The Reserve offers something for everybody — especially the creative-minded.
Sarasota is proud of its reputation as an arts community. But along with museums and galleries, any good arts community needs good hangouts.
Cafés, bookstores and coffee shops add a rich dimension to the cultural tapestry of any sophisticated town.
The Reserve is a combination of all three. Actually, it’s more. Strictly speaking, it’s a coffee house, wine bar, bookshop, market, tasting room and an outdoor performance space. There’s a lot going on there. And people definitely hang out.
On any given day, you might find a cluster of theater people discussing their next play. A writer silently working on the great American novel while savoring an espresso. A lively book club, sipping wine and discussing Jonathan Franzen’s latest tome.
Toward dusk, you might see a hard-working band setting up for the night’s jam. If it’s open mic night, a comedian might be polishing her jokes.
The action unfolds in three redwood buildings surrounding a brick courtyard strung with lights. The place has a homey feel for good reason. All three structures used to be apartments. Until about two years ago, they were vacant, neglected and ready for demolition. But two creative people had other plans.
This all-purpose watering hole is the brainchild of Jessica Simmons and Kim Cressell, partners in business and life. What inspired them to create it?
“We’ve had our eyes on this property for a long time,” says Simmons. “We’d lived on the North Trail for about 20 years, and drove by it constantly. Those big, red houses intrigued us. We kept asking ourselves, ‘What is this place?’ One day, we finally said, ‘OK. Let’s take a look and find out the story behind it.’”
They stopped, took a look, and liked what they saw. In September 2016, they bought the property. The place that caught their fancy was now theirs. And they knew exactly what to do with it.
The couple shared the same vision. Instead of specializing, they wanted to create the Swiss army knife of hangouts. Their new venture would offer something for everyone.
This eclectic concept reflects the minds of its eclectic owners.
“I’m a journalism major,” says Cressell. “Jessica loves coffee, and we both love craft beers, wine and music. We always wanted to roll these things into one and make a gathering space for the community.”
The Reserve opened its doors in January 2017. And, in less than two weeks, it became a popular new hang out. Suddenly, the place was hopping with students and professors from the nearby campuses of New College and Ringling College; musicians and music fans, who occasionally trade places from stage to audience; and people of all ages and background. They were there for the books, the coffee and the outstanding wine and craft beer offerings. It’s a loyal clientele of all ages, origins and attitudes.
“Our demographic is everybody,” laughs Simmons. “The diversity here is amazing.” She points to a young mother reading a storybook to her young toddler at one of the outside tables, “As you can see, we’re popular with young readers,” she says. “The man right next to them just turned 100 — he’s one of our regulars. We’re proud to be one of the few places in town where age, color and social status are a delicious mix.”
Other customers drop in from all over the country and stay awhile at one of their five on-site vacation rental suites. The cool, bed-and-breakfast vibe is a big part of the appeal. Location is also important. Sarasota’s downtown art venues are just a short drive away.
The Reserve’s outdoor stage is a magnet for performers both local and national. These include Chris Kottke and his sizzling jazz trio; Motown artist Brenda Watty (of the Marvellettes and the Toys); Zen Seraphin (aka Zoe and Sammy Warren), a worldbeat duo famed for sizzling electric violin; and Amanda Abizaid, a Grammy-nominated singerand songwriter from Los Angeles.
The Reserve also nurtures budding local talent. These emerging artists include banjo-player Brett Anderson, who now plays with his brother in an alt-country band called (what else?) Brother Brother; and Sky Stahlmann, a prodigal young singer and keyboard artist, who is studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Cressell is chiefly responsible for this stellar sonic selection, though it’s a collaborative process with Simmons. She insists on saying “we.”
“We find the musicians and the musicians find us,” she says.
Simmons adds that it’s a grassroots process. “Each band recommends another band, and the circle keeps growing.”
Cressell and Simmons personally curate their wine selection. (“We open and taste a bottle of everything we offer.”) Joe Huneau, their bookseller, carefully curates their exquisitely hip book selection. He enjoys engaging with customers, sharing tales of favorite books—and taking notes for new ones they suggest.
“Supporting the arts means bringing in artists,” explains Simmons. “It also means creating a space for art lovers. We try to offer both. We currently have book clubs, poetry readings, and meet-ups of every kind. Along with our live concerts, we also encourage performers with our open mic nights — and a woman is working on her poetry upstairs as we speak.”
Their biggest challenge?
“That’s obviously the ongoing work on the roundabout at 14th St and U.S. 41,” says Cressell. “We support the project—and we’ve worked closely with everyone involved to make the process as painless as possible. In the meantime, we try to educate our neighbors and customers on how to get here and where to park.”
Their biggest joy?
“The people,” says Simmons. “Since we opened this place, we’ve met so many interesting neighbors, performers, customers and writers. It’s a fascinating cross-section of humanity — and they come to us! What could be better?”
“Our lives are so much richer than before,” adds Cressell. “We wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
That says it all. But one last question …
Did they ever find out the story behind these big, red buildings?
Simmons smiles. The discovered it was Charles Ringling’s original residence. Legend has it, they were used as a boarding house for circus artists — and then a brothel.
“There’s a very colorful history here,” laughs Cressell. “We hope to add some history of our own in the years ahead!”