-alcoholic beverages as well. My personal favorites are Harry’s chips, fried banana peppers, and a John Daly beverage, which tastes like an Arnold Palmer, so this is what we got.
Lastly, since it is so historical, as tempting as it is, I warn you not to take videos or try to sign the walls, or else you will be quickly escorted out. The wall outside of Harry’s is a very well-known photo area if you are looking to take some. Also, be sure to check out the secret menu before attending for some unique and quirky drinks.
After having a long night at Harry’s Chocolate Shop, we decided to get our check and head out, while other people’s nights were just beginning. That is what is so great about Harry’s.
Harry’s Chocolate Shop is located at 329 W State Street, West Lafayette, Indiana