Whiskey Jax in Jacksonville Beach closed in November but it will live to pour another round.
Owner Tom Fisher expects the new Whiskey Jax to open in February 2022 at 725 Atlantic Blvd., Suite 6, in Atlantic Beach in the spot that had been North Beach Bistro for several years.
The space most recently was Firefly Bay, which opened in February and closed a few months later.
When the lease at Whiskey Jax at 950 Marsh Landing Parkway in Jacksonville Beach expired in November, owners Tom Fisher and Adam Fontaine planned to close that location for good but keep the original at 10915 Baymeadows Road open.
COVID restrictions and customer concerns had hurt business at the Beach location since March 2020 and the live music venue wasn’t as busy as before the pandemic.
However, Fisher said he was encouraged to give Whiskey Jax another try on the opposite end of the Beaches when he was approached to rent the vacant Firefly Bay restaurant space.
Fisher and Fontaine have dissolved their partnership. While both will continue to use the Whiskey Jax name, Fontaine will operate the Baymeadows location.
The Atlantic Beach restaurant will be called Whiskey Jax Kitchen and Cocktails. “But I suspect people will start calling it Whiskey Jax AB. I’m sure that is what people will call it,” Fisher said.
Whiskey Jax is known for its selection of about 140 brands of whiskey, bourbon, rye, scotch and Irish whiskey. It serves a mix of bar food with steak and fish specials, depending on availability and seasonality.
“We are not trying to be fine dining. We are at the beach,” Fisher said.
Like many restaurant owners during the pandemic, Fisher often was working with a skeleton crew.
He and his managers washed dishes, expedited dinners and became line cooks and waiters to keep up with food service.
Fisher said the lack of staff contributed to health department violations and $2,200 in fines that forced the restaurant to close for a few days to correct problems.
Fisher insisted those setbacks had nothing to do with their decision to permanently close the Jacksonville Beach restaurant.
“It was time for us to move. However, I was willing to renew the lease. But it was a business decision made on both sides. It made sense to start anew,” Fisher said.
The new Whiskey Jax will have 20 to 25 employees that will include a general manager and a chef.
Fisher hopes former employees will be interested in returning, but when they were told in October about the closing he knew most would move on to other jobs.
Hiring will be the general manager’s responsibility and anyone is free to apply.
“Those former employees who apply, who were loyal to us through COVID, they’ll be getting some extra points,” Fisher said.
Fisher thought about starting fresh with a new concept, but he had to make a decision quickly if he wanted the Atlantic Beach location.
Because the space had been renovated by Firefly Bay’s owners, Fisher said there is no need for major changes. He considers it a redecorating job. Paint and new wall pictures are all that is needed.
The previous owners opened the bar space by removing a wall, which fits Whiskey Jax’s design needs. However, the new Whiskey Jax will be limited to just 10 draft beers because it has only 10 beer lines. Fisher prefers to have 24 lines. He will augment the drafts with a larger selection of bottled beer.
Fisher said he will start slowly with a happy hour food special, dinner and Sunday brunch. As the staff settles in, he will encourage the chef to develop a specials menu to augment the daily fare.
The former Jacksonville Beach location featured bands several nights a week. Music will be added later at the new address.
Fisher said being locally owned offers an advantage.
“We will listen to what the customers want and adjust. We want to make them happy,” he said.