By Estella Fullmer Brown
For Hometown News
Pub 44 in New Smyrna Beach re-opened its doors Feb. 7, but it is now run by Hidden Treasures partners, Scott Weber and Kevin Merkel.
"We are trying to bring back Gilly's traditions as much as we can," Mr. Merkel said.
Formerly owned by Gilly Aguiar, the restaurant has changed hands twice in less than three years. It is at 1889 State Road 44 next to Bruce Rossmeyer's New Smyrna Harley Davidson. A favorite biker/sports bar and grill for more than 30 years, the establishment transformed to JJ Fins Dockside Bar and Grill after Mr. Aguiar sold it and retired. The restaurant struggled as a "Margaritas" style sports Tiki bar, lost many of the patrons that used to frequent it when it was Gilly's Pub 44 and closed its doors in less than a year. Out of area bikers during last spring's Bike Week were surprised and disappointed it was no longer Pub 44 and was closed.
The Hidden Treasures owners bought the restaurant recently and have been refurbishing the interior, taking it back to its "Gilly's" roots, although with an updated look. The kitchen has been cleaned and remodeled as well as streamlined with many new appliances.
Executive Chef Kurt Strauss is excited about the remodeling project. "We are going to have a lot of the traditional food, but there will be some new items on the menu too," he said.
HT Pub 44 now has 50 televisions and five bars, including a brand new outside bar. The owners plan to have a 'Lady's Night' and a happy hour. They also plan to have Corn Hole tournaments and darts. They have a VIP room for private parties and a new, upscale dining room.
The band "Quiet Riot," is scheduled to perform March 28 and the new owners plan to bring in national acts on concert tours all summer long, although they are still ironing out details.
"We are going to be employing close to 80 people just in Pub 44," Mr. Weber said, "that doesn't count the number of employees we have at the other two restaurants." They are proud to support New Smyrna Beach as small businessmen and to provide many employment opportunities locally.
Hidden Treasures also owns HT Rum Bar and Grill of Ponce Inlet at 4940 S. Peninsula Dr. across from the lighthouse and HT at Rose Bay Tiki Bar and Grill at 5993 S. Ridgewood Ave., Port Orange.
Mr. Weber and Mr. Merkel have big plans for Hidden Treasures Pub 44 during Bike Week this spring. "We are going to have something going on every day during bike week," said Mr. Merkel. Mr. Weber agreed, "There will be several things throughout the day and special entertainment in the evenings."
Their Bike Week plans begin on March 8 with a kick-off by the band, "Warrant." They also have the "Orange County Choppers" scheduled for mid-week with other local bands being featured at different times. "We are still working out all the details and the line-up," Mr. Merkel said. Other bands in the line-up include "Bad Company," "Big Engine," and "Rammer."
One tradition from when Mr. Gilly owned the restaurant is "The Wall of Death" show, which they have already made arrangements to bring back during Bike Week. "The Wall of Death" is a round cage in which the star rides his motorcycle around the inside of the sphere. "He is going to be doing 6 to 8 shows daily, or about 60 shows during Bike Week," Mr. Weber said. They also plan to bring back "Bike Bash," another Gilly's tradition.
They are inviting all the vendors back during Bike Week, too. "We want to bring back the family and local establishments," Mr. Merkel said. "We are working closely with the Harley Davidson shop next door to coordinate for the week." There will be concerts, comedy acts, variety shows, DJs, vendors and more, according to Mr. Merkel. "It's going to be big," said Mr. Weber, "and we want everyone to have a great time."
Mr. Merkel and Mr. Weber have known each other for more than 14 years from when Mr. Merkel owned Merk's Bar & Grill in New Smyrna. He sold it in 2005. They met through the food industry and added Nick and Scott Pisani as partners just last year. "The Pisanis own a restaurant supply company called ICS," explained Mr. Weber, "we are very fortunate to have them as partners."
They bought HT on Rose Bay in 2010, HT Ponce Inlet in 2012 and now are opening Pub 44 in 2014. "We are on the two-year plan," joked Mr. Merkel. "Yes, we will see how things are in two years and then decide if we want to take on another place," agreed Mr. Weber. For now they feel that managing three establishments is enough. Their Executive Chef, Mr. Strauss, who oversees the kitchens at all three restaurants, agrees. "For now we are focused on Bike Week," he said, "and everything we got going on at all three places."
"At Rose Bay we have entertainment in the evenings 7 days a week and Happy Hour is daily from 2 to 7 pm," Mr. Weber said.
They also have a national TV game called 'Buzz Time Trivia'. "We were voted 'Best View, Best Happy Hour' by Hometown News last year and received 6th place in the 'Best Central Seafood Restaurant' competition by WESH2 News of Orlando," Mr. Weber said.
In the spring, they will have live entertainment 7 evenings a week but right now it is only on the weekends at the Ponce Inlet bar and grill. They also have a shuttle boat that moves back and forth between the two restaurants on the water in the spring and summer, weather permitting.
"We have a family dining area at Rose Bay and one of the largest outdoor Tiki bars in the area," Mr. Merkel said. "There is something for everyone at our establishments."