Sandbar renovation serves up history
LOUISE BOLGER | SUN
Sandbar Manager Joe Rogers with the wall
of wine that divides the bar and main restaurant.
In 1911 it was a common site to see ladies in their long dresses, large hats and parasols parading down Pine Avenue from the Anna Maria City Pier where they disembarked from their steamers from Tampa or St. Petersburg. Their destination was a meeting place on the beach called The Pavilion, and incredibly more than 100 years, later that same spot in the sand remains one of Anna Maria Island’s favorite meeting places.
Ed Chiles had a love affair with Anna Maria Island dating back to fond memories of family vacations. In 1979, he purchased the Sandbar restaurant a location that had gone through many incarnations from its original days as an unassuming bathhouse. Through the years, Chiles made additions and improvements to the original building but it was inevitable that the Sandbar would eventually need a total renovation.
That day came in 2011 when the Sandbar was rebuilt from the sand up. According to Joe Rogers, the Sandbar’s manager, and Caryn Hodge, the marketing director for the Chiles Restaurant Group, the renovation had to meet a standard of authenticity that would honor and reflect the history of the property as well as embracing the future.
Rogers says the “old beach house look” was achieved with a combination of wood salvaged from piers on the Island, including the old city pier, which are now part of the bar and booth seating area; indoor table tops that have a driftwood-like finish; and a bar top that was custom designed with terrazzo emulating original flooring in many of the Island’s beach houses as well as other refined beachy touches.
The one addition that brings us into the 21st century is the cleverly conceived wine wall, which serves as both a divider between the bar and main restaurant and a display of popular wines.
The exterior deck that sits right on the wide beach also got a makeover in recent years with the addition of a third awning, providing even more shade, in addition to tables with umbrellas, fans and heaters in winter. The deck is on two levels, allowing for everyone to get a view of the water, and for the quintessential beach feel, ask for one of the toes in the sand tables.
But what really draws people to the Sandbar is the food. Joe Rogers says the Sandbar menu is continually evolving in an effort to introduce new types of food to its customers. The emphasis is always fresh local fish like grouper, snapper, mullet and Bottarga mullet roe used for flavoring prepared in a variety of ways, but he and his staff are always looking for innovative dishes to add.
Some of the recent additions are snapper collars, swordfish ribs, fish meatballs and healthy side dishes of kale, quinoa and lentils. The kids menu also has several healthy choices, and of course, the traditional beach burgers and the Sandbar’s famous grouper sandwiches are always available. In addition, the Sandbar has switched to organic greens that Rogers indicates have a fresher and better overall taste.
The Sandbar has a full bar in addition to featuring over 90 wines with traditional and local selections, including Lola, and many frozen drinks. There are few better views than from a barstool at the Sandbar looking out the enormous windows to the beach. In fact, according to Rogers, the large windows in the main dining room and comfortable renovation have made eating inside not just an after-thought, but a destination for diners.
Their Sunday Jazz Brunch between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. has been an enormous success, and sunsets continue to be an event with a bottle of champagne to the patron who guesses the right time. The Sandbar’s Wedding Pavilion has drawn raves from brides who want a real beach wedding. And don’t forget to get your Sandbar T-shirt, recognized all over the country, in the shop where you can also pickup casual dresses, hats and souvenirs.
What Chiles and his staff have done at the Sandbar will maintain the historic integrity of the Sandbar for generations to come. There are still plenty of ladies parading along Pine Avenue, but now thanks to a well thought out restoration effort, there is lots more to keep them interested during their walk.
Of course, the grand prize at the end of Pine Avenue is still the beach with the iconic Sandbar restaurant overlooking the glittering waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Like Joe Rogers says, “This is why we’re here.”
SANDBAR SEAFOOD & SPIRITS
100 Spring Avenue
11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted
Valet parking available nightly