If you sit in the middle of the 500 block of New York Street in Hollywood Beach on a typical weekend afternoon, on one side you will see dancers jiggling the merengue, sangria flowing and crooners showcasing their Latin-singing chops. A shot of tequila here, a taco salad served there. The music is Latin and it’s often loud.
On the other side, less than a few feet away, another crowd spills out along the Broadwalk, mostly young and non-Latin, a beer-bucket and pizza throng, fixated on the music of Curbstone, a popular band that amps up the sound and the crowd with a lot of loud trop-rock and roll.
The dizzying blend of music on this stretch of the Broadwalk is an eclectic mix that mirrors the diverse population that visits, lives, vacations and parties in Hollywood.
But there’s a new kid in town — a new couple, actually — and they inadvertently launched a war on Hollywood Beach. A battle of the bands.
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Jake Gastorf, and his wife, Meghan — 20-something entrepreneurs from Napa Valley, Calif. — arrived on Hollywood Beach a year ago, with a lot of energy and big ideas. They bought an empty, musty hole-in-the-wall restaurant with a million-dollar ocean view. They named it “Jake’s on the Beach.”
At a time when restaurants are struggling or shuttering, within a year they had earned enough to renovate the place, hire a culinary chef, roll out a new menu, buy a liquor license and, they did it, they said, in part because they offer live entertainment nearly every day of the week, something that few restaurants on the beach do on a regular basis.
But that caused static with his neighbors at Mamacita’s Bar & Grill, a popular Mexican eatery that Jake’s shares a wall with. Mamacita’s doesn’t mix with rock and roll, so the owners turned up their volume. The police were summoned, businesses and residents complained.
The two restaurateurs pretty quickly signed a treaty of sorts and began taking turns — with Curbstone even giving an occasional shout-out to the Mamacita dancers, who line-dance on the Broadwalk.
The peace was short-lived, however. As the popularity of Jake’s grew, and the crowd along with it, a couple of more upscale restaurants a few blocks north began complaining that Aerosmith didn’t exactly sit well with their linen-table-cloth customers. Sugar Reef, the most upscale restaurant on the beach, said the music was giving their well-heeled patrons a headache.
The owner, Robin Seger, complained to the Chamber of Commerce, the city’s Community Redevelopment Authority and city commissioners and threatened to start a petition in an effort to get Jake’s to buckle down. They called the police for the music, the crowd, the noise.
“It’s fine to have live music, but you don’t have to play like it’s Woodstock,’’ said Seger, who, with her husband, Patrick Farnault, has owned and operated the tropical French restaurant for 18 years.
Seger describes Jake’s and other bars like it as “beach bars,’’ while her clientele is more upscale and “sophisticated.’’ Her customers have complained, particularly on weekends, when the crowd at Jake’s is larger and the music more raucous.
Mark Woodbury, lead singer of Curbstone, said that the “beach bar” tropical venue is exactly why people come to the beach.
“We attract a lot of families who dance on the Broadwalk with their children,’’ said Woodbury. “We are a local band and we get a lot of locals who patronize the beach year-round.’’
Gastorf, a native of St. Louis who studied finance at the University of Missouri, managed several restaurants in California along with his wife, whom he met in college. He says he doesn’t want to change Hollywood Beach. He just wants to tap into a younger niche that hasn’t always been served on the beach: people who are college-aged, in their 20s, early 30s, single or with families, who want to hear contemporary music, not the show tunes and oldies that the senior crowd listens to at the beach’s bandshell.
“Hollywood Beach has the reputation of being lost in time,’’ he said. “There’s a part of that that’s great, but in the same breath, the beach should be fun.’’
Business remains steady, which is a feat for a beach town that struggles during its post-Labor Day slow season. Many restaurant owners are hurting, and two stalwarts, O’Malley’s and Ocean’s Eleven, shut down last month after years in business.
Owners of other open-air restaurants, like Jake’s, say change is coming whether the beach is ready or not: a Jimmy Buffett-themed 17-story, $350 million Margaritaville resort is planned for central beach.
But change doesn’t come easily — or quickly in Hollywood Beach, which says it wants to attract younger visitors, but fights to keep its small-town feel. While its newly refurbished Broadwalk has been voted among the best in the country, its crowd, for the most part, consists of regular Joes, retirees, middle-aged vacationers and local, middle-class families who want food, drink and entertainment at bargain prices.
Jamie Hawkes, co-owner of Toucan’s, a bar/restaurant in the same block as Jake’s, understands Gastorf’s pain. When he opened his bar eight years ago, he encountered similar resistance to live music and other forms of promotional entertainment. At one time, the city’s CRA sponsored regular beach festivals, including a clam chowder competition, craft fairs and other activities that helped bring in new business. The money for those kinds of events has long since dried up as the city began investing in downtown Hollywood, where restaurants and businesses often come and go before they are even discovered.
Hawkes said the owners on the beach’s south side stick together and iron out their own problems. They sometimes even borrow tomatoes and other ingredients they run out of.
“It’s hard to come here if there’s no entertainment, no music, no festivals. Somebody in the city ought to pay attention,’’ he said. “You can’t have one or two businesses controlling a two-mile stretch of prime real estate.’’
Maria Narbaez, owner of Mamacita’s, said she is trying to work out a compromise with Jake’s, but they remain at an impasse.
“It’s often so loud that it rattles the shelves on our restaurant,’’ she said. “They don’t listen; there’s nothing we can do.’’
Hollywood Commissioner Patty Asseff, who represents the beach district, said the live music brings a good vibe to the beach. “People like to eat and hear good music, but there has to be a balance.’’
A recent meeting was held with the owners of the restaurants, as well as representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and the CRA.
CRA Executive Director Jorge Camejo said all the parties agreed on a number of possible solutions.
“It may not be ideal yet, but at least there is a dialog going on to resolve it,’’ he said.