By Rebecca Cahilly-Taranto
City & Shore Dining Writer
“People thought we were crazy,” Marc Falsetto says. “Six years ago there was nothing like this here. They told us, ‘Nobody in Fort Lauderdale wants artisan burgers, craft beers or bourbon.’ But we did it. [And] it’s been a home run ever since.”
Seated on a Chesterfield sofa in Apothecary 330, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar hidden at the rear of PizzaCraft, Falsetto takes a sip of his coffee. It’s 10 a.m., and the restaurants of Himmarshee – his restaurants – are coming to life.
As the co-founder of JEY (Just Enjoy Yourself) Hospitality Group, Falsetto with partner Charles Hazlett and corporate chef Robbyns Martinez are largely credited with elevating the dining scene along Second Street in Himmarshee Village in downtown Fort Lauderdale with their single-cuisine concepts: Rok:Brgr, Himmarshee Public House, TacoCraft, PizzaCraft and Apothecary 330.
Falsetto, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, says he thought of the concept for Rok:Brgr while living in Miami and overseeing a restaurant he opened there.
“At the time Las Olas didn’t offer much,” he says, and Second Street’s once-bustling nightclub and bar scene had suffered in the mid-to-late 2000s with the opening of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.
“In any major city the downtown historic district flourishes. In Fort Lauderdale it was neglected. Nobody wanted to cross the tracks. But in this area you had the NSU Art Museum, the Riverwalk, the History Center and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The bones were there to create something cool.”
In 2010 Falsetto and JEY opened Rok:Brgr, a gastropub and gourmet burger bar featuring 17 signature burgers. Three years later the group turned the abandoned space on the corner of Southwest Second Street, just west of the railroad tracks, into the 5,000-square-foot American tavern and draft house Himmarshee Public House. By November 2014 they had unveiled TacoCraft, a high-energy taco concept tequila bar serving artisan tacos and 120 types of tequila. One year later, PizzaCraft, an artisanal pizzeria and cocktail bar, made its debut with one additional surprise concept: Apothecary 330, a cocktail club accessed through a hidden wall panel in the rear of the pizzeria.
“I’m a concept guy, a visionary, a creator,” Falsetto says. “Nightclubs are passé. Our audience of millennials and 30, 40 and 50-somethings are looking for more of an experience. Our food is chef-driven, more foodie-oriented, trendier than the corporate places you’ll find elsewhere. We’re pushing the envelope.”
Foodies will appreciate exotic options such as octopus or lobster tacos at TacoCraft or the selection of guanciale, prosciutto and other cured meats from PizzaCraft.
Each boutique restaurant has unique beverage offerings, from the homemade alcoholic popsicles and margaritas with house-made simple syrup at TacoCraft to absinthe served by the “bar chefs” at Apothecary 330 to craft and local beers on tap at Public House and Rok:Brgr.
“Fort Lauderdale is growing,” says Falsetto, citing the 2,500-seat concert venue and amphitheater planned for Esplanade Park. “We want to see artisan bakeries, more themed lounges and bars. We’ve transformed this street, and we’re going to keep going.”