Special Features — 02 July 2015
Can old Hollywood beach survive the new?

By Eric Barton

There’s a gray storm cloud dead-center in the sky when Patrick Farnault walks out of the restaurant he owns on Hollywood Beach. The cloud looks like it doesn’t belong, like a foul brush stroke on a watercolor otherwise full of pastels.

“I would like to offer you dessert, but I should warn you,” Farnault says with a French accent that reveals his childhood in Paris. “I can always offer you a table inside, but it is going to rain.”

A man can have such certainty about beach weather when he has spent as much time on the sand as Farnault, who has owned Sugar Reef Grill on the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk for 21 years now. He has watched approaching squalls and front lines and showers that seem to appear out of nowhere. But more than anything, he has seen lots of sun.

“It has been very good being here on the beach,” Farnault says. “The main thing is to be consistent, to be good consistently, and if you can do that, you will have clientele who are loyal.”

Things are changing, though, on the beach. This summer, the massive new Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort will become the new headliner, equivalent of a Publix in a shopping center, Jerry Seinfeld at a comedy club, Cirque du Soleil in Vegas.

Just like that, a beach that has largely stayed unchanged for a half century will likely see development on every block. The low-rise apartments, hotels and restaurants could, in just a few years, all become something more like Margaritaville.

“It’s the beginning of the end, maybe,” Farnault says. “I don’t know if you know what I mean by that. It’s not a bad thing, but the beach the way it is now, much of it is going to change.”

For now, Hollywood Beach is still a place unlike any stretch of sand in South Florida, maybe anywhere in the state. It’s, more than anything, a place for everybody. Forget the glamour of Miami Beach, the pretension of Palm Beach, or the party atmosphere of Fort Lauderdale Beach.

Here, families from the Midwest share a four-person bicycle and pedal down the Broadwalk as a zillionaire jogs past in the other direction. Barefooted locals of every age sport board shorts and straw hats, while eastern Europeans in striped tracksuits toke on the end of a hookah at an outdoor cafe. It’s all this and every other kind of person, in a place where nobody is judged for their exposed belly or the mismatched paint on their toes.

The uniqueness of Hollywood Beach will remain after the new development comes, promises Patty Asseff, a city commissioner. She’s having lunch one afternoon at one of those consistently good spots, the Ocean Alley Restaurant (which has a burger that will offer stiff competition to anything at Margaritaville). A Chicago native, Asseff has been in Hollywood for 48 years now. She first wanted to get into politics back in 2000, when she and a friend would take morning walks along the Broadwalk. They’d spend the entire time talking about how the beach could be spruced up.

“Back then, owners along the Broadwalk didn’t paint. There just wasn’t much upkeep on anything,” she recalls.

So the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency began to help storefronts look pretty. They offered loans to business owners willing to put money into new fascia, entire rehabs, or sometimes just a coat of paint.

Now, there’s no doubt Margaritaville is something bigger and fancier than anything before it on the beach. On the resort’s website, developers describe Margaritaville as “inspired by the lyrics and lifestyle” of singer Jimmy Buffett. It’ll have 17 stories, 349 guest rooms, and a garage with 1,000 parking spots. Rooms start at $259. At the top of the $147 million project will be two penthouses, the Jimmy Buffett Suite and the Coral Reefer Suite, where one, to paraphrase Buffett’s lyrics, can piss away enough money to buy Miami.

“It’s a movement,” Asseff says. “Margaritaville will be the catalyst that will bring Hollywood Beach into, I’m going to say, into this century.”

In the short term, Hollywood Beach businesses are expecting to see spillover traffic from Margaritaville. Debra Case, owner of Ocean Alley, figures people staying at Margaritaville won’t eat at the hotel every meal. They’ll stumble into mainstays like GG’s, The Taco Spot, or Le Tub, where many have listed the burger among the best in the world. Or maybe they’ll head to Taverna Opa and eat fried cheese with locals, before jumping up on the tables and throwing napkins everywhere, because that’s what you do after shots of ouzo.

The thing that the beach will lose when all the new development comes, long-time resident Joe Joynt says, is its originality. You can’t create a place as eclectic as this. “Right now, Hollywood Beach is a true Margaritaville. It’s the one Jimmy Buffett sang about, not the one they’re trying to create in a resort.”

For now, at least for a while, both versions of Margaritaville are still there along the Broadwalk. Farnault, he’s getting ready for the new version. This fall, he will do a complete rehab of his restaurant, getting rid of the beachy vibe and replacing it with a more modern feel.

Regulars will still recognize most of his menu, though. Maybe his most popular item, a Caribbean pork dish with brown gravy and mash, he tried to take off the menu a couple years ago. He was just getting tired of it and tried a couple of different versions. Regulars rebelled. “People just want things to remain the way they know them,” he says.

Not long after Farnault predicted the rain cloud, the sky opened up. Raindrops big enough to each fill a shot glass started pelting the sand, then the Broadwalk, and finally the tables in front of the Sugar Reef. The sky turned black, and all those tourists ran for it.

Then, just minutes after it seemed like the night was ruined, the gray cloud passed over. The sky turned back to pinks and purples and the last bit of sunlight appeared.

After a moment of darkness, Hollywood Beach was back to life.

 

If You Go

Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort

Opening this summer, this paradise for Parrotheads, as Jimmy Buffett fans are called, is already taking reservations. Expect a massive pool area themed like a private Caribbean island and a cheeseburger worthy of song.

1111 N. Ocean Drive, Hollywood, 954-874-4444, margaritavilleresorts.com.

 

Sugar Reef Grill

Classic dishes locals can recall from the ’90s remain on the menu, along with simply prepared grilled fish cooked over flame. Maybe the best part, though, is the view – where else in South Florida can you eat well right on the beach?

600 N. Surf Road, Hollywood, 954-922-1119, sugarreefgrill.com.

 

Le Tub

A restaurant largely constructed of driftwood might not seem like the kind of place for world-class cuisine, but the burger here often ends up on lists of the best anywhere. It’s a simple affair, with clams and chicken sandwiches served on plastic plates and get-it-yourself water from a jug. But views of the Intracoastal and that incredible cheeseburger make this casual spot something special.

1100 N. Ocean Drive, 954-921-9425, theletub.com.

 

Ocean Alley Restaurant

900 N. Broadwalk, Hollywood, FL 33019

954-921-6171, oceanalley.net.

 

GG’s Waterfront Bar and Grill

606 N. Ocean Drive, Hollywood, 954-929-7030, ggswaterfront.com.

 

The Taco Spot

1500 N. Broadwalk, Hollywood, 954-921-7711, thetacospothollywood.com

Taverna Opa

410 N. Ocean Drive, Hollywood, 954-929-4010, tavernaopa.com.

 

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