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J Magazine Fall 2017

The magazine of the rebirth of Jacksonville's downtown

form of new businesses,

form of new businesses, music and art. It’s about time intergenerational crowds, to use a polite term for you older folks, took notice, too. Leading that charge is “The Elbow,” the L-shaped stretch greeting visitors just off the Main Street Bridge that aims to continually cultivate the growing nightlife Downtown. The independent collection of more than 20 local establishments is responsible for much of Downtown’s weekend buzz, bolstered by the monthly art walks, lounges, local fare and gallery space. Its pickings — a smattering of bar, food and entertainment venues — have the propensity to become a second home for young locals and retirees alike, supplying experiences that run the gamut from rave-style bashes at nightclubs to prohibition-era themed bars and a historic theater hosting everything from stand-up comedy to ballet troupes. And though its appeal draws a relatively millennial crowd, The Elbow is wholly dedicated to showing every generation what fun there is to be had Downtown. It’s as unique as it is rare: a concentrated group of businesses owned and operated by River City natives that was once only a pipe dream to anyone who had borne witness to the dilapidated collection of buildings lining the streets of Downtown as recently as 2011. Today The Elbow hums with life. The goal of the business owners in the area isn’t just monetary; they know their pursuits are bigger than they are, with many forefronting the movement Downtown and determined to revive the creative and social energy that roused the city in its heyday. An eclectic mixture of restaurants, pubs and after-hours establishments, The Elbow is essentially a geographic area that extends a few blocks north and east from the intersection of Ocean and Bay streets. At its heart is the Florida Theatre, and it includes such longtime favorites as Dos Gatos and Indochine as well as newcomers like the soon-to-be-opened Cowford Chophouse and Myth Nightclub and Element Bistro. The last venue embodies the young hybrid spirit of a 2-in-1 with offerings that run the gamut from live DJ sets housed under Jacksonville’s only LED video ceiling to organic, locally sourced cuisine and craft cocktails. The Elbow’s draw is just as varied. While many of the dining establishments and, of course, the Florida Theatre cater to patrons of all ages, many of the after-hours lounges and pubs attract a somewhat younger crowd. Some feature live music while others highlight specialty drinks and tasty grub. he district’s businesses are owned by Downtown pioneers T who were able to look past the area’s run-down buildings and see a diamond in the rough. Cases in point are friends and business partners Duane DeCastro, Jason Hunnicutt and Brian Eisele, who saw something different — something worth salvaging in between what Downtown was and what it could be. Now, they’re an integral part of what it’s becoming. Together, the three helm 1904 Music Hall, the premier music venue and bar at what is arguably the forefront of The Elbow. Flanked by the historic Florida Theatre and the 1904 team’s second venture, Spliff’s Gastropub, the music hall is one of the first Elbow tenants that visitors see from the bridge. Outside, it’s deceptively unassuming. With curtains blocking light from windows of its Ocean Street storefront, the venue opens to a dimly lit standing-room concert space of stripped rafters; bare, warehouse-style floors; paper lanterns and an open bar. Large-scale murals, equal parts unusual and beguiling, cover the walls from floor to ceiling in the space leading to a stage with all the works. The lounge-turned-music venue didn’t always carry with it the narrow focus of fostering Jacksonville’s growing music scene, but five years into its opening, it’s become a premier haunt for patrons and musicians. “From the beginning, it was just our intention to offer a destination Downtown for everyone, from performers all the way down to the patrons,” says Eisele. “We wanted to offer the whole nine, from the sound systems to the light rigs, just to make 1904 an exciting place to see a show.” The trio met through music, food and a mutual friend, with DeCastro and Hunnicutt forming a band together that would later influence a love of Jacksonville’s budding music scene. In 2010, following DeCastro’s move back to Jacksonville after a short stint in South Florida, the friends began to explore ventures in food and drink — organic sandwich shops and Located in the century old Bostwick Building at the corner of Bay and Ocean Streets, this rendering shows what Cowford Chophouse is expected to look like when complete. The newest addition to The Elbow will feature two floors of tables, private dining rooms and a rooftop bar. a kava bar among them — before they realized it wasn’t what they wanted. Moreover, it wasn’t what Downtown needed. The partners tapped into the bonds formed through craft beer and live music, leveraging their knowledge and connections in both realms and following a hunch to the venue that would later become 1904. “Opening (a music venue) up in the heart of the city ... we’d looked in Springfield, Riverside and all over the city, but Downtown was kind of calling our name,” Hunnicutt explains. “At the time there were others around Jacksonville, but we felt it was a really good asset to have one Downtown. It felt like a good opportunity to bring a new wave of nightlife to the area.” The urge was compounded by the need to address what was sorely missed Downtown, DeCastro says, noting how courtesy of the Cowford Chophouse. 88 J MAGAZINE | FALL 2017

different the area looked just six years ago, well before the city at large began to funnel a trickle of interest back into its heart. When the music hall reached capacity for the first time during a New Year’s Eve party headlined by Greenhouse Lounge, they realized they needed to focus their business around live music. “There’s so many great artists in this town, and there weren’t nearly enough venues,” DeCastro recalls. “So we saw kind of a niche there. And reaching capacity for the first time that night was the first time we realized, hey, maybe we’ve got something here.” The artists realized it, too. Among 1904’s regulars are the Parker Urban Band, whose vocalist, John Parkerurban, says the experience offered by the music hall is like no other. Parkerurban remembered taking the 1904 stage for the first time as a warm experience not unlike the full-scale festivals he and his band have performed at, citing the quality of production and the hospitality of the owners as components of a “great experience.” “The vibe of a venue is so important because as an artist, you draw inspiration from your crowd and your surroundings,” he says. “And at 1904, everything adds to the flavor of the vibe — the artwork on the walls, the sound production and the light system all (have) the same quality of a large stage or a festival. It’s an experience ... every musician should have.” The music hall’s role in quenching the city’s growing thirst for live music experiences wasn’t lost on the band, either. “It’s definitely a key venue because they’re offering a place where musicians who aren’t usually heard can go,” he says. “Phenomenal local bands who are so much better than what the radio has to offer, international and national touring bands go there. Them getting that chance, and 1904 giving them that opportunity, has really enriched the music scene Downtown.” ostering that niche in more ways than one, 1904 keeps its F appeal broad; the music hall acts as an event space and gallery in just as great a capacity as a music spot and a bar. DeCastro says that variety has afforded them a crowd of new and returning faces, occasionally pulling in families while dutifully supplying a millennial demographic with artists like Universal Green and PVRIS. It’s with pride that the owners offer something that patrons young and old alike feel comfortable with, whether FALL 2017 | J MAGAZINE 89