Grand opening day approaches for The Hangout
Restaurant at public beach to open May 2
Monday, April 21, 2008
By RYAN DEZEMBER
GULF SHORES -- A year ago the privately owned land at the city's public beach, called Gulf Place, was a vacant plot cordoned by a chain-link fence -- looking much as it had since the last wind-blown buildings, tattered by 2004's Hurricane Ivan, were demolished.
As recently as January, all that marked the property were a few frayed palms and dozens of round wooden pilings.
Now, however, there is a swarm of activity as workers put the finishing touches on a 17,833-square-foot restaurant in advance of its planned May 2 opening.
Outside, palms and shrubs are being planted, a 6-foot-tall bamboo fence is going up around the perimeter, someone is heading up a lift to do something on the roof of the 50-foot tower that serves not only as The Hangout's signature sign at the intersection of Alabama 59 and the beach highway, but also as a stage and projection screen where surf movies -- think "Endless Sum mer" -- will loop at night.
Inside, a couple is fiddling with striped material that adorns the ceiling of the 2,500-square-foot in-house retail shop, someone else is on a ladder working with the exhaust system and there is what seems like an acre of tables and chairs clustered in the middle of the cypress-paneled main dining room.
The scale of The Hangout is grand. The ceiling fan that hangs over the central eating area is 26 feet in diameter and looks like it was swiped from a large helicopter. The historical photos that adorn the walls have been blown up to measure 8 feet by 10 feet.
When The Hangout opens it will seat 343 inside with room for hundreds more outside, said General Manager Tye Smith, whose business card calls him The Hangout's "mayor."
There, in the courtyard that will feature islands of tropical plantings, are three theme bars. One will be decorated in the tangerines and blues of the original Hangout, a haunt that occupied the property decades ago. Another will deal mostly in daiquiris. The third will be fashioned as a sort of VIP bar and serve top-shelf liquors, fine wines and appropriate pairings of cheese and fruit while being adorned in South Beach-style furnishings, Smith said.
The 20-foot stage, which is within the sign and below the projection screen, will host live music seven days a week, Smith said. In the southwest corner of the property a playground with a water feature and, of course, sand, is planned.
Besides a smattering of tables, the outside area will be outfitted with hammocks and Adirondack chairs, Smith said.
Describing the vibe the owners are going for, Smith said: "A nice beach with a three-ring circus."
To that effect he promises stilt-walkers, mimes and jugglers in the courtyard. Servers will dance and bar tenders will twirl their bottles and otherwise make a show of making a drink.
"There's always going to be entertainment going on at The Hangout."
And there will be food. The menu, Smith said, is the mid-century hot dog and hamburger fare of the original Hangout fused with fresh local seafood.
Originally, the plan was for the property to host a high-rise condo tower with shops and restaurants at its base and hidden public parking in its core.
That notion, born from the Envision Gulf Shores planning process that followed Hurricane Ivan, hasn't been discarded, but Shaul Zislin, the Florida businessman who heads the group of investors that owns the property, said any high-rise will have to wait until the market for resort real estate returns.
When he pitched his plans for The Hangout to the City Council last year, he said he merely wanted to do something on the property that would generate money to help finance its purchase while he waited for the condo market to come back.
Ernie Smith, the city's economic development director, has likened The Hangout to another Lulu's, Lucy Buffett's popular restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway. He has predicted that The Hangout's success will forestall any condo development there for years to come.
Tye Smith said that the restaurant's owners see the project as a spark that will help invigorate the market, that it will rekindle an interest in coming to the public beach and, perhaps, get people thinking about living there.