By Lee Zimmerman
By Falyn Freyman
By C. Townsend Rizzo
By Jacob Katel
By Alex Rendon
By C. Townsend Rizzo
By Lee Zimmerman
By Liz Tracy
If Sax on the Beach fails, the newly opened music bar will be just another Miami jazz dream deferred, like Arthur's (which featured big names in the 1980s) and the cozy, if empty, Champagnes on 79th Street that closed months ago. This gin joint in the lobby of Bay Parc Plaza has taken in refugees from among the regulars and staff at the shuttered 1800 Club down the street and picked up Nathaniel "Nat King" Reed, the piano player who used to play standards at the Piccadilly Garden and Lounge in the Design District before that place went pop. Allied duo Richard Haylor, a British restaurateur, and Jersey travel agent Karen Segalla have already committed their blood, toil, tears, and sweat -- and about $500,000 -- to the jazz and blues cause. "We have a dream, and we really think we can make it come true," says Segalla, watchful eyes twinkling.
If Sax succeeds, triumph may depend less on the music and atmosphere inside than on support from local government and the deployment of development projects on the surrounding Biscayne Boulevard beachhead from NE 14th to NE 20th streets. The possibilities include continued residential development, the renovation of nearby Margaret Pace Park, and, in some glimmering future, the oft-postponed opening of the Performing Arts Center.
Meanwhile, Reed sits at the baby grand at the foot of a small stage, interrupting his song to greet customers by name as he did at his former Design District gig. He implores listeners through a headset microphone: "All of me/Why not take all of me?" Haylor and Segalla might ask the same question about their club. Although the pair signed a lease with a company headed by developer Tibor Hollo 18 months ago, the opening of Sax was delayed until this past November 16. Even now, Haylor and Segalla must wait until they can cover the county's hefty bills for water and sewage before tearing down the wall behind the stage and completing construction on a 40-foot bar and the full 4700 square feet of floor space.
Beneath her medium-cropped blond hair, Segalla exudes the hard edge and diehard hope of a long-time small-business owner. The 41-year-old Haylor, of slim build and bald pate, wears his hope on a black Sax on the Beach polo shirt. Together, they give off an earnestness that is refreshing in the Miami nightlife scene. Indeed, the two have created the feel of jazz and blues clubs in New York and Chicago, with walls covered in faux peeling plaster revealing bricks beneath.
Three years ago, Haylor, burned out on the restaurant business, had just sold his establishment, the Parque Royale in the Canary Islands. Jaded by the on-again, off-again nongroove of the Tenerife tourist seasons, he wanted to open a down-home jazz and blues bar in South Florida, a place that would buzz with the warm sound of local banter and the steady relationship-based profits that come with it. Segalla, who owned and operated a Miami travel agency that specialized in arrangements for marine-industry workers, also wanted to run a music club. And soon after her business partner began dating the Englishman, Haylor and Segalla recognized their common aspiration and decided to team up.
Their entrepreneurial spirit had that peculiarly South Floridian tinge of escapism. They saw themselves as the future owners of a humble but jumping tiki bar somewhere in the Keys. "You know, a place [held up with] two sticks in the mud and sand on the floor," recalls Haylor, his hands held up in front of him, index fingers pointing upward.
But that idea was quickly altered after Haylor and Segalla learned how much beachside structures, some practically rotted out, were running for in the Keys. So the two set their sights northward. Surely Miami, with its multiethnic mix, could sustain a new jazz and blues spot, they reasoned. For almost two years, they scoured the city -- fielding the numerous unsavory offerings proffered by eager, sometimes greedy, real estate agents -- in search of the right place. They eschewed South Beach (it was too much like the Canary Island tourist trap Haylor had seen his place become) and looked for a place this side of Biscayne Bay.
Though the pair amended the original plan, they clung steadfastly to the name. Whatever saxophones would blare from their bar, they would hear them, at least in their imaginations, on a beach. After meeting with Phillip Yaffa, senior vice president of Florida East Coast Realty and right-hand man to local developer Tibor Hollo, they settled on Bay Parc Plaza, an apartment complex with 471 fully booked units. Yaffa was already looking for a restaurant to lease space on the ground floor. "We met and started talking; I knew that I wanted some kind of restaurant club [there, and our firm] liked them," recalls the real estate VP.
There are another 810 condos at the nearby Grand condominium south of Sax, 350 more condos closer to the Miami-side entrance to the Venetian Causeway, and about 1400 hotel rooms only blocks away. Meanwhile, immediately south of the Plaza, another phase of construction will result in an oval-shaped, 57-story, 651-unit apartment complex slated to go up in a year. Developer Michael Baumann, who bought the building that housed the former 1800 Club at the corner of NE 18th Street and North Bayshore Drive, plans a 480-unit building there. The nearby Margaret Pace Park, which separates the bar from the bay, is undergoing a million-dollar face-lift.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city