(SS) Even if bars are not allowed to reopen next week here in South Florida like the rest of the state, Hunters Nightclub Wilton Manors figured out a work-around.
The gay club culled together a curated menu of dishes from nearby Wilton Manors eateries, morphing itself from a mere bar into something more akin to a boîte. It’s only been two weeks, but management estimates they are doing 30-60% of their former business, depending on the day.
“Hunters Nightclub ... has always been a community-based project,” says owner Mark Seymour. “It’s always been our mantra since we opened in Chicago in 1982.”
That Windy City location, monikered from Seymour’s nom de danse as an international ballroom champion, is closed. There is another Hunters in Palm Springs. The South Florida location opened the last few days of 2013.
So, from then until the coronavirus shutdown in March, Hunters has been cultivating relationships with neighboring Wilton Manors businesses and organizations.
Seymour recalls, “When the restrictions meant you had to serve food in order to open, we went into that pool that we had already established and said to ourselves, ‘What is the best way to support the community and at the same time getting us open?'"
In a matter of a few weeks, he contacted Wilton Manors restaurants and formed a sort of partnership where they sell the nightclub signature dishes to be added to the mini-menu at Hunters.
“We pay them for the ingredients,” Seymour explains. “It’s an extra sale for them that doesn’t require a diner sitting at a table.”
So far the lite fare includes:
- Bubbles and Pearls Shrimp Cocktail — shrimp with tequila-infused cocktail sauce on a bed of mixed greens for $10
- Bona Italian Antipasto Plate — Italian meats and cheeses for $8
- Le Patio Hummus — house-made hummus with assorted crackers and parsley for $6
- Hunters has two of its own dishes, Heidi-Ho’s Freshly Popped Popcorn for $3 and Patrick’s All Beef Weiner for $5.
“He approached us and asked us to make hummus for Hunters and we thought it was a great idea,” says Jean D’Éire, co-owner of Le Patio, where Seymour is a regular. “It was a fantastic idea to have other restaurants participate and thus giving us all extra work and income during this difficult period of COVID-19.”
There were all kinds of permitting processes, particularly with Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, that were new to Hunters' staff. Seymour says he gives “kudos” to the City of Wilton Manors and Broward County for guidance.
Leigh Ann Henderson, city manager for the City of Wilton Manors, says in an email, “The city is fortunate that the iconic Hunters Nightclub ... [has] been able to quickly pivot during this time. Our economic development services team was happy to help assist them through their transition that will hopefully help their business and our local economy thrive.”
Dining al fresco at Hunters Nightclub in Wilton Manors. (Jennifer Lett/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Seymour did have to add a kitchen.
“We had recently expanded the square footage of Hunters and we had plans on putting in a new bar,” he says. “But because of the pandemic we changed our mind from putting in a bar to putting in kitchen.”
Hunters makes everything except for the hummus.
D'Éire, who owns Le Patio with chef/wife Vero Leroux, says, “So we communicate by text and Mark sends in his order a day in advance and we whip it up for him, three quarts per batch.”
Even with the limited menu, adding food service has been challenging for Seymour.
“We were never a restaurant and we had growing pains,” he admits. “We’re working on making it a streamlined operation. It’s a little clumsy now and then.”
Hunters Nightclub is at 2232 Wilton Dr., in Wilton Manors. Hours are 3-11 p.m. Monday-Friday and 2-11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 954-630-3556 or go to HuntersFL.com.