When Stuart Saltzman moved to Clearwater from New Jersey in 2002, he thought he was out of the bar business for good.
After operating a successful sports bar in the Garden State for 20 years, one that was plastered with memorabilia and served award-winning wings, the 50-year-old decided to retire to Florida and put the hassles of owning a bar behind him.
But after living in the area for a few years, Saltzman had to change his mind.
“I had no intention of getting back in the business until I saw the quality of the places down here — bad food, bad service, bad décor,” Saltzman said. “That’s when I started looking for a place on the beach.”
The Island Estates resident checked out a few places on Clearwater Beach, but none had the right fit for what he wanted to do — re-create the Jersey Shore boardwalk in Pinellas County.
When he learned 126 Island Way in the Island Estates Plaza was available, Saltzman knew it was perfect for his plan.
“It’s not real big, but it’s not small, either,” he says of the establishment, which holds 289 people. “And look at it: It’s long and narrow, just like a boardwalk. It’s perfect.”
The Original Boardwalk Grill & Sports Bar officially opened its authentic 1930s Brooklyn brownstone doors to the public Sept. 17.
The restaurant's looks set it apart. It's at once glitzy yet laid back, museum-like but inviting. And thanks to the theme, you might not even realize you're not actually on the beach.
“I wanted a boardwalk/beach theme with a sports bar flair," Saltzman says. "I didn’t want to do a straight sports bar again; there are plenty of those around. But one thing I haven’t seen in Florida is a boardwalk-themed restaurant.”
“Everybody loves the feel of a boardwalk — the food, the games, the fun, the beach," he says. "That’s the feeling I wanted to capture with my place. Not just the Jersey boardwalk, but boardwalks from all over the country.”
To capture the spirit of the shore, Saltzman, who says he poured nearly $500,000 into the place, used authentic materials throughout. Everything from the floorboards to the pictures on the walls to the giant painted Tillie the Clown on the wall is an accurate representation of the real thing.
Saltzman even contacted the Pennsylvania company that makes Brazilian Ipe boards for Coney Island's boardwalk and ordered the same floorboards for the restaurant.
While the overall look of the bar is stunning, with 16 glossy new flat screens nestled among eye-catching memorabilia and custom furniture, Saltzman wants people to know his bar is not all style and no substance.
The restaurant will feature daily food and drink specials, live entertainment and a full liquor bar with 16 draft and 25 bottled beers and more than a dozen wines.
"Plus the food is excellent, and I’m not just saying that," Saltzman says. "My wings and pizza and grouper sandwiches are second to none. I won two 'best of' awards for my wings back in Jersey, so you know they are good.”
As if on cue, a patron walks by and says: “Hey, Stu. I’m going to get my wings."
Take a bite:
Address: 126 Island Way (Island Estates Plaza), Clearwater Beach
Hours: from 11 to 3 a.m. daily