Has St. Augustine been sipping from its own Fountain of Youth?
Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorer and admiral Pedro Menédez de Avilés, St. Augustine is—as everyone in the world must know by now—the oldest continuously-occupied European settlement in the country. So, of course, tourists want to see the Oldest House, Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, Old Drugstore and Authentic Old Jail. But for locals who have been there, and done that, and done it again, wouldn’t it be nice to see something new for a change?We’ve scoured the Oldest City looking for new attractions, new restaurants and anything else new that you might not have heard about yet. We do want to note that the list isn’t intended to be comprehensive and that “new” is relative, especially in a city that’s almost 450 years old.
For a bar with no name, The Bar With No Name (16 S. Castillo Dr., 826-1837)—or No Name Bar to the locals—is making quite a name for itself. Located a block south of the Pirate & Treasure Museum, the place is small, nondescript and easy to miss, but its “no cover, cheap drinks” philosophy, live music and clear view of the Castillo, the bay and random passersby attract locals and visitors alike. As far as munchies, the menu is pretty limited, but they make a darn tasty burger, and don’t even get us started about the lobster bites.
Where Opus 39 was a hoity-toity bistro serving up five-course meals, the new eatery occupying 39 Cordova St. is a bright and cheery bistro dishing out down-home Southern comfort food (think chicken ‘n dumplings) with a healthy twist (think tofu ‘n dumplings). The Floridian (829-0655, thefloridianstaug.com) prides itself on catering to omnivores, herbivores and locavores, which is convenient if you’re dining with a grizzly bear or giraffe who only eats meat or leaves locally-grown and sustainably-produced. And every ‘vore will be fighting over the fried housemade pickles with grassfed buttermilk dressing.
Not only is Haszard’s Open Pit Beef (5633 A1A S., 461-4201, openpitbeef.com) new to St. Augustine, but so is its cuisine. Inspired by their summer vacations in Ocean City, the Haszards are bringing ultra-casual Maryland-style chow to the First Coast—from open pit, top round beef sandwiches and pulled pork to crab cakes and hand-cut boardwalk fries. Other regional “delicacies,” like half smokes, Grandma’s hot beef and dump cake, may be met with some resistance.
Catholics in the Oldest City welcomed a new leader last month when Pope Benedict XVI named Felipe de Jesús Estévez bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine (seriously, with “Jesús” right there in his name, how could he not?). Estévez, a native of Cuba who previously served as auxiliary bishop of Miami, is one of only 26 Hispanic bishops serving in the U.S. He succeeds Bishop Victor Galeone.
We’ll have to wait another month or so until we can actually see their faces, but 39 Indian gharials, an endangered species of crocodilian, are waiting to hatch (right) at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm (999 Anastasia Blvd., 824-3337, alligatorfarmus). The Alligator Farm also added another “first” to its list of accomplishments: Crocodile Crossing is the only zip line course in the world to cross over a zoo.
It’s not widely known outside of the city, but Brad Pitt has been living in St. Augustine for several years. So far he’s been able to keep a low profile by staying out of the limelight, but now that Angelina Jolie has joined him, it’s only a matter of time before the paparazzi figure it out and chase them away. In the meantime, fans are most likely to catch a glimpse of the A-listers at their home at 17 King St, where they’re only too happy to pose for photos. But no autographs, please. While you’re at Potter’s Wax Musuem (800-584-4781 potterswax.com) enjoy some of their other new faces like Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow and Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter (left). By the way, we heard Robert DeNiro is moving in soon! Visitors will notice a new layout and restaged vignettes of the wax figures to encourage interactivity and maximize photo opps. Dance with Austin Powers and Dr. Evil; walk the red carpet with John Travolta and Nicolas Cage; steer the Jolly Mon with Captain Jack Sparrow.
All shopping roads in Northeast Florida don’t lead to the Town Center. St. Augustine Premium Outlets (500 Prime Outlets Blvd., St. Augustine, 826-1311, premiumoutlets.com/staugustine) recently added White House | Black Market, Sports Mania and Cotton On to its 80-plus retail shops. Head across I-95 for Peaches ‘n Cream children’s apparel, Hickey Freeman/Bobby Jones and New York & Company—the stores join high-end designers like Gucci, Kate Spade and Michael Kors at St. Augustine Outlets (500 Prime Outlets Blvd., 826-1311, staugoutlets.com).
You’d think a city that’s almost 450 years old wouldn’t have anything left to uncover, but archaeological experts and historians are still discovering pieces of the Oldest City’s past. Earlier this year, archaeological conservators at the St. Augustine Lighthouse attempted to identify a bronze bell recovered from a ship that sunk off the St. Augustine inlet more than two centuries ago. Historians believe the ship may have sailed during the American Revolution.
St. Augustine city archaeologist Carl Halbirt made a revealing discovery when crews were digging on A1A to build a trolley pull-off across from the Castillo de San Marcos. According to Halbirt, the remnants of old wooden posts, post holes and soil stains that were uncovered may show evidence of a fortification possibly built in the 1500s or 1600s prior to the Castillo de San Marcos. Even while building the Pirate & Treasure Museum, crews found numerous centuries-old relics including a sword hanger, knee buckles, a compass, bottles and shards of pottery, all of which are now on display in the museum.
The Oldest City finally has its own thrill ride, and in true St. Augustine fashion, it’s also educational. Well, kind of. El Conquistador Speed Boat Tours (St. Augustine Municipal Marina, 111-E Avenida Menedez, 738-4695, elconspeedboat.com) take guests, who dare, on a high speed expedition aboard a 33-foot modified, v-hull catamaran through Matanzas Bay, the Intracoastal Waterway and, weather permitting, the Atlantic Ocean. The 60-minute tour is professionally narrated and focuses on St. Augustine’s maritime heritage, landmarks and local marine life. Exactly how fast the boat goes they won’t say (so as not to scare off the timid or disappoint adrenaline junkies), but suffice it to say, you’ll lose your hat—but hopefully not your lunch.
“X” marks the spot of the city’s most engaging new addition: The St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum (12 S. Castillo Dr., 877-467-5863, thepiratemuseum.com). Comprised of more than 800 authentic pirate artifacts from the private collection of best-selling author and motivational speaker Pat Croce, the museum takes visitors on a fascinating journey through the golden age of piracy and the lives of colorful characters like Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, Calico Jack and Captain Morgan (yes, they were all real people). History buffs will be captivated by rare treasures like an original Jolly Roger flag, one of the world’s oldest wanted posters (for the capture of Captain Henry Every) and the only authentic pirate treasure chest in the world. Kids will love the interactive exhibits, including cannons, a treasure hunt and spooky binaural sound booth recreating Blackbeard’s final battle. Even fans of fictional pirates like Captain Hook and Captain Jack Sparrow will find items of interest here.
The Casa Monica Hotel (95 Cordova St., 827-1888, casamonica.com) got a facelift of its own with the completion of the first phase of a $1 million renovation project. All guest rooms were redesigned with custom furnishings including upholstered headboard in plush velvet and classically-inspired rouge carpet. Oooh, plush velvet…
Guests at Spa Laterra (near King & Bear at World Golf Village., 940-7800, spalaterra.com) are usually the ones getting the make-overs, but the spa, which recently reopened after being closed for more than a year, underwent a complete remodel of the 9,500-square-foot facilities (but don’t worry, the circular lounge, garden sanctuary and floating treatment cabanas didn’t go anywhere). The menu of services was also overhauled and now includes St. Augustine-themed treatments such as the Moor mud cocoon, la Florida body scrub, age-defying Fountain of Youth facial and warm algae wrap.
No matter how many times you’ve been to the World Golf Hall of Fame (1 World Golf Pl., 940-4123, worldgolfhalloffame.org) or Ripley’s Believe It or Not! (19 San Marco Ave., 824-1606, ripleys.com) you’ll never see everything because the museums are continually adding to their collections throughout the year. World Golf Hall of Fame, for example, supplements permanent exhibits like “Golf Around the World” and the Trophy Tower with rotating featured exhibits such as “Nancy Lopez: Pride, Passion & Personality” and memorabilia from the most recent Hall of Fame Inductees including Ernie Els, Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki and President George H.W. Bush, which are currently on display.Ripley’s Believe It or Not also likes to keep things interesting by mixing in new pieces amongst its famed shrunken heads and life-size replicas of the world’s fattest, tallest and thinnest men. Among its recent additions are the world’s smallest production car (pictured on page 48), a 131-pound single-seater that measures 4'5" long, 3'3" wide and 3'5" tall; and a 4' by 6' mosaic of Tim Tebow as a Florida Gator made out of more than 46,000 white, black, green, blue and red BBs. Nope, not a single one is orange. ]