Article by Stephen Dare
with additional text by David Paulk
Prior to the amazing redevelopment of the past couple of years, King Street had been problematic for the better part of 40 years. Despite the occasional amazing venues for the independent and alternative scene that had been located in this area, its been various degrees of seedy for decades.
While Post and King was the eponymous location of Post and King Liquors (where some of the best punk band performers in the country performed), and the iconoclastic Art Bar owned by Christy Clark was just a few blocks away, not to mention the proximity of the 730 Club, there were definitely some rough patches.
From the 80s all the way through to the end of the Art Bar era, there were always drug dealers and male hustlers working Park and King, and Post and King. The only thing that changed was the gradual lightening of the skin colors of the professionals who worked there at night.
The area was notorious for it. (and predictably well patronized.)
And so it went until about four years ago.
When Kickbacks transferred to new management, the clientele began to change noticeably. The simple fact that there were people walking back and forth from the restaurant to their cars ended up being a real crime deterrent in the neighborhood, as police were called when things happened, and the cops began to patrol through the area more frequently and with more purpose due to the number of people dining there past 2 in the morning.
Nothing is more beneficial to a developing district than a business of this sort: Responsible owners and managers who must provide a safe environment for their patrons if they want to stay open.
Without any public commendation or apparently notice, the management (and customers) of Kickback's managed to do what decades of community watch programs failed to do.
They made King Street safe to walk down. The sidewalk seating and table service outside saw to that.
Thanks and recognition should be given to the offbeat establishment. Followers of events for the past year know that this is the exact opposite of what happened for them as they tried to open a second location, Guttyworks and Guzzlepipes.
But the past two years especially have witnessed miraculous and transformational change.
For reasons which future generations will never fully understand the improvements themselves were opposed and nearly killed by anti business activists in the neighborhood, adding what would be an insurmountable series of obstacles to the already catastrophic national economy. Somehow these efforts have not been enough to kill the transformation. Really, not even to slow it down. With the knowledge that this district is still growing lets take a look at the changes:
A little over three years ago, the surprisingly young and hip Scott McAllister opened an establishment at the corner of Post and King called "Walkers" (now called "The Garage"). In person he is memorably calm and deep voiced, surprisingly empathetic, attractively confident, and has the temperament of a chilled slab of marble.) He decided on a remarkably contemporary interior for a credible Wine Bar. It brought (reluctantly) a different kind of clientele to the area, and provided a walkable destination to go find a drinkable glass of wine, and encouraged the patronage of the more affluent residents in the surrounding neighborhood to do something in the district besides dart into Liz Grenamyer's for catering trays.
After an uncertain year of moderate sale, McAllister decided to redevelop an equally hip, but cooler full liquor bar: The Loft. The opening of the Loft has proven to be a tipping point.
The Loft attracted a great cross section of the type of customers that make an urban neighborhood so cool. And the design of the district, perhaps by accident, manages to incorporate all of the elements that create a vibrant street scene. Greenspacing, public seating, line of site activity. Streets, sidewalks, and businesses that are in physical communication with each other. Niche concept clustering that creates a neighborhood identity. A year later, he added "The Rogue", a smaller, whiskey based bar that attracted a slightly different clientele that comfortably overlapped with his Loft patrons.
Above all, there are finally people. Lots of people. In fact the crowds are vibrant and wonderful. Getting thick on the ground on weekend nights, and miraculously there is visibly walking traffic going back and forth between the friendly neighboring establishments.
We highly recommend giving the area a look. Go on the weekends. Eat at Kickbacks Gastropub. It has brilliant food for surprisingly reasonable prices. Have a glass of nice wine. Check out the laid back glbt bar, Park Place. Go look cool and get a bit tipsy at the Loft (grab the power seating upstairs). Hang out with the crowd of your choice in the sidewalk seating areas that line the streets. Try something wonderful at Salty Fig or Pele's. Pick up an import six pack from Beer:30. Try the Diner Breakfast Stout at Intuition Aleworks. Check out a show at CoRK.
Check out all the coverage of the King Street District!
MetroJacksonville's Main Article
Two awesome photo essays from Somewhere in the City:
Sweet Theory Bakery
Viva la Thrifty