At the Sol Mar Cocktail Lounge, which recently opened in the Portales de Vero building in the space previously occupied by the Bungalow Bar, the only question you need to answer is, “Shaken or stirred?”
Playing off the lounge’s location just up Flamevine from the beach, the name says it all – sun and sea. “If you live in Vero Beach, the sun and sea are integral to your daily life,” says John Scharr, Sol Mar Cocktail Lounge owner along with his wife Gina Scharr and their partner Ryan Scarpa.
The trio embarked on a mission to create a brand-new experience where their guests can escape to a tropical and modern environment with curated cocktails and a vibe like no other.
Little did they know that mere weeks after securing the location where they planned to open the cocktail lounge, Gov. Ron DeSantis would impose a lengthy coronavirus shutdown that would bring the hospitality industry to a standstill.
“This was something we’d been talking about for a long time,” said Gina, noting that after having sold their interest in Southern Social – a mainland southern restaurant with a progressive twist – earlier this year, the couple was ready to try something new.
The Scharrs developed a friendship with Scarpa during his visits to Southern Social and decided to partner for this new endeavor. It worked, said Scarpa, because “We each bring something to the table.”
Having grown up on the Jersey Shore helping his parents with their snack bar, Scarpa, who is also a partner at Block and Scarpa law firm, said before deciding he wanted to become an attorney, owning a bar was something he had an interest in doing.
Instead of letting pandemic closures get them down, the trio used the time to create a welcoming environment – hence the pineapple which the décor of the lounge is designed around.
“We chose pineapple because that’s the symbol for hospitality,” explains Gina, noting the lounge’s gold accents. She used the pineapple’s green and gold to contrast with black and white walls and a ceiling covered in a veritable forest of ferns and greenery.
They wanted the lounge to feel more like a comfortable living room than a bar. A couch-like seating area piled high with plump pillows runs the length of the place, allowing guests to gather in small groups or chat with others mingling in the open space.
Gina was inspired by some of the grand hotel lobbies in bigger cities. “Hotel lobby bars are some of the sexiest bars you’ve ever seen. I paid attention to where people were going in Miami, California and New York City and thought, ‘Let’s bring something like that here,’” Gina said.
And the result, said Scarpa, is tropical modern meets cocktail lounge, which he said Gina achieved by taking “the cool parts of unique lounges and bars from bigger cities and putting the Vero spin on it. We merged bigger-city cocktail lounge with beachy feels.”
After months of COVID-related delays, sanctions were lifted, and Florida bars could reopen at 50 percent capacity.
They quietly opened the doors and had a line down the sidewalk the first weekend.
The lounge was at capacity, guests were seated at the outdoor tables, and there were more people outside than in waiting for their turn to enter and order a unique curated drink, said Scarpa. And the news really does travel fast. A group of ladies from Miami saw the lounge had opened on social media and drove up to Vero just to check things out.
“We’ve dealt with so much adversity, but we knew the tide was going to turn. Sure enough, we were able to open our doors about two weeks ago, and the interest has been great. It’s been nothing but good news for two weeks, and it makes it all that much sweeter because of the challenges that came along with COVID,” Scarpa said.
Sol Mar offers various craft cocktails using more multi-stage ingredients than what John refers to as “and one” drinks, like rum “and coke” or vodka “and cranberry.”
“It’s chemistry. Making a cocktail should be like telling a story,” said John of their concoctions – old classics with a tropical, Sol Mar twist.
It’s as much about the drink as the experience, John explained, pointing to the elegant crystal decanters lined up on the bar filled with mysterious bitters flavors. They have everything from cardamon to grapefruit and black walnut to chocolate, which they use to accentuate the cocktails. Also on the menu are edible bubbles and smoke-infused glassware, taking the drinks to new heights.
The hottest drink on the menu right now is the Golden Pineapple served in a golden coupe glass. “It’s so sexy and so beautiful. It’s basically a play on this place. It’s like drinking the beach in a martini,” said Gina, describing the cocktail as a Piña Colada in a martini.
Also on the cocktail menu is the Sol 75, a rum Manhattan, the Flamevine Blues and The Believer. The menu will evolve and change, explained John, since he plans to offer cocktails that accentuate the seasons.
If curated cocktails aren’t your thing, they also offer a perfectly balanced selection of wines and craft brews as well. Said Gina: “We want to cater to everyone.”
Sol Mar Cocktail Lounge opens Monday through Friday at 5 p.m. and at noon on Saturday and Sunday.