Florida Keys Business
Sunday, September 9, 2012
Croce dives into barbecue SUBHED: Still plenty of brotherly love to go around

He's not going to mess with the Parrot.

Such was the emphatic answer last week from three local managers of businessman Pat Croce's Key West establishments.

"Absolutely not," said Andy Ferguson, when asked whether Croce, who owns two-thirds of the cherished Green Parrot Bar and the soon-to-be Charlie Mac's barbecue joint next door, plans to change one of Key West's oldest and most fiercely protected drinking traditions.

"The only thing he's doing to the Parrot is adding a new liquor well, and all that'll do is make the bartenders' job easier and faster," said Ferguson, who has tended bar at the Parrot for years and recently bid farewell to the Hog's Breath Saloon after 16 years to become the assistant general manager of Charlie Mac's.

That said, Croce is making sweeping changes to the Parrot's next-door neighbor on Southard Street, where Charlie Mac's is slated to open later this month with "the best smoke in the Keys."

The former Philadelphia 76ers president also has overhauled the interior of his Rum Barrel restaurant and bar on Front Street to reflect Key West's diving history, both past and present.

Croce's pirate museum used to be next door to the Rum Barrel, where the piratical theme poured over. But he moved the museum to St. Augustine 2010 and recently decided to update the Rum Barrel into a "Keys dive bar," according to publicist Kari Cobham.

"We've done a complete rebranding and interior transformation from pirate tavern to a Key West 'dive' bar with an adventure diver feel," Cobham said.

The new motif includes historic diving artifacts on loan from the Florida Keys History of Diving Museum, as well as pieces of the world-famous Vandenberg wreck that became the world's second-largest artificial reef when it sank off Key West in May 2009.

Designers Mike Marrero and Marky Pierson of Art Space creative center also procured original antique movie posters showing the diving adventure movies of the 40s, 50s and 60s. Underwater shots of the Vandenberg by Don Kincaid now decorate the Rum Barrel, along with nautically themed murals by local artists.

"We really wanted to re-position it as more dive-centric," Marrero said, adding that he and Pierson have been working on the re-design for the past two months and are just about finished.

Croce's Philadelphia allegiance, though, is still evident in the Rum Barrel's bar, where Dr. J's autographed sneakers hang, along with a jersey from Allen Iverson.

The Rum Barrel's menu remains the same, offering classic American fare, with a bit of an island twist, said Pat Dunn, executive chef of both the Rum Barrel and Charlie Mac's.

Now on to the barbecue...

The much-anticipated Charlie Mac's barbecue, beer and burger joint at 404 Southard St. was named for Croce's two grandchildren, said JC Picco, general manager of Charlie Mac's and Rum Barrel.

"Everything in that building has changed completely," Picco said of the Southard Street property that will still feature an outdoor bar -- but with air-conditioning.

"There's not going to be another bar like it in Key West," said Marrero, who worked with Pierson on the design aspect there as well. "We've got vintage Key West bootlegging photos, and the original sign and awning from the old roller skating rink that was actually located on the same property back in the 50s or 60s."

Pierson said the pair worked hard to re-create an old and estalished feeling in the new building.

"It very much looks historic; like it's always been right there," Pierson said. "But they've basically knocked down and rebuilt the whole building in about 11 weeks."

The new restaurant will feature 24 draft beers, a full liquor bar, food til 3 a.m. on the weekends, take-out and delivery and a genuine smoker that can be smelled for blocks when it's in action, Ferguson said.

Dunn spent several weeks this summer in South Carolina, working and consulting with award-winning barbecue aficianado Beau Hammond, who owns Henry's Smokehouse in Greenville, S.C. Hammond also has come to Key West on consulting trips for the kitchen specifications.

"It's going to be a fusion of barbecue, with island favorites, such as Carolina red and mango jerk sauces," Dunn said.

Ferguson said he plans to keep the kitchen open until 3 a.m. on weekend nights when there's a band playing next door, and until midnight or 1 a.m. the rest of the week.

"It's going to be barbecue, beer, booze, burgers and other Key West classics," Picco said.

The guys, some of whom are Philly natives themselves, are clearly excited about the new venture on Southard Street -- but promised the old favorite would remain the same.


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