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Arts and Entertainment Monday, Aug. 28, 2017 3 years ago

Beach Club Siesta Key celebrates 70 years

From rock stars to motorcycle rides, an iconic Siesta Key Village bar has seen it all.
by: Niki Kottmann Managing Editor of Arts and Entertainment

There’s one bar on Siesta Key that has truly seen it all.

Its customers over the years have included members of The Allman Brothers Band and one daring resident who once drove in on his motorcycle. Since 1947, The Beach Club has maintained its reputation as an icon of Siesta Key Village.

The bar and dance club will celebrate its 70th anniversary Sept. 2 with a full day of festivities, and there’s no shortage of folks who have seen how the club has changed over the years — while still maintaining the same boisterous spirit.

In 1946 the original building was constructed at 5151 Ocean Blvd. The club remains at the same address today, but what was once a cozy one-room watering hole with a few tables now boasts three bars, 20 TVs and a 400-square-foot dance floor.

Although it's switched ownership many times, The Beach Club has been a place to drink and listen to music for 70 years. Courtesy photo

The establishment opened in 1947 under the name of The J and K Beach Club for the same purpose it serves today: a place to grab a drink and listen to live music. A sign boasting the club’s air conditioning system hung above the entrance, and the phrase “finest cocktails and best choice of package goods” was painted on the exterior wall of the adjoining “package store,” AKA liquor store.

Gregg Chappell has lived on the Key since 1968, and for 15 years, he went to the “itty bitty” club for happy hour nearly every day. It’s where he sipped his first legal drink. It’s also where he once went off-roading in the ’70s.

“I asked the manager what she would do if I rode my motorcycle through the bar,” Chappell recalls. “She said she would give me a shot of tequila, so I drove right through the front door, stopped at the bar to take the tequila shot and went out through the back.”

Richard Dear frequented the bar throughout his 20s and 30s before owning it, and he recalls how it was divided into two sides throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Separated by a door, the “acid side” played new-age music like Nine Inch Nails, and the “original side” played classic rock and occasionally reggae.

The Beach Club also housed an adjoining liquor store next door for several decades. Courtesy photo

Both Chappell and longtime Siesta Key Village resident Marlene Merkle remember a time when the club had a dirt floor — but that didn’t take away from its popularity.

“It was always kind of like a ‘Cheers’ bar,” Merkle says. “I always know somebody in there.”

Dear says then-owners Ronald and Bruce Ruzgis gutted the whole building and raised the ceilings around 2002, which was helpful for tall bar-goers like Dear, who used to hit his head on the low-hanging ceiling beams while dancing.

In 2004, Dear bought the club from the Ruzgis, after the brothers had turned the club into a restaurant for a year. Dear was determined to restore the club to its former glory.

When it opened in 1947 The J and K Beach Club used to be a small room with just a few tables. Courtesy photo

“Seeing it turned into a restaurant crushed me,” he says. “I bought it at 10 a.m., and by 10:45 a.m., I took a sledgehammer to the place to turn it back into a bar.”

In 2006, Chris Brown bought The Beach Club from Dear. He and business partner Mike Granthon,  who previously ran the club with Dear,  added pool tables, TVs and a VIP area to what Granthon calls the village’s original live music venue.

Brown says the club is the oldest-standing bar that’s consistently had live entertainment in all of Sarasota County, and he thinks the fact that it has musical acts seven nights a week sets it apart.

Today, the club is better known for its late-night DJs, but its musical tradition will live on during the anniversary celebration event Sept. 2, when The Instigators, a reggae and blues band that used to play the club in the ’80s, will take the stage again.

Brown says buying the club was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Granthon agrees.

“This is kind of an institution,” he says. “It’s such a part of Siesta Key and Sarasota. It’s kind of neat to own a part of history.”

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