Florida Keys News
Saturday, August 10, 2013
Father and son team buy Duval St. nightclub Aqua

A popular Duval Street nightclub is scheduled to change hands on Aug. 26, when Jill McDonald and Sandy Thomas sell Aqua to the father-son team of Michael and Kimball Ingram.

Any time a popular spot in Key West changes hands, particularly a popular bar, eyebrows furrow as locals and visitors cast a wary eye toward the new owners, almost daring them to change anything.

But the Ingrams are hardly newcomers to Key West, and Aqua's fiercely loyal clientele has nothing to fear, Kimball Ingram said Friday.

"We're not buying a business, we're gaining a family," he said of the bar's close-knit staff of about 15 that includes bartenders, cocktail servers, karaoke emcees, managers, doormen and drag queens. "All of the good parts of Aqua will stay the same."

In announcing the pending sale, McDonald described the bar as a "space that locals and tourists alike could come to, enjoy, make new friends, catch up on the local rumor mill, laugh, celebrate, unwind -- and one some occasions, cry and lean on each other."

She released on Thursday a letter of thanks to the Key West community that embraced her and her business 12 years ago -- and to the Aqua staff that made it all possible.

Vowing to maintain their home in Key West, McDonald said it was time to "hang up her nightclub shoes" and welcome the next endeavor, whatever it may be.

[Michael and Kimball] plan on keeping Aqua the same, but will have the fresh energy to take it to the next level," McDonald wrote. "Please welcome them with the same support we have enjoyed from this incredible community."

Kimball Ingram worked as general manager of Aqua in 2011, having returned to Key West in 2010 after managing hotels for a decade in England.

"Jill and Sandy have put together a group of people who aren't simply employees, they're my friends," he said.

Local architect and former guesthouse owner Michael Ingram has been an active community member and businessman since arriving in Key West more than 20 years ago.

He co-owns mbi/k2m architectural firm and owned and operated Alexander's guesthouse on Fleming Street for more than 10 years, Kimball said of his father.

"Dad and I will be co-owners of Aqua, but I'll be running the day-to-day operation. Aqua will be my thing," said Kimball, who also works for Doug Mayberry Real Estate as a member of the sales team and manager of the company's vacation rentals.

Those day-to-day operations at Aqua will continue to include nightly drag shows.

"The shows are great and will absolutely remain," Kimball said Friday, also emphasizing Aqua's continuing support of local charities as a venue for various fundraising events.

He said he is planning some changes to increase crowds during happy hour.

"We're also going to get the Back Bar fixed up and use it as a venue," he said, referring to the little-known outdoor courtyard behind Aqua. "It's a fantastic space, and just needs a little love and attention."

Ongoing charity events such as Dancing with the Conchs and Aqua Idol also will continue, he said.

"My dad and I agree that Aqua is one of the last vestiges of that community and family spirit on Duval Street," he said. "Aqua, 801 and Bourbon Street embody the local spirit of this community and we wouldn't do anything to diminish what Jill and Sandy have created."

McDonald invited the community to stop by Aqua, 711 Duval St., on Aug. 26 to celebrate her last day as a nightclub owner.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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