Patio Bar & Pizza will finally open on Friday at historic Progresso Plaza, a lengthy renovation of the nearly 100-year-old structure yielding a beautiful new indoor-outdoor space destined to be one of the “it” nightlife spots in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
The first of three soft-opening nights on Tuesday drew a diverse crowd — friends of ownership, youthful in-the-bizzers and veteran east Fort Lauderdale tavernistas — dispersed around the 2,500-square-foot restaurant and its walled, turfed-and-tiled patio.
The vibe was decidedly laid-back: Kids and dogs, locals and lost tourists, the tattooed, the gray-haired, a stylish pair of Golden Goose sneakers, one Tupac T-shirt and one poor soul in a Red Sox jersey.
Overhead, a muted soundtrack flowed algorithmically: ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight),” Harry Styles’ “Late Night Talking,” the viral yearning of Stephen Sanchez’s “Until I Found You” and Beyoncé’s new insta-hit “Break My Soul.”
“I love it. It’s in the middle of nowhere, but I think it’ll be great for the town,” said Andrea Velarde, 25, of Fort Lauderdale. “It’ll definitely build the nightlife here.”
Velarde was seated outdoors with friends, her long-haired Chihuahua, Miso, in one arm and a Cool as a Cucumber cocktail (tequila, fresh lime and lemon juice, basil leaf and a thin ribbon of cucumber; $12) on the bar.
She acknowledged that for most locals the Progresso Plaza, next to the Brightline/FEC tracks at 901 Progresso Drive, has been more of a curvy, drive-by oddity than a destination — especially for those who have yet to discover the unique charms of the Laser Wolf bar.
A bartender at La Playa in Fort Lauderdale and Joia Beach in Miami, Velarde predicts that Patio Bar & Pizza will be popular with “down-to-earth” people, age 25 to 45, willing to try new things in new places.
“It’s something a little bit out of the norm, out of the circle. People want to come together for something different,” she said.
Owner Brian Parenteau, a South Florida hospitality veteran (DrYnk Bar & Lounge and Tulio’s Tacos and Tequila Bar, both in Wilton Manors), is cautiously optimistic about success in Progresso. The recent closing of American Icon brewery around the corner gave him pause, but Parenteau believes his “elevated, cool” product will attract the same audience that routinely packs Heritage, the hip restaurant just across the tracks.
“It’s about drawing people out of Las Olas and Flagler Village and bringing them north. We’ll add to that movement,” he said.
Patio Bar & Pizza is set on the ground floor of the two-story, wedge-shaped, Spanish-style Progresso Plaza, which opened in 1925 and over the years has been home to a parade of apartment dwellers, cafes and creatives. Its walled courtyard looks out on the Northeast Third Avenue corridor as it heads south through bustling Flagler Village toward the rapidly changing downtown skyline.
More than a year in the build-out, Patio Bar & Pizza eliminates any memory of its most recent inhabitant, Wine Watch, which left the space empty for a move around the corner in 2018. Dominated by a large backlit bar, the dining room gestures toward history with scuffed wood floors, brick columns and tin ceiling tiles painted black. TVs perched high in each corner are for sports, especially when college and pro football returns.
Dotted with trees accented with warm, globed lighting, the outdoor space includes a large stand-alone bar (more TVs), herds of Adirondack chairs, a fire pit and a few almost-private corners that aspire to conversation nooks.
The courtyard also can be accessed by visitors to Sidewalk Bottle Shopwhich sells natural and organic wines, and Laser Wolf, the idiosyncratic beer bar that first made the Progresso neighborhood cool more than a decade ago.
The patch of ground in front of the side door at Laser Wolf, which bar patrons long ago staked a claim as a hangout, has been updated with tables, chairs, benches, a gravel path and lights in the trees. Bordered by a line of low bushes, this space is both one with the new terrace and also its own individual environment.
It was the view from the street that compelled Ella Diaz, 38, of Reston, Va., to stop at the restaurant. She and a cousin were driving around downtown and were “kind of lost” when they saw the lights on the other side of the wall at Patio Bar & Pizza.
“It’s beautiful, relaxing, right?” Diaz said. “Somebody told me it’s new, but it looks like it’s always been here to me.”
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While the mood is a selling point, Parenteau is serious about what’s on the menu. His 14-inch, brick-oven pies are made with small-batch, unbleached and unbromated natural flour, Wisconsin cheese and organic Italian tomatoes from California.
Prices start at $16 for a standard cheese pie (a la carte toppings), with several specialty options including artichoke pizza ($19) and the Spicy Hawaiian, where pineapple dukes it out with spicy capicola ham and Calabrian chili peppers ($20). (I don’t do pineapple, but on this pie it was a necessary and awesome salvation.) Vegan cheese and cauliflower crust are available.
There are a dozen cocktails on the menu, including a frozen watermelon margarita ($10) and the Firecracker (tequila, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, muddled jalapeño and strawberries; $12). Among the beers, there are bottles of Michelob Ultra ($5) and Moretti ($7), and draft pours of Bud Light ($5), Modelo Negra ($6), Funky Buddha’s Hop Gun ($7) and Wynwood Brewing’s La Rubia ($7) . There are also several wines by the glass, prosecco and sangria.
Parenteau said he is still tweaking business hours, but initially Patio Bar & Pizza will be open from 5 pm to midnight Sundays through Wednesdays, 5 pm to 1 am Thursdays and 5 pm to 2 am Fridays through Saturdays.
At some point, plans call for it to open at 4 pm weekdays and noon weekends for football. The restaurant will cater to sports fans on weekend afternoons, Parenteau said, with beer and pizza specials during games shown via college and NFL TV packages.
Patio Bar & Pizza is at 901 Progresso Drive, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-740-6000 or visit PatioBarPizza.com.