You might say that the history of this restaurant goes back to 1660, though that would be a bit of a stretch. But The Fort is named for the real fort that John Pynchon built that year, on what is now the site of the restaurant, to defend the fledgling city of Springfield. The old fort stood here until 1831. In 1935 the Student Prince Café opened, offering German food and displaying 20 steins at the bar; they became the core of the large collection to be seen at the bar today. The Fort's dining room, with stained glass windows made by German artisans, opened in 1946. In 1949 Rupprecht Scherff came to work at the Student Prince, and 12 years later he became the restaurant's owner.
The Scherff family still operates the restaurant, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. Classic dishes like sauerbraten, sausage and wienerschnitzel, the favorite of current owner Rudi Scherff, are the stock-in-trade of this restaurant. Meat is cut in-house. Desserts such as strudel and tortes—including the "Midnight Moonlight" cake, a chocolate and vanilla confection with mousse filling—are made by the restaurant's own pastry chef.
The Fort/ Student Prince is a comfortable place for intimate meetings and for large parties. The recession has made some changes, though not deep ones, in the current operations of the restaurant, Scherff said. "The higher-end steaks are slow," he explained. "People will order one drink instead of two. But if you've got people in the seats, you can keep it open." The Fort has long been famous as a meeting place for local movers and shakers, and still is; said Scherff, "We get all the pols." As the city's fortunes go up and down, as what's outside the doors changes, the restaurant stays the same. There's always the comfort of the dining room, the charm of the stained glass windows, the coziness of the bar with its stein collection, the in-house butchering and baking. In this world apart, politicians have collaborated for better or for worse, and generations have celebrated the milestones of their lives. The Fort is a comfort zone in the city, a warm place that draws people in from the cold.