ANNA MARIA -- Though the weather in Anna Maria was a dreary gray on Friday, the aura surrounding the Rod & Reel Pier and Restaurant was anything but.
Friday marked the official reopening of the historic restaurant, which was shut down after an electrical fire erupted from its walls on Sept. 30.
By mid-day Friday, cars were circling around the pebbled parking lot again in search of available spaces. Patrons ambled their way on the worn deck toward the 67-year-old restaurant. The winds were strong, yet men stood outside, conversing over beer in plastic cups.
Dave Cochran, who manages the facility, made his rounds at the restaurant with a clipboard in hand. It was originally estimated that it would take two months to repair the Rod & Reel, but Cochran said the focus was expanded to take care of wiring and other issues.
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"We saw that the place was in need of a good repair as well, so one thing led to another, and that's why we finished what we did," Cochran said. "And it took so long to do it and make sure it's right."
Steve Bergquist, who works as a contractor for Bimini Bay Construction, echoed Cochran on the dire need for renovations. He said he worked with a steady crew of four men for the project, and Cochran brought his own help. The wiring and walls in the restaurant are brand new -- and so is much of the plumbing, Bergquist said.
The restaurant received its temporary certificate of occupancy on Thursday, the contractor added.
In early October, West Manatee Fire & Rescue determined the cause of the fire to be "radiant heat over time."
Among those hardest hit by Rod & Reel Pier's closing were the establishment's 30 employees, who lost their income for some time because of the incident. Bonita Macias, who has served as a busser since March of last year, was out of work after the fire -- "terrible because you have bills to pay and you have a lot of stuff to pay ... and you can't."
Anna Maria islanders such as All Island Denominations and Roser Community Church pledged to provide aid to those left without an income.
The 21-year-old Macias stayed afloat thanks to her boyfriend's financial help. When asked how it felt to be back at work, Macias smiled.
"It feels really good," she said.
Dee Brady, a local who has lived in Anna Maria since 1972, said she and other locals have been waiting every day to open back up.
"The place is beautiful, they did a really nice job. Moved the bar so you can look out at the water now, the floor ... the ceiling is beautiful," the 61-year-old retiree said. "They did a nice job, but they still maintained the charm."
Inside the restaurant's bar on the first floor, patrons mulled over what to order, their elbows pressed against a new counter. The old counter, filled with faded images of fish and yellowed newspaper clippings, now dominates the left wall. The day's lunch special items were written on an erase board by the window: Mahi-Mahi sandwich, grouper nuggets, plus seafood gumbo and New England chowder.
Outside, 67-year-old Lynn Decker stood with her spouse, Carole, after stopping by for a light lunch. The couple was visiting from Long Island, N.Y., and said they were anxious to visit the iconic eatery, after having gone there two years in a row.
Decker and her partner learned of the restaurant's fire from a newspaper clipping sent to them by a friend on Anna Maria. The retired executive secretary said she loves Rod & Reel Pier because it's comfortable and casual, with good service and food.
"I like that it still kind of looks like the old funky restaurant that it was before. It feels the same," Decker said. "It didn't change, which is the best part about it -- that they didn't make it too fancy."