Monday, April 19, 2010


theLOFT is Riverside’s newest bar, and is filling a niche in the King Street district.

A night out on King Street now takes you on a tour of three of Jacksonville’s best specialty drinking venues: throw back a unique brew and fill your belly with above-average bar food at beer-centric Kickbacks; linger over a bottle and nibble on a cheese plate at wine-haven Walkers; and now, get your spirits fix at theLOFT, a cocktail lover’s dream.

Owner Scott McAlister, the man responsible for the urbane, sophisticated architecture of nearby Walkers, works in construction during the day and his passion for both interesting spaces and creative cocktails led him to embark on this much-needed and well-received venture. Saturday’s grand opening saw a packed house and plenty of excited locals eager for a new nightlife hotspot in the neighborhood.

theLOFT bears no remnant of its former life as a Laundromat. It’s a big venue with a circular bar set in the center of the action. The exposed brick walls, wooden ceiling rafters, exposed ducts, and sweeping organic sculpture reminiscent of a coral reef cleverly balance the scale of the massive room. Overlooking the action of the main floor is the namesake loft space that houses the DJ booth and a few cozy, pillow-topped, built-in couches. It would be the perfect spot for a private party. Expect to hear Indie and New Wave tunes coming from above.

While theLOFT offers bottled and draught brews, cocktails are undoubtedly the specialty. According to Scott, he and the bartenders (such as Robbie Finkle and Carrie Smith, below) have spent the past weeks testing and re-testing cocktails in preparation for the grand opening. Scott described one evening spent lining up an endless array of infusions and concoctions, each accompanied by tasting notes and ingredients lists.

One night last week, bartender Robbie Finkle (see his bio below) gave me a taste of what theLOFT has to offer. Robbie served me a classic Old Fashioned that packed a punch, and I also tried a drink tentatively titled The Sonic that was invented by Scott’s friend Tina: 3 Olives cherry vodka, gin, simple syrup, lime juice, soda water, and a cherry. I usually pass on drinks made with gin but this sure was yummy and I’d definitely order it again. The flavors were well-balanced, yielding more of the sweetness of cherry than the burning of gin.

With the arrival of theLOFT to complement King Street’s other stellar drinking establishments, the neighborhood is now THE nighttime entertainment district in Jacksonville.

(Don't make the same mistake I did by forgetting about Park Place Lounge, a gay bar on the corner near theLOFT. I've never been but have heard good things!)

Meet Robbie, bartender at theLOFT
“I’m in psycho-ville and Finkle’s the mayor!”

A newcomer to Jacksonville, Robbie left the bright lights of NYC and moved to the area in January of this year. His experience bartending at popular NYC spots such as Hill Country BBQ and critically acclaimed Vintage New York Winebar (now closed) makes Robbie a tremendous asset to the Jacksonville nightlife scene. He is in his element behind a bar, feeding off the crowd and applying his “Finkle fingers of fate” to any number of spirits and ingredients in order to please a wide range of tastes and personalities.

DISCLAIMER: Robert James Finkle is a good friend of mine. He has created stellar cocktails from Alpenzeller Alpenbitter and cheap vodka at my place after the close of the bars on Friday nights. So, I know from personal experience that he can make a mean cocktail from the barest cupboard and most obscure, unrelated ingredients. Imagine what he can do with a stocked bar!

Name: Robert James Finkle
Goes by: Robbie
Age: 28
Hometown: Canandaigua, NY
Hometown Native Meaning: The Chosen Spot
Sign: Aquarius
College: Bentley College Waltham, MA
Interests: Friends, meeting people, new cocktails, beach, skiing, tennis, disc golf, football, live music, pandora radio, learning the ukelele, trying new things
Hero: my Dad
Cool people I've met: Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Marisa Tomei, Michael Strahan, Pink, Norah Jones, Paula Dean, Mario Batalli, John Popper, Jason Segal, Jonah Hill, Matthew Lilliard, Newt, Paul Rudd, Andy Samberg, Rosie Perez, Al Roker
Favorite person I've met: the late Jack Kemp
Favorite food: bacon wrapped scallops
Favorite movie: the Big Lebowski
Favorite blog:
Favorite team: Buffalo Bills
Last place lived: New York, NY
Work history: Bartender in New York (Hill Country BBQ, Vintage New York Wine Bar), Bartender in Portland, ME (Three Dollar Deweys, Casco Bay Lines), lobster fisherman in Portland, ME, Summer Camp Counselor in Berkshire Mountains, MA
Travel: Canada, Belgium, France, England, Spain
Wishlist: skydiving, Australia, learn sign language

925 King Street, Jacksonville
(904) 476-7283
Follow the theLOFT on Facebook for the latest updates:


Unknown said...

Wish I could have made it by Saturday night for the opening. Shoulda taken a nap, I guess! Looking forward to trying out some of Robbie's concoctions!

Frederick Wright said...

Welcome back to Jacksonville, Cari, and thanks for another terrific review. Even though I don't really drink (at least not without food) it is good to see a quality place open up.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but a night out on King Street might also include a stop at "Park Place", the gay bar in same general vicinity? I've never been there myself (non-drinker, natch) but have read good things.

Cari said...

@jsaal - hopefully we can swing by theLOFT for a drink this evening!

@Frederick - I'm embarrassed - didn't even think of Park Place, as I've never been there! Because the windows are darkened and you can't see inside, I haven't been enticed to pop in and have a drink there, even though I walk by a few times a week. Will update the post to include it - thanks!

Frederick Wright said...

Cari - Don't sweat it! The reviews I had read on Yelp are linked here:

I am just curious what your take on it would be, since you'd be unlikely to use terms like 'gayborhoood' in your review. The Stepin Fetchit mentality which pervades Jacksonville's gay life is very wearying.

Anonymous said...

Great Blog!! I also live in Riverside and work downtown so I am familiar with the many eateries in both places. Keep up the great work.

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