A few years back, Fort Lauderdale's Himmarshee Street was a bustling downtown area filled with restaurants, bars, and entertainment. But lately, aside from places catering to the 1 a.m. bar crowd, much of the area has been left behind as a destination. Between the economic decline and migration to Las Olas Boulevard, the local office lunch crowd -- and even evening diners -- have disappeared from many of the downtown eateries.
Marc Falsetto, owner of Rok:Brgr, is trying to turn that around with his newest concept: Himmarshee Public House. The Canada native has lived in Fort Lauderdale since he was 16; he fondly remembers when the downtown area was in its prime.
"I grew up here," he says. "This is where I would come in high school and college, back when Riverfront was in its heyday. I want to be known as the pioneer that revitalized Second Street."
With two or three other concepts planned for the area, his ambitious goal is to turn the downtown historic district into a world-class entertainment hub that mimics other edgy, food-driven cities like Charleston, South Carolina; or Nashville, Tennessee -- cities that take advantage of their landmark locales. In fact, Himmarshee Public House actually occupies one of the oldest commercial buildings in Fort Lauderdale.
Though it could just be the buzz of a new spot, it looks as though his plans for revitalization are working.
On a recent Friday around 5 p.m., locals and office workers spanning from late-20s to 50s gradually started filling the urban-inspired space, decked out with rustic woods, brick accent walls, communal tables, and one of the largest bars in the neighborhood. Within an hour and a half, the wide-open space was packed with casually dressed locals, arranged office parties, and small groups of men and women in work attire celebrating the end of the workweek.
That's exactly what Falsetto was hoping for with this "sports lounge," a concept that fuses a pub and lounge environment. More than 40 stools line the custom-built bar and secluded seating areas with plush, tufted, leather wraparound couches and coffee tables. It's a sports bar including more than 30 high-definition TVs and a state-of-the-art LED wall. It's a nightclub with DJs spinning a mix of vocal house, hip-hop, and Top 40 starting at 11 p.m. It's high-end gastropub cuisine that spans the world with a selection of seasonally changing comfort-food options.
For the menu, Falsetto found inspiration in his travels around the United States and abroad; dishes range from traditional home-cooked and street-food options from the U.S. to Latin America to Asia and beyond.
Street tacos ($3), like the skirt steak with queso fresco, grilled onions, salsa fresca, and crema, served on a warm grilled house-made flour tortilla, are bright, fresh, and succulent.
Spicy lamb ribs ($12) with Abita "root beer" glaze, toasted sesame, and scallions combine the sweet and spicy flavors of the root beer with Asian influences that almost resemble tamarind when hot; as the dish cools, the vanilla and caramel flavors of the root beer come to the forefront.
Candied bacon ($9) -- one of the most popular dishes on the menu -- fuses house-cured pork belly with candied pecans and bourbon maple syrup. Presented in a shiny skillet placed atop a signature wood board, the saccharine belly is served in large, fatty chunks for a dish that is as tender as it is decadent.
Although the carnivorous options are the most sought-after, there's more than meat on the menu. Local produce is frequently featured in many of the sides and salads, such as the Greek chop ($10), with romaine, chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and peperoncinis with creamy Greek dressing.
The beverage program also follows current cosmopolitan trends, with a wide selection of classic cocktails and infused spirits, more than 40 beers on tap -- including special-release Funky Buddha selections like Sweet Potato Casserole -- and Prohibition-style punch bowls. Prepared for four to six people, these bowls are brought out with a ladle for a speakeasy-inspired self-serve option. For $50 apiece, the punches span from the "All Day, All Night," with aged Jamaican rum, fresh pomegranate, lime, orange bitters, cane sugar, and champagne, to the "Aperitif Italiano," with rosemary-infused Aperol, Jim Beam, seasonal apples, honey syrup, sparkling wine, and ginger beer.
Innovative, culinary-driven fashions like these are what Falsetto is attempting to popularize in the city.
"I thought the area needed more food-driven concepts that are fun and hip like what you'd find in New York or L.A.," says Falsetto. "Why should all the other cities have all the good things?"
Himmarshee Public House is located at 201 SW Second St. in Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-616-5275, or visit publichouseftl.com.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.