Grape & Grain Exchange planned for San Marco

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Restaurant and wine veteran Robert L. Smith wants to bring the “garden-to-bar” and speakeasy movements to San Marco Square.

Smith and his business partners intend to open the Grape & Grain Exchange and The Parlour at 2000 San Marco Blvd.

The Grape & Grain should open about Nov. 1 and The Parlour a few weeks later, he said.

“In the restaurant business, you have to keep tabs on what’s happening,” Smith said. “The speakeasies and craft cocktail bars are making a comeback.”

Smith said his group was trying to be the first in town to tap into the multifaceted concept, which features serving craft beers and wines; small batch spirits; cocktails made with the syrups and purees of seasonal local fruits, herbs and vegetables; locally baked bread along with international cheeses; equipment for those wanting to set up a home bar; and a back-room speakeasy with a separate entrance like the Prohibition-era lounges.

It will offer local blues and jazz, including artists from the University of North Florida and regional acts.

Smith plans a neutral-toned front of the house for the Grape & Grain Exchange and dark woods and 1930s Chicago art deco décor for the 50-seat Parlour.

The shop will operate in 1,300 square feet of space while the bar area will use 1,800 square feet.

Current tenant Sandy Myers, who opened the My Best Friend’s Closet consignment shop in the front part of the space 2 1/2 years ago, said she will move to a larger location a few doors away.

“I’m seeing how many places I can occupy in San Marco,” joked Myers, former owner of Edwards of San Marco, which she said moved three times and is now at 2018 San Marco Blvd.

That makes her Labor Day weekend move of My Best Friend’s Closet her fifth in the district.

She plans a “rack-and-roll” party so friends can help her transfer her consignment goods from 2002 to 1992 San Marco Blvd., which some recall as White’s bookstore.

She also will have more space, increasing to 1,990 square feet.

My Best Friend’s Closet offers clothing in size 14 and above and also sells new jewelry and hats as well as purses, umbrellas and other accessories.

The back part of the space formerly housed San Marco Petite’s.

Some might remember the site as the former Peterson’s 5 & 10.

Smith, 32, said he has been in San Marco since 1987. He also grew up a “foodie,” landing his first job at the age of 14 at European Street Deli at Regency Square mall and remaining in the restaurant business.

In San Marco, he worked at the former St. Mark’s restaurant and the French/Asian fusion restaurant L’Orient Chez Guy during a restaurant boom in San Marco that included the openings of Bistro Aix, bb’s and Matthew’s. He also worked from 2001-05 as manager of The Grotto wine bar in San Marco.

He also was the restaurant and bar manager and sommelier at the One Ocean resort in Atlantic Beach.

In between The Grotto and One Ocean, he studied the food and wine culture in Barcelona. The past three years, he has been in wine and liquor sales.

Smith is a graduate of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, with a focus on theater, and he attended UNF with a major in foreign language and culture and with a minor in international business.

He said the experience feeds into the Grape & Grain and The Parlour.

His business partners are Jackson Somphonphakdy, who will serve as bar manager and a mixologist, and Anthony Norton, who will serve as musical director and a mixologist.

Smith said the business will employ up to 10 people.

“I’ve had this idea a long, long time, but timing is everything and I believe the time is now,” Smith said.

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