Archie’s, that iconic Old Florida establishment across the street from the ocean on Fort Pierce Beach, is beloved by natives and visitors who appreciate its casual, laid back atmosphere, its burgers and seafood, its cold beer and the live music that drifts over the island in the evenings and on weekend afternoons.
Founded as a watering hole in the 1940s by Archie Summerlin — philosopher, poet and the unofficial mayor of Fort Pierce’s South Beach — Archie’s is an oasis of authenticity in a world increasingly prefabricated, plastic, sterile and soulless. Archie’s has character.
Where else can you find, elbow to elbow, tattooed bikers in black leather, brown-tanned sun worshippers in swimsuits, blue collar workers, gray-haired grandmothers, blond-haired mainland debutantes, bankers, artists, musicians, the rich, the poor, the unemployed and the hopeful?
I like Archie’s on a Saturday afternoon, with a cold brew, a dozen steamers, listening to a guy on acoustic guitar singing Jimmy Buffett songs with a breeze drifting by and waves crashing in the distance and a bit of sand in my sandals. Sweet.
Archie’s is a special place. But, part of what makes it unique is under threat.
As Joni Mitchell’s classic song about our natural environment laments, “They paved paradise and they put up a parking lot.”
Archie’s — or, as newcomers and regulators call it, Archie’s Seabreeze — has a parking lot made of sand. Across the street from waterside dunes, the sandy lot is part of the character of Archie’s.
The traditions handed down by Summerlin have been carried on by chef Patty McGee, a character in her own right, who purchased Archie’s in 1994 and rebuilt it following the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. She now wants to expand Archie’s with an outdoor stage, more outdoor seating, a second kitchen and more bathrooms. She needs a zoning change to make the $400,000 expansion. And, according to City Hall, to do so will require her to pave over the sandy parking lot.
McGee and her general manager, Mike Monti, seem resigned to the requirement.
Monti said city officials have cut Archie’s some slack over the past few years, not demanding that the nonconforming parking lot be paved. When the expansion is done and the parking lot is paved, “It will be a little more polished, but it will still be Archie’s,” he promised me.
“I’m trying to cooperate with the city and not be a problem,” McGee said. “I’ll do what I have to do.”
Still, McGee is not happy with having to pave the lot and is particularly concerned about how it might impact Archie’s character.
“Now that they’re going to rezone me, I’m sure the battle will be lost in the end,” she said.
Rules are rules, of course, but exceptions should be allowed for landmarks such as Archie’s. Paving seems wrong for several reasons.
1. Businesses are struggling in this economy. While it’s good that McGee can plan an expansion, the extra cost for paving what has been perfectly acceptable for generations seems unreasonable.
2. How can paving over a piece of paradise be helpful to the environment? It seems to be more environmentally unfriendly than friendly.
3. Archie’s is part of Old Florida, a part of our history that is slowly fading into memory. It’s unique and its character should be protected and preserved.
McGee is not just the proprietor of a South Florida landmark, she is a community saint, often hosting fund-raisers for causes such as breast cancer awareness, Hospice and the Humane Society. She is a beacon of generosity and the community — including City Hall — should be grateful to her and support her.
McGee told me that work on the expansion has been delayed and there is time for rethinking of the paving requirement.
“I think it’s worth everybody considering,” she said.
Because, as she wisely noted, “Once it’s done, it’s done.”
If you happen to be at Archie’s this afternoon or the next time you go there, join me in singing this song loud enough so the bureaucrats in City Hall can hear:
“You are my sunshine. My only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my Archie’s away.”
Follow Michael Goforth’s blog at TCPalm.com/goforth. Contact him at 772-409-1332 or email@example.com.