When the architect of the new microbrewery, Amelia Tavern, messages and asks if you would like a behind the scenes tour of the building, the answer is a resounding YES. For what seems like years there have been quiet rumblings and rumors on the island about the possibility of a microbrewery opening in the building where O’Kane’s Irish Pub was once housed. The rumors were that the building was condemned and had to be completely torn down. There were rumors that the operators traveled to Chicago to learn the ins and outs of brewing. There were rumors that a likeness of Johnny Miller wearing a crown and riding a Sea Turtle would adorn one of the brews appropriately named “Crunchy Granola Mayor’s Pale Ale”. That last one may have been a rumor that I started. Anyhow.
The real story of the Amelia Tavern is fascinating and once opened, will no doubt be a highlight of gastro-brew goodness on Amelia. To begin with Roberto, THE Roberto of famed Espana is the chef. The menu, while I was privy to some insight, remains top secret but rumor has it the offerings will be gourmet burgers, pierogies, and items of that nature with what is sure to be Roberto’s signature style of the freshest ingredients perfectly paired and presented with simplicity and mind-blowing flavor combinations. The kitchen was designed with much input from Roberto and is, well, huge and really impressive to put it in the most simplistic terms. To say that I am excited to taste Roberto’s menu is a vast understatement. Al Waldis and TJ Pelletier, both of the Salty Pelican are the masterminds behind the brewing operation. They did in fact go to Chicago to learn the art of small batch brewing.
While I am clearly excited about the food and brew, the really special part of this behind the scenes tour with Benjamin Morrison, the architect, was the building and design. While the date of the original structure is not known, they do know that it was close to 1900. When it was purchased for this project, they found that it was far too structurally unsound to move forward with repairs and use of that particular building so the decision was made to tear it down and start from the ground up with a new structure. It was very clear when I was speaking to Benjamin that much care was given to preserving as much of the historical integrity of the building as possible. The original bricks were stacked on pallets, hauled away, cleaned, and returned for use in the new structure. So all of the brick that you see in that building is original. Also original to the structure are the beams embedded above the rolling doors in front as well as the ornamental medallions also in front.
Inside, Benjamin teamed with Interior Designer Kristen Biagini to create a space that feels spacious, loft-like, and has the air of a refurbished carriage house or fire station with modern touches that are in just the right balance with the old. The sprawling bar with seating on three sides, as well as the vaulted, skylight ceiling above are clearly the centerpiece of the dining room. The floors are natural stone and the ceilings boast beautiful exposed beams. The credit for the quality of this stunning construction goes to Harvey Ward, the contractor for the project. And an additional and very important point is the exposed brewing equipment that will be housed behind glass so that operations can be viewed as patrons dine or drink.
This tavern should make Amelia Island proud. The care that was given to preserve the history of the building; a unique and innovative design that infuses the past in ways that marry so perfectly with the rest of our beautiful Centre Street. The culinary genius of one of this islands best chef’s paired with the prowess of two restaurant pros who clearly hit one out of the ballpark with the Salty Pelican are a sure win. I see this is a place that locals from both ends of the island as well as visitors will stop in to listen to live music, grab a cold one, and unwind from a day at the office or beach. I can see myself sitting on the open-air front patio area drinking my Johnny Miller beer and people watching on a lazy weekday afternoon. I predict that Amelia Tavern is going to be the social center of this island.
The plan is to open for business in March or April dependent on permitting and other final details. I would like to end this by saying thank you to the people involved in this project for so lovingly caring for our downtown. The building looks like it could have had horses parked in front 100 years ago and men in top hats sitting in tables smoking cigars. And women viewing the lovely happenings from the other side of the street as they would likely not have been allowed into such a business back in the day. Obviously it took a very special plan that involved people who clearly understand and have a heart for this island. So thank you. I look forward to enjoying this restaurant and microbrewery for many years to come. A very extra special thank you to Benjamin for inviting me to see this stunning building. Please make a point to visit Amelia Tavern as soon as it opens.
Oh, and Roberto…Maybe, just maybe consider adding a Scotch Egg to the appetizer menu? Please? For old time’s sake? 😉