By Bruce Collier
Last February 13, around dawn, a fire consumed the Red Bar on Hotz Avenue in Grayton Beach. No one was injured, but what had been a local legend—bar, restaurant, music venue, curiosity shop, art gallery, and welcoming hangout for both locals and tourists—vanished. I didn’t feel inclined to go out and view the empty site, until just recently. The empty time has now passed.
After eight months of cleaning up, planning, and lots of this and that, ground was broken October 8 on what will be the Red Bar’s second iteration. I missed going in person to the event, but stopped by a few days later, mid-morning, to watch construction getting underway. There were trucks and machinery, ground had been cleared and leveled, and the area was cordoned off, but no workers were on site as yet.
Three tourists on bikes rolled up near where I was standing. One of them knew the Red Bar, and was showing the spot to others, who’d never seen it. He asked me if I knew the projected date of reopening. I told him I’d heard it would be Memorial Day, 2020 (got that from Facebook). After they left, two more people showed up, sending a drone aloft to hover over the site. Then a guy with several cameras hanging from him walked around the site, taking photos. There definitely was an air of expectation and anticipation.
The following day, I spoke on the phone with Red Bar co-owner and seasoned restaurant opener Oli Petit. He confirmed the projected opening date.
“There’s been just an amazing display of affection,” said Oli. “People have lots of memories…and now we are in opportunity mode.”
Oli lives near enough to the Grayton Beach neighborhood that he can visit the site frequently. The work is being done by Luke & Blue’s of Santa Rosa Beach. Oli speaks highly of the company’s owner, Deron Strickman, who is in charge of construction of the building. They will construct the outer building, then the Petits (Oli and brother Philippe) will take over on the inside.
Oli said that the “new” Red Bar will be “exact, to the inch,” like the old—dining room, bandstand, bar, windows, heights, doors all the same—except there will be some changes and improvements to the kitchen and bathrooms.
In the kitchen, the old structure—first built in 1939, then added on to over the decades—had different levels and some awkward spaces for cooking purposes. That’s all being cleaned up, expanded and streamlined, with fewer walls and closets.
As for the bathrooms, there’s even more good news. The men’s room will now have two stalls, and the ladies room will have four stalls. The ladies room will be nearer the deck. “We’re pushing farther south,” said Oli.
Regular customers of the Red Bar are no doubt wondering about the signature eclectic interior decor, which simply had to be seen to be appreciated or described. There were album covers, movie, sports and concert posters, photographs of the famous and the completely anonymous, musical instruments, lamps and toys, and assorted oddities. Procurement was the province of Oli and his father—“We were like American Pickers, that’s us.” Oli will be in charge this time around as well.
At the time of the fire, they had a 900-square-foot warehouse stocked with all manner of items, posters, memorabilia, etc. Over the years, they had made “continuous improvements” to the interior, replacing things that were old, worn out, damaged or occasionally “disappeared.”
Oli will access the warehouse, and continue to collect, buy and curate. Though he and his dad did the collecting together, Oli alone puts it up.
“No one touches it but me,” he said. “If they do, they’ll hear about it.”
Members of the Red Bar fan base have been donating and contributing, too. “They want to be part of it,” said Oli. “There will be so many cool things. It’s going to make people smile.”
There are no changes planned for the menu, which will offer their classic items—steaks, pork, fish, chicken. They may add some new things, but are not reinventing the culinary wheel. The apple dumpling is expected to return, as well.
Of course, there will be live music, as always, with the bandstand where it was before. “[Customers] can absolutely expect to see what was taken…we have the same desire to continue what we started, but with even more motivation,” said Oli.
The Red Bar will be located at the same address, 70 Hotz Avenue in Grayton Beach. For updates on progress, go to theredbar.com and link to the live Red Bar web cam.