In bars, as in life, there is one all-important rule: don't mess with a good thing. That explains why The Abbey Brewing Co. was an easy choice for this year's "best bar renovation." For years, the small saloon has been our go-to for good conversation and great beer. When it reopened in February after a five-month hiatus, we wept alcohol-deprived tears of joy to see that the joint hadn't lost its soul.
Yet, the Abbey has changed. You might not notice it as you tip back that frothy pint, but owner Raymond Rigazio is banking on his subtle tweaks boosting business.
"It still has the same vibe, the same great Abbey feel," he says. "But in fact we've made it a whole lot better."
The biggest change is the space, of course. Rigazio knocked down the west wall of the bar and instantly tripled the size of the place. Whereas the old Abbey felt like a quaint little log cabin, Abbey 2.0 is more like a ski lodge that you could do some serious shacking-up in.
Rigazio also axed the wooden shelf along the wall. But instead of tossing the materials, he recycled the old Dade County pine -- a tree species extinct for nearly a century -- into a new 14-foot bench. He also added two wheelchair-accessible lounge tables in the front, along with three other tables to boost the bar's boozing capabilities.
But the most important changes just might be the most subtle, Rigazio says. He installed a "heck of a ventilation system" to filter out smoke and new lights bright enough that you can actually see what you're drinking, but not bright enough to spoil the mood.
And mood is important at the new Abbey. Rigazio says the bar has added cocktails and a huge collection of micro-distilled spirits -- including over 45 kinds of American whiskey and dozens of small-batch gins -- to whet a woman's whistle.
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"We spent five months busting our asses to make the place look beautiful," Rigazio says.
And he's succeeded. The old flock is still here every night, sipping the good stuff. But there are new (pretty) faces in attendance as well.