How many of you out there have worked on opening a business in a historic district? If you have, then you understand the additional effort, time and expense it takes to make building modifications in order to keep the charm and integrity of the building in line with history. Well, last week, two upcoming Cruz Bay establishments were granted permissions from the St. John Historic Preservation Committee to move forward on their updates to the historic buildings in town that will house them. So, over the next few months, there will be two new options for dining and entertainment in town.
In 2016, Cruz Bay was designated a National Historic Site, following the earlier incorporations of Charlotte Amalie, Frederiksted and Christiansted. The National Historic Preservation Act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 and since has far and wide protected historic buildings and areas from being turned into strip malls and parking lots. In essence, it might be difficult and untimely for small business owners to adhere to sometimes. But, in the end, it preserves the culture of small towns with buildings significant to the history of the area and the US as a whole.
Now, Cruz Bay differs from many National Historic Sites as it does not offer the expansive, stately buildings of Danish architecture that one might find in downtown Charlotte Amalie or Christiansted. Like the underlying charm of Cruz Bay itself, you have to look a little harder to see the “modest wooden vernacular cottages, which up until not too long ago represented the majority of Cruz Bay’s residential and commercial structures,” according to author of “Cruz Bay from Conquest to Exploitation, a Forgotten History” and member of the St. John HPC, David Knight Sr. These buildings, combined with the more astute Danish architecture of the Enighed Great House (Elaine Sprauve Library) and The Battery, weave the web of the history behind our downtown area.
Two new restaurants are currently in the process of moving into two of these unseemly historic sites. And, last week, the owners of the new establishments received permissions from the St. John HPC to move forward with their modifications to the buildings’ exteriors. Which means we are one step closer to seeing these exciting projects opening to the public in the coming months!
One of these two projects is set to open in the space (pictured above) that once occupied La Tapa below the Quiet Mon Pub. The Refinery, a bar and restaurant aimed at offering Caribbean style cuisine, craft cocktails and rums of the region is expected to open at some time in December. Now, you are going to recognize the names of some of these partners if you have been visiting Cruz Bay and frequenting the watering holes of town for the past decade. Elderfield Roberts of St. John and Dallas Osborne of Kentucky have partnered with quite the dream team of St. John industry professionals; Laura Valente (former bartender at The Longboard and Ocean 362), her husband Nate Bohning (former chef at Asolare, Sushi St. John, Fatty Crab and Oceans 362), Jason Cawthron (owner of rum consulting firm, Dissenting Spirits) and Brandon Towle (you know, with the mohawk 🙂 ).
Approved by the HPC were new exterior paint colors, lighting, ceiling fans and a drink rail around the existing railing (pending it does not interfere with the view of the building from the exterior). This historic building that bargoers and diners have been frequenting for decades, both up the stairs and on the street level, was built around the time of the 1917 transfer of the USVI from the Danish to the United States.
The second project, (and this one might surprise you!) will be housed in the (above pictured) building across the street from the Longboard that was occupied by Dog House Pub, Duffy’s Love Shack, Castaways, The Back Yard and Crazy Crackers over the years. It is, according to Knight, one of the oldest of these vernacular structures in Cruz Bay. If you look closely, a two-story wooden cottage, which will house the new bar and restaurant, stands behind the stone addition to the building closer to the street which was constructed prior to the establishment of Cruz Bay as a National Historic Site.
The new concept, The Upstairs Bar and Grille, is being brought to you by some acclaimed establishment operators on St. John. You know about the Windmill Bar, right? 🙂
Well, Christie Register and Andy Peter, who operate the Windmill Bar alongside Ronnie Jones, are partnering on this new venture that will bring back to Cruz Bay the concept of a sports bar around mid-November. A void that many of us have been missing since Dog House Pub closed its doors in 2019.
Approvals were made to add a sign to the exterior of the property, a wrought iron gate to the entrance on the side of the building closer to the Post Office and red umbrellas without advertisements to provide shade to tables on the second-floor deck.
So, this is ALL pretty exciting stuff, right? Well, stay tuned for more in-depth updates on both of these new spots. I am doing a tour of The Upstairs Bar and Grille this afternoon and will have more details for you on that next week. I’ll also be meeting with some members of The Refinery team early next month for a peek at their progress and updated opening information. Congrats to both teams for working alongside the HPC to keep Cruz Bay’s historical charm while also offering some amazing new options to us all!
If you enjoyed the historical aspect of this article, grab a walking tour map of these sites in Cruz Bay from the St. John Historical Society to use on your next visit!