First Look: Boathouse Winter Park and Drake's Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

boathouse_motors
Canoes and old outboard motors decorate the new Boathouse restaurant in Winter Park.
Craig Tremblay and his crew are putting the final touches on the new restaurant and bar at the confluence of Fairbanks, Orange and Pennsylvania Avenues. The restaurant will be called the Boathouse, and the bar is Drake’s.

Old-timers will remember this spot as the home of another restaurant and bar combination: Harper’s Tavern and Le Cordon Bleu. Harpers was one of the oldest bars in the region, including a history as a speakeasy during Prohibition. Le Cordon Bleu was one of the few fine-dining restaurants in Central Florida, a place to get dressed up for a fancy French meal. Both businesses had an abrupt end in 1996 when a fire gutted the structure. Following restoration, new businesses occupied the space -- including, in 2002, one called Harper’s Tavern and Grill, that was nothing but a disappointment. The following year it became Coyote Grill and Sports Bar. Most recently it was an O’boys barbecue restaurant.

Tremblay is trying both to recreate the old Harper’s atmosphere and reinvent it. For starters, he has re-closed walls that had been removed to open the bar and restaurant into one big space. The separate names for the two entities will also reinforce that idea, although technically both will operate under the same license.

The Reason Restaurants are So Loud

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Science has finally solved the question regarding why restaurants are so loud. For years it was conjectured that restaurants turned up the music and removed noise absorbers to create a sense of conviviality and fun. Anyone walking into a loud restaurant, it was believed, was likely to think that everyone there was having a good time, and therefore it must be a great restaurant. Now this article from Scientific American (I told you it was about science) has the real answer: restaurants are noisy so you won't be able to taste the food! Shhhh, don't tell anyone. I SAID, DON'T TELL ANYONE.

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Johnson's Diner Closes

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Johnson’s Diner, the iconic southern soul food restaurant that attracted politicians and professional athletes, has closed. Orlando Sentinel reporter Sandra Pedicini wrote about the closing in an online post today. The restaurant has had financial woes in the years since it moved from a cramped, low occupancy space near the old Orlando arena to a newer, larger building near where the new arena just opened. In 2008, owner Clarence Taylor III ran into trouble with the Florida Department of Revenue for nonpayment of sales taxes. The closing comes after the Church Street building’s owner began eviction procedures for nonpayment of rent.

It’s odd that the restaurant was unable to continue and pay its bills at a time when other restaurants on Church Street are praising the opening of the arena as the beginning of a new era of prosperity. According to the story, the construction of the arena hindered traffic to the restaurant, which resulted in decreased revenues. But one has to wonder, when considering the past financial trouble, if it’s just a case of substandard business acumen.

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Antonio's La Fiamma Adding Bar/Balcony Space

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Following the news that one local Italian restaurant, Bergamo’s, has closed after 20 years comes news that another is celebrating its double decade mark with an expansion. And it’s one that the naysayers were surmising wouldn’t make it to its first anniversary because it started too expansive.

Antonio’s La Fiamma is undergoing construction that will increase the size of the upstairs bar area and add a balcony overlooking Lake Lilly. When it opened, in 1990, industry insiders were whispering about the folly of owner Greg Gentile. Gentile had taken a one-story steakhouse and added a second level, an expensive renovation that most said could not be profitable unless the restaurant was always full. Everyone thought Gentile was nuts. The downstairs became a market and deli and the upstairs was a full-service Italian restaurant. The fact that it had something for everyone meant that more people were likely to dine there, whether they wanted something casual or a more formal meal. The restaurant was always full. And Gentile also instituted a policy that allowed folks eating in the deli area to purchase a bottle of wine from the market and enjoy it with no corkage fee. He sold a lot of wine.

And he showed the naysayers a thing or two. Success is always a satisfying revenge.

So then, about the addition...how many seats will he add? Zero. That’s right, he’s going to the trouble and expense to add a balcony with no net gain in seating, also known in the business as how you make money. Gentile’s response: “We’re just going to make the seats we’ve already got better.”

I’d say the man is nuts, but I know better.

Gentile hopes to have the new space open the first week of December.

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