Scott McAllister, The Charming Rogue Behind the LoftAugust 9, 2010 6 comments Print Article
Jacksonville nightlife is experiencing growth in a number of different areas across town. Downtown is boasting 3 new bars in the past year, the Town Center is bringing its own corporate brand of entertainment to the table and the beach is continuing to attract a crowd of young adults. The town center makes headlines with its grand announcements and kick off parties, downtown makes headlines for the creative efforts of bar owners and the creative efforts of the city to try and shut them down. A couple miles from the DART raids and draconian policies of downtown, a new nightlife district is slowly growing. The King Street area of Riverside has transitioned from a derelict street, home to a variety of illegal activity, to a bustling avenue full of people enjoying the area's many watering holes. What has until now been a neighborhood secret is gaining notoriety throughout Jacksonville as a great walk-able (or crawl-able) district. A small group of business owners are transforming the King Street landscape into a thriving after-hours hot spot; however, no one has done more to revitalize the previously neglected area than Scott McAllister.
Scott is a local entrepreneur and contractor-turned bar owner that has been quietly creating his own nightlife district. With the opening of Rogue, his third King Street bar this past Saturday, its safe to say that Scott knows the Jacksonville market and is putting out a quality product.
Scott McAllister, second from right.
I met with Scott recently to discuss the opening of his newest venue and to learn a little more about his King Street Empire. It was early in the evening, and Rogue was just getting warmed up for the night. Rogue is a narrow bar with low lighting and a comfortable feel. The music is a multi decade assortment of all things rock. Whiskey and beer are the drinks of choice, but a fully stocked bar is available to customers who cant keep up. When I arrived, a few patrons were chatting at the bar, and the bartender was practicing making many of the signature drinks for the upcoming grand opening. The bartender, Eric, is a recent transplant from Daytona who has been bartending at various locations for the past few years. At 23, hes animated and enthusiastic about meeting customers and engaging them in conversation. One customer jokingly asked Eric to show some ID, so Eric obliged and put to rest any suspicion of impropriety.
Scott had been busy getting his three King Street venues Rogue, next-door neighbor The Loft, and - ready for the night, but was very cordial and shook hands with all patrons before sitting with me to chat about his newest bar. Scott has a deep voice reminiscent of Barry White or Josh Turner, but a delivery more akin to Mitch Hedberg that makes him very approachable. The conversation began, as any conversation should, with a shot of Gentleman Jack from the bar.
Scott is originally from Texas, but moved to Jacksonville to attend the University of North Florida. After four years at UNF, and a couple years of traveling the country thrown in for good measure. Upon graduation, Scott saw great potential in the Jacksonville market, so he decided to remain in town for his professional career. Scott went to contracting school and started his first company, a successful residential and commercial design-build firm. With projects ranging from high end homes and multi-family buildings to warehouse renovations, Scott has experienced most of what Jacksonville and its neighborhoods has to offer. Over the past year, Scott has transitioned from developer to bar owner.
What caused you to decide that it was the right time to go ahead with the transition into a bar?
The city had just redone the streets, and it was sort of the time after Liz (Grenemyer) had built her space, and kickbacks had come in and done some stuff and everything was evolving as a strip. It seemed like the timing was just about right so we went ahead and opened.
At the time, did you plan to own the three bars all in the same area?
It grew into it. We had our eyes on other pieces on the street. We were waiting for the right time and the right situation and this piece kind of popped up. The interior and the way the structure was built back in the twenties was just what we wanted for what we wanted to do, so we decided this was the right spot.
Did you plan to have Rogue and the Loft open in conjunction with each other?
Not at all. At one time [rogue] was going to be a bakery. A coffee shop/ bakery style place, and the space next door was going to be a pub. A guy was going to move down from New Jersey and start a pub. Because of the economy it didnt work. The day they were supposed to start, they just ended up not calling and not showing up. So the next week we decided that with the current climate and with walkers doing well, and we decided the area had the potential to be a destination district for people around town, so we designed our own thing and went in and went for it.
Did you ever envision you would have ownership duties at all 3?
What went into the design process for the three bars?
In my day job we design and build spaces, so thats what we did on these. We definitely wanted to create three separate and distinct spots. Something where theres variety that reaches out to different people and different levels of excitement. Some people bar hop so they go place and get one feel, then go to another place and get another. So they can park once and enjoy the night and then take a cab home.
Was there a specific bar that any of the three were modeled after?
This one was a pub in downtown Manhattan. You went in there and it was the same sort of feel. Long, classic prohibition style speakeasy stuck in the middle of two buildings.
How has the district as a whole changed since you first opened Walkers?
Its been a slow growth all the way around. Its just been everyone finding out and learning. We just got the loft open two months ago and rogue this Saturday We really wanted to focus on this area and really create a real district like the lamppost district out in San Fran. We knew there was a lot of risk in how everyone would like it, but weve have had a lot of fun doing it and we think it will keep getting more fun.
What do you envision for your bars and King Street in the future?
It depends on the patrons and the guests, its their call. If theres a spot thats not doing what it needs to do, theres something missing. Hopefully all of us on King Street can identify what that missing piece is and put it in place and draw more people to enjoy themselves and fill a need thats not being met in Jacksonville.
What do you think about the state of Jacksonville culture and nightlife? Growth seems to be downtown/riverside, the Southside and the beach. What will help downtown/riverside hold up compared to the other two?
We want to see Jacksonville as a whole grow stronger and have it become a city to be recognized and remembered. I think it has all the possibility and the attributes to have that. Its now just a matter of is the timing right?҅ I really hope that everyone is successful. Us, downtown and whoever, I hope they prosper. Only time will tell.
Jacksonville has some founded spots that have been there for so long where everyone goes. It becomes what is going to hold stronger; change and growth or the same comfortable spots that people have been going to? That kind of says the community culture. We just have to go with our passion and take a risk and jump in the middle of it . Theres always a chance in whatever we do that some successes will be there and some failures, but you cant lose heart in it all Also, take a whiskey shot every now and again.
By paying attention to the market and the needs of his customers, Scott and his bars have been able to thrive during a time where many business owners have had to close up shop. While Scott may not have planned for the way things have turned out, necessity and adaptation have created a district that we all can enjoy. I look forward to future projects and success from Scott and his team.
Interview by David Paulk