The Sandbar Restaurant on Anna Maria Island gets a face lift

jrich@bradenton.comDecember 1, 2012 

ANNA MARIA -- It's outside dining only right now at the ever-popular Sandbar Restaurant.

As diners dip their toes in the white sands of the Gulf and enjoy an meal, right next door behind a temporary wall the historic 101-year-old building is getting a major facelift.

When the nail pounding and whirling saws stop in a few weeks, the newly rebuilt Sandbar will emerge, a much-improved version of the original 1911 bathhouse first built on the site.

"The restaurant was on borrowed time," said Ed Chiles, who has owned the building for 33 years. "This will give us a better plant to service our customers, we'll have better quality and it will allow us to do more."

Over the years Chiles said there has been lots of patching and piecemeal work done to keep the original wood building afloat -- lots of leaks to plug and uneven floors to cope with.

"We had to deal with it all, the musty smells and the leaking roof. It was a dysfunctional, depreciated building," he said.

The multimillion dollar project, which was first conceived about 10 years ago and started two years ago, will keep the old Florida feel of the aged timber building but with new enhancements and expansions.

The first phase, last year, included a new deck and deck kitchen, which is quadruple its original size. A temporary Joes Bar has been set up to accommodate outside diners while the inside is gutted and rebuilt.

Chiles estimates less than 5 percent of the original building will remain once the renovation is complete.

The revamped restaurant will have a similar floor plan with a small gift shop inside the entryway and then a bar area and dining room.

Some longtime customers originally objected to the rebuild, Chiles said, out of nostalgic reasons.

"There have been several generations raised going to this restaurant," he said with a smile.

Being mindful of the past, Chiles has incorporated old materials into the project, taking old planks from the city pier when it was demolished and creating a rustic feel along facades and wall with artificially distressed wood.

He threw out some initial plans that called for a more contemporary design and instead opted to create a rustic feel.

During the renovation workers found old shingles, boards and even a newspaper or two dating back to the 1940s when the restaurant was first built.

The building had no original foundation, it was built on pilings that rotten away in the 1970s, Chiles said.

"Here we are on sand that is constantly shifting," he said. "There wasn't a plume line in the whole place."

Whitehead Construction and architects Gene Aubrey and Barron Schimberg had to follow strict FEMA and Department of Environmental Regulation rules while the building was brought up to code.

Chef Ian Fairweather said the original kitchen was so small that the three to four people working there were constantly bumping into each other.

"It was hard sometimes trying to keep the customers happy," General Manager Joe Rogers said. "We managed became we became accustomed to it."

Chuck and Dara Caudill have lots of connections to the restaurant. Chuck Caudill has been the house musician for the past 27 years and his wife is the owner of Anna Maria Island Photography and often photographs weddings at the site.

"This is a great incorporation of the history of the island," Chuck Caudill said. "It is a brand new building but it's full of history."

It's been a tough and challenging job but Chiles thinks the renovation was the right thing to do.

"Now it will be around here long after I'm gone," he said.

It's also been a trip through memory lane for the son of the late Lawton Chiles, Florida's former governor and U.S. senator.

Ed Chiles still remembers his early childhood days when his family traveled from their Lakeland home to spend summers on Anna Maria. He got his first beer at a takeout window at the old restaurant and spent many days fishing off the city pier.

A soft opening is planned Dec. 18. A more formal affair will be held in January.

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