Alligator Alley, which has existed in three incarnations since opening its doors in 1999 in Sunrise, served as a deep, Floridacentric music venue catering to the live-music needs of local and touring musicians while providing excellent bar food before being a “foodie” became a thing. Pacillo, a longtime champion of the Alley in its many iterations, has not always had an easy go with his venue.
Moving to its second spot in the Oakland Park neighborhood and garnering an increasing profile in the music and food worlds with the backing of Food Network's Bobby Flay — and winning a number of gumbo cookoffs — the second Alligator Alley enjoyed a seven-year run before relocating to Hollywood as the Native Florida Tap Room & Music Hall.
Throughout it all, Pacillo retained the game-winning formula that brought musicians and music lovers through the doors: passion and attention to detail. “A generalization is that the club with a sound engineer who's a bitter/retired musician who's overmixing five bands a night just no longer gives a crap, much less would understand the different techniques used for mixing different styles of music... A punk band does not have the same kind of EQ's and gain structure you would use for a piano jazz trio and vocalist. I do the mix myself, so you're guaranteed my 100 percent effort to do it right. I also give everybody a shot with 100 percent artistic freedom.”
Pacillo, who shares his love equally between music and food, finally had enough of Florida’s oppressive, flip-flopping policies and tax rulings and chased an opportunity to New Orleans, a city that has appreciated his talents and begged for them.
“It was a confluence of circumstances,” he explains of his return. “I had just leased a property in New Orleans where I was going to open a BBQ joint with some music on the outskirts of town when my dad passed away. Shortly thereafter, my mom fell and broke her wrist and pelvis. It was a long recovery which had me traveling back and forth between cities and usually doing gigs in both while trying to move forward with a venue there. After almost a year of this, I was a few weeks away from opening the NOLA spot when the landlord who I had become good friends with passed away.”
That landlord’s enthusiasm for Pacillo's funky little bar was not shared by her family, and they essentially bought out his lease in order to liquidate the property. Returning to be closer to his mom proved fortuitous when an old acquaintance pointed him to a recently vacated property in Oakland Park, rekindling his interest in running a venue.
“I had been missing the producing of local and independent music shows end of the business, and virtually everywhere I went, I ran into musicians and fans that expressed the same sentiment. This would happen with the foodies who dug my cooking as well, and having won all of the awards, competitions, and appearing on Bobby Flay’s BBQ show, I realized I had a pretty strong brand built in the region,” says Pacillo.
After finishing a touring gig with Brent Johnson and the Call Up, Pacillo has his eyes on making this version of the Alley work. There will be no cover charge (except when the rare out-of-towner comes through — tips to bands are always welcomed and encouraged), there will be TVs with eventual camera link-ups to catch the stage action for patrons who’d rather sit at the bar, and the kitchen will come back with new experimental dishes added to the menu.
Pacillo is also taking notes from past experiences, running the entire enterprise with a tighter hand. Jazz and blues standards are OK, but Pacillo tolerates absolutely no covers, unless it's an extremely impressive version, by rock bands. “I've learned you definitely can't make everyone happy, because everyone wants things their way. I have to have strong ethics, dealing with everyone fairly and being strong while not becoming inflexible,” he says.
Assuming licensing goes through, Pacillo anticipates a soft opening on Sunday, April 18, at the new address, 830 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Suite 101, Oakland Park. A revamped website (alligatoralleyflorida.com) and Facebook profile will also go up in the coming weeks. He’s also got a reunion of his old outfit, Groove Thangs, planned for April 30.
“I want to create a cool spot to hang with great beers, food, and great music, with superior production values. This is a spot for the people and artists. Hopefully, I can make a living at it as well! It's a funky Florida shack with award-winning food and live music operating on thin margins.”