by Max Marbut
Thousand of hours have been put in by hundreds of people to prepare for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games starting Friday at the Arena. The staff at the venue have been installing the court, laying carpet and hanging drapes. The television crew has been placing the cameras, connecting cables and fine-tuning the system to broadcast the event worldwide.
There’s also preparation next door at City Hall Pub. Owner Ron Sholes, who is a practicing attorney, opened the bar and restaurant seven months ago. He and his crew are preparing for the hordes of hungry and thirsty basketball fans.
“The pub’s going to open early Friday and Sunday at 9 a.m. with a Bloody Mary bar where you can make it the way you like it. We’ll light the grills on the patios and start the live music at 10 a.m.,” said Sholes.
“We’ll be cooking burgers and hot dogs and boiling shrimp out there all day and I’m calling in eight bartenders to work both of those days. There will be an all-you-can-eat buffet inside because fans don’t have much time between games to grab something to eat. We know how to do this,” he said.
Sholes admitted that when he opened the doors, he had had little experience in the restaurant business, but he said the combination of the location, the menu and the programming has been popular with patrons.
“I’m a big sports and entertainment fan anyway, so when the opportunity to buy the pub came along, I took it,” Sholes said. “What better place to have a pub than between the Arena and the Baseball Grounds and in walking distance to the stadium? We’re in the center of it all. It works in Boston near Fenway Park and other cities and it’s working Downtown.”
The lunch and dinner menu offers traditional selections like burgers and chicken wings, but chef Dharma Magic has created recipes for several items that aren’t usually found at similar venues. Magic helped open The Grape at St. Johns Town Center and also worked at All American Heroes at the Landing.
“The garlic hummus spread and our three-cheese bacon spinach dip are big sellers,” said Sholes. “We also serve crab cakes, coconut shrimp, spaghetti and meatballs and there are five different meal-size salads on our menu.”
During times when there’s nothing scheduled at the Arena or Sports Complex, Sholes and his staff have developed a schedule of theme nights from open mike on Monday through urban night on Saturday. In between every Tuesday is Fat Tuesday with live blues on stage and New Orleans cuisine (“We marinate our bourbon chicken in a liter of Jim Beam,” said Sholes).
Tuesday is also ladies’ night; Wednesday is an urban night; Thursday night features rock bands; and Friday is Latin night.
To build the lunch business, Sholes offers a 25 percent discount to city, state and federal employees as well as court personnel, jurors and police and firefighters. Sholes said the JTA trolley goes by the pub and he has arranged free parking in the garage next door for customers who drive.
Other changes he’s made since he took over the operation include adding 14 more flat-screen televisions and several wall murals. One of the new artworks is a life-size painting of Jacksonville University’s Artis Gilmore, who was on the squad 40 years ago this week when the Dolphins lost to UCLA in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Final Game.
When asked which career he enjoys more, the law or hospitality, Sholes had to think a few seconds.
“There’s nothing like winning a big case, but I’m really enjoying having this pub and being part of Downtown. Our goal is to have an impact and bring even more events down here,” he answered.
For the latest updates visit www.cityhallpub.com.
Chef Dharma Magic.
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