A year after frightening deck collapse during Heat game, Shuckers bar reopens

An iconic Biscayne bar is reopening with a new deck after a frightful collapse into the water while packed with patrons watching a Miami Heat game.

07/23/2014 11:26 AM

07/24/2014 7:45 AM

Connie Leon-Kreps rushed from an appointment in a Broward County courtroom, parked her car and stepped toward the bar overlooking Biscayne Bay that sported new wooden floors — and a new sturdy deck.

"Oh my God," exclaimed the mayor of North Bay Village, the island town between Miami and Miami Beach. "I've been waiting for so long. This is a special place for so many people."

Just more than a year after the 120-foot deck over the water at the iconic island landmark split in two and crashed into Biscayne Bay, tossing about 100 people into four feet of water in the dark of night, Shuckers Bar & Grill has reopened.

Wednesday afternoon, the attraction on the 79th Street Causeway welcomed the local business owners and village leaders who supported the lengthy rebuilding effort. Thursday at noon, the public is welcome.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," said General Manager Joe Portela, between giving last-minute instructions to his 60 employees, more than half of whom worked at Shuckers before the accident.

In June 2013, as more than 100 people cheered on a furious Miami Heat comeback just before halftime of an NBA Finals game against the San Antonio Spurs, patrons heard a thunderous roar, then found themselves in Biscayne Bay's dark waters, some trapped under the debris that had tumbled from the deck.

The city's building inspector determined that aged rusted rebar caused tons of concrete attached to the wooden deck to tear from the wall. In the ensuing chaos, employees, patrons and first responders pulled dozens of people from the water long after the power had shut down.

The bay was filled with tables and chairs, planters, lighting fixtures, steel and concrete. Some people had been trapped.

Two dozen people were taken to area hospitals by land and by air. The collapse sparked dozens of lawsuits, some that have been settled for tens of thousands of dollars, though the exact details remain confidential. The remaining three dozen or so people who still have lawsuits pending are scheduled to meet with Shuckers representatives in August to try and hash out an agreement.

The deck collapse made instant national headlines when cable outlets learned the patrons were watching the NBA Finals. Heat players, many of whom had been to Shuckers, took to the airwaves to send well-wishes.

Though work was being done in the interior of the restaurant, much of the debris field remained in the bay behind the restaurant until January, when owners Charles and Chris Grentner finally were able to secure the barges needed to clear it out. The deck has since been rebuilt.

But all that was history to the staffers and dozens of local business leaders and village officials who on Wednesday got a chance to see Shuckers for the first time in more than a year.

At one table, Vice Mayor Eddie Lim and friend Penelope Friedman were nibbling on calamari and tuna tartar.

"Finally," Lim said between bites.

Over at another table, Village Manager Frank Rollason and staffers were enjoying chicken wings, fried shrimp and calamari, and having a cocktail or two.

"It's a significant reopening for the village," Rollason said. "This is a local icon in the community. It's Shuckers. Everyone knows Shuckers."

While the village's most popular attraction looks much the same, there have been some significant upgrades.

About three dozen high-definition flat screen TVs hang from the walls. Large fans spray mist to keep customers cool. There's a new stainless steel bar and a new service station.

Then there’s the new Aztec wood deck. Underneath are new concrete pilings and a second deck also made of concrete. Large stone planters with Christmas palms sit between tables on the deck, which can still be accessed by boaters who dock just a few feet away.

Colene Gerstner, a waitress who studied photography at Barry University and who worked at Shuckers before the collapse and now has returned, gazed in amazement between serving customers, and summed up the day:

"It's just surreal.”

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