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Restaurants hope to warm up Downtown diners

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Liz Flaisig

Staff Writer

DOWNTOWN -- The streets are quiet and happy-hour crowds a bit thin, but that isn't stopping restaurants near Hemming Plaza from staying open in the evenings.

"We're not losing any money; we're breaking even and mostly making money," said Mike Meehan, co-owner of the Mudville Grille, which opened its third area location on West Adams Street July 1. "As more people move Downtown, we expect happy hour to get better. We already do a good lunch; we just want to focus now on getting people Downtown."

Meehan's 4,400-square-foot restaurant and bar is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, and occasionally on weekends during special events such as college football.

Unlike other restaurants, Mudville has name recognition to fill its 106 seats, which reach about 75 percent capacity on Thursday and Friday nights.

On a recent Monday night, the restaurant's 15 customers included a table of businessmen, a couple at a high-top table and the usual bar crowd.

It's understood that evenings are typically slow until Thursday, Meehan said, though events like Downtown Vision Inc.'s First Wednesday Artwalk have brought new patrons monthly and repeat business.

"We think this is a great opportunity now, during Super Bowl [XXXIX] and after," Meehan said. "People are beginning to move here as we expected."

Although the city might not achieve its goal of building and filling 10,000 housing units Downtown in the next few years, Meehan and other business owners have bought into Downtown Vision's plans to create nightlife with special events such as Artwalk and those offered by its members including the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art and ImprovJacksonville.

"We're not going to close down the streets or put tents up; we're going to maintain normal life," said Lyn Briggs, Downtown Vision's marketing director.

But Briggs and other staff at the nonprofit organization funded by Downtown property owners have other ideas to market and promote the area.

Those include "tweaking" events such as the Hemming Plaza Farmers' Market on Fridays or adding events like "A Taste of Downtown," which might allow patrons to sample restaurant cuisine in an outdoor setting like the plaza, Briggs said.

Downtown Vision will also launch "Zest -- A Guide to Downtown Jacksonville's Arts and Eats," a $2,000 effort aimed at encouraging arts patrons to stay in the city after a show by offering discounts via event ticket stubs.

About 25,000 copies of the publication, which is a joint venture with the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, will be distributed beginning Jan. 1, Briggs said.

The guide, coupled with the Feb. 6 Super Bowl, should boost evening business for Downtown restaurants, which total 89 within Downtown Development Area boundaries that include the Northbank and the Southbank. Of those eateries, 44 are open for dinner, according to Downtown Vision's database.

In the Hemming Plaza area, nine restaurants are open in the evening, including the Zodiac Grill at the corner of Adams and Hogan streets.

Zodiac owner Jeriees Ewais moved to the location in February from a West Adams Street space he opened in four years ago.

Like other restaurants, Ewais makes his money from breakfast and lunch.

But in September he decided to offer a happy hour until 7 p.m., with beer and wine and appetizers from his Mediterranean and American cuisine.

The cost to stay open is minimal because Ewais and his wife work the restaurant themselves, with the hope that they can add staff as business improves.

Although Ewais declined to discuss his annual sales, he said they have increased by 10 percent to 15 percent each year and he expects the trend to continue.

"We'll get there, regardless of Super Bowl," said Ewais, a native of Jordan. "Dinners Downtown will eventually do well."

The positive outlook of business owners and their willingness to stay open evenings is a signal of progress, but the city has to continue offering something new and interesting, said analyst Ray Rodriguez, owner of the Real Estate Strategy Center of North Florida Inc.

A major entertainment attraction such as Dave & Buster's and fewer government buildings along the riverfront would also aid the redevelopment, he said.

But Rodriguez sees one element as critical to building and maintaining a thriving Downtown: lighting.

"Jacksonville needs to light up Downtown, and I don't mean putting little street lights around," he said. "I mean neon lights like in Las Vegas or 42nd Street in New York City.

"Lighting starts a momentum. Lighting changes the atmosphere and the perception that Downtown isn't a safe area."

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I doubt that D&B's will open up another location in Jacksonville. But it would be awesome to have them downtown. And I don't know if neon has that much influence on dining, but maybe it does. At least they're lighting the bridges. That'll look pretty sweet from the Landing's perspective.

I hope to see chains like Atlanta Bread Co. and The Loop open up downtown, as well as some cool local eateries.

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i had no idea that those restaurants were open late. i thought that the landing and london bridge were the only northbank places that served dinner. besides mudville and zodiac, what are these other 7 Hemming area restaurants open for dinner?

now that i'm back from europe (the reason i haven't posted for over a month) i'll need to head down there.

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Europe? Rub it in.

Thats more open at night than I thought too. Ieyasu, Draytons...hmmm will check on that.

By the way downtownjacksonville.org is getting more than 700,000 hits per month...

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Europe? Rub it in.

Haha. I'm sorry, I didn't mean it that way at all.

In fact, I can't even properly convey how thrilled I am to be the hell out of there and back home in Jax!

But speaking of restaurants ... how's the Burrito Gallery project going? (or is it open already?)

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this is what downtown really needs is to add more nightlife to the scene, there was a mention of lighting ... this is a interesting and frightening prospect. it is interesting because of the technology involved... it would be nice to see more of the buildings downtown lit highlighting details and the like. but i think of times square and can't imagine anywhere in j-ville that something like that can occur? neon signage may not be the way to go, and if you add more restaurants/ shops and bars to the ground floor area, the lighting and safety factor will improve. for example the bay street improvements are a major boost to the area, and all they are doing is paving and planting trees....

in the end, we can theorize and give opinions all we like here in this forum, but it also up to us go and eat and partake of these establishments to keep them open and new ones coming... this is something alot of people around here don't understand... restaurants aren't mushrooms that appear overnight and grow no matter what happens, it takes people and patronage.

and to end, what is the burrito gallery??? sounds interesting? they have the Moe's cart at the landing now, but i think most folks want the full restaurant.

thanks

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Thats exactly right. Lets definitely support the new restaurant/retail. If you like cocktails, Mudville has an all happy hour all the time approach. $2 anything. I find this a great way to stay after five and then hit some downtown dining. The Londo Bridge is excellent too for an outside beer while the weather improves...

The burrito gallery is a restaurant some partners of mine and I are opening at 21 east adams across from the haydon burns library. Its the building with the mural. Its taking for freaking ever. I'll just go ahead and state that. But it will be well worth it. We're trying to make sure the building is done right and lasts another 100 years (hopefully more). Our restaurantuer partners are Guatamalan by heritage, thats why I joke that the food will be Guatamerican. Authentic burritos, fast and inexpensive. The name also suggests a gallery which we will have featuring one local artist each installation. We are opening with mactruque. He is also one of our designers. The restaurant will have seating inside, out front cafe style, and a large back patio with historic downtown jax views.

On plan we will have an upstairs restaurant and a second story deck. Those will come post- Super Bowl sometime, though we are doing the infrastructure work now.

You heard it here first.

TUC

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I am certainly glad to see someone doing something with that building. I like the idea of an art infused Guatamalan restaurant/gallery, interesting premice. Kudos to you UrbanCore for stepping to help steer our dowtown in the direction it should be heading.

In regards to Crazy Cuban's post, I too would like to see the architecture of downtown lit highllighting their intricacies and details. There is such a thing as "light pollution" believe it or not. I am a firm believer that more light is not necessarily good light. Neon may not be the way to go, but by more businesses and restaurants staying open later, there will inherently be an increase in footcandles around the downtown area just from the interior light spillage onto the adjacent walkways and sidewalks.

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*shudders at the thought of neon light in Hemming Plaza. IMO, let Miami keep all the neon. I think neon would clash with the historical beauty of Jacksonville. Except for the bridge lights, cause they're OK.

I can't wait to try the Burrito Gallery. That's my favorite kind of food, in my favorite part of town!

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Muddville on Adams is open till 8pm,I visit often.LaCena italian on Laura,been once and was only ok.Ieyasu Japanese on Adams,been once and was very,very good.Chives next to JMOMA,have not been yet.Draytons on Hogan,only been for the Art Walks,not sure if they open at night yet unless something happening at The Times Union Center.Zodiac Grill at Adams & Hogan has been open for hh but not every night.Pete's Pizza is a new place over on Hogan just N of Forsyth staying open for dinner.London Bridge of course,Everybody seem's to know about.Amsterdam Cafe by the Arena is open if there is an event nearby.Adams Mark has a restaurant or two inside.Eclate was going to begin a lite food or tapas menu at one time so I'm not sure there.Not too sure about Worman's hours anymore.Uptown at Lavilla on N. Davis St was opening for dinner.If your up in Springfield you have OleMexican at Confederate Park,it's pretty good.Main St. Bakery at 1544 Main is open 6 to 6 daily.Epicurian Cafe on Main just N. of 6th is open for dinner and they have a little Jazz roomupstairs called Klutho's that is open late on fri & sat.Boomtown has awesome food and is open till midnight.They are at 1714 Main.Then there is Henrietta's @ 9th and Main.Some of these places vary in dinner hour times.I went to Henrietta's on a Tuesday night at 8pm and they just closed thekitchen,so Boomtown here I come.

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I wouldn't mind seeing neon lights in business signs along Bay Street. Since its supposed to be an entertainment district, I think that area needs something more than palm trees to make it stand out in downtown.

While this may seem crazy to some people, I'd like to see Bay Street become a unique nightlife district in the Jax area, by focusing on entertainment and theme related businesses based off of things unique to our area, such as its "low country" history and food. By this I mean restaurants serving local seafood, soul food & bbq, and entertainment establishments playing jazz (like Eclate) and blues, both of which played a big part in the early history of Jacksonville.

If Bay Street offers nightlife attractions and an atmosphere, that you can't get in Five Points, the beach, Tinseltown, Avondale, or San Marco, or any where else in North Florida, it will become a success over night. Other than that, don't be suprised to see it struggle a little bit, before catching on.

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folks, nothing takes off overnight unless it is some gory bloody video game played by thirty year olds with no life. The bay street area will begin to attract more people and establishments. but it always takes something to get the ball rolling, that one gutsy pioneer willing to take the risk and say, "there is a future there and i want to be part of it." If you look at the buildings near Eclate, many of them are being renovated and turned into possible nightclub and restaurant spaces. And with the city following up with the improvements, it is positive movement.

93 sportie, i appreciate the list of places and have had the opportunity to visit many of them, but it also highlights one of the issues, they are all over the place and no set schedule>>> being some one that lived in Miami and saw the back end of the South Beach Revival, a major part of it is the Arts>>> places like JMOMA and Artwalk are instrumental, the others follow like mice to the piper!

'low country'? um, there's a b-b-q joint on every corner in j-ville, how about a something new.

Thanks

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folks, nothing takes off overnight unless it is some gory bloody video game played by thirty year olds with no life.  The bay street area will begin to attract more people and establishments.  but it always takes something to get the ball rolling, that one gutsy pioneer willing to take the risk and say, "there is a future there and i want to be part of it."  If you look at the buildings near Eclate, many of them are being renovated and turned into possible nightclub and restaurant spaces.  And with the city following up with the improvements, it is positive movement. 

93 sportie, i appreciate the list of places and have had the opportunity to visit many of them, but it also highlights one of the issues, they are all over the place and no set schedule>>>  being some one that lived in Miami and saw the back end of the South Beach Revival,  a major part of it is the Arts>>>  places like JMOMA and Artwalk are instrumental, the others follow like mice to the piper! 

'low country'?  um, there's a b-b-q joint on every corner in j-ville, how about a something new.

Thanks

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I'm not talking about another Sonny's, Bono's, or one of the many run down hole in the walls across town. I'm envisioning something more authentic, with nice interiors, in downtown, serving Jax styled BBQ, local soul food, or seafood similar to some of the Joints in places like Memphis or St. Louis. Something that could also possibly feature live music like Blues, or Jazz for example, as well as outdoor sidewalk dining.

That's only one idea for a dining establishment, because I don't know of any these thype of local food joints in Jax offering this type of setting, especially in downtown. Anyway the underlying theme is trying to grab on to something that makes this place (Bay Street special & downtown unique), by offering a diverse collection of entertainment and dining options, not found anywhere else in Jax, all within walking distance of each other. Using a local Jax theme, based on the region's, history, foods & culture is an example of an idea that could be implemented. Something like this would be the exact opposite of having another street lined with Starbucks, Atlanta Bread, Panera Bread, McDonalds, etc.

Focusing and marketing locally based themes, culture, history and food work in cities like Charleston, New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago, New York, Philly, San Fransico, etc. Maybe Jax should look into doing something similar, because there could be a lot of money to be made, by promoting, cleaning up and enhancing some of the things already here.

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I doubt that D&B's will open up another location in Jacksonville.  But it would be awesome to have them downtown.  And I don't know if neon has that much influence on dining, but maybe it does.  At least they're lighting the bridges.  That'll look pretty sweet from the Landing's perspective.

I hope to see chains like Atlanta Bread Co. and The Loop open up downtown, as well as some cool local eateries.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I think maybe some world reknown corner stores should open up in downtown. What about a Walgreens, Panera, or even Starbucks in more locations closer to downtown.

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