Raise the roof: AJ's to be 'bigger and better'
AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar in Destin has bounced back and then some since the thatched roof atop the building caught fire in February.
“It has taken on a whole new face,” said Marketing Director Tracy McCraw. “There has always been a restoration and revitalization plan in the works for AJ’s, but this has just shifted it into high gear. It was a bad thing but we’ve taken it and said, ‘Let’s just make a better, badder, bigger AJ’s.’ ”
The restaurant has already reinstalled the iconic thatched roof, and as promised built it bigger and better than the previous roof.
“It is taller now and it is a two-tier roof so that ventilation can come through and give it a cooling effect during the summer,” said McCraw. “We kept the palm thatch, but at the very bottom it’s shaker shingles.”
Fortunately for the restaurant, the vintage marlin that sits atop the thatched roof was down for refurbishing during the fire, and has now been placed back up on it’s perch.
Besides the thatched roof, restaurant owner Alan Laird said he has a few other projects in the works for this favored Destin location.
“We are adding an observation deck above the first floor,” he said. “It will be a step-down deck because there are some people that just like to relax and it’s just a casual place to be.”
The deck will measure 8-by-70 feet and be standing room only, not additional dining space, Laird explained.
“It will bring people out to the edge, and be a great place to watch the Rodeo, the sunset and everything,” he said.
In addition to the deck, Laird said he is adding a unique roof to the top level known as Club Bimini to help keep off the rain and regulate the sun.
“In Florida, we always have problems with rain on open decks and during the shoulder season you need the sun to keep people warm, so I found a roof system that’s pretty simple,” said Laird. “It has four different panels, kind of like a plantation shutter, and this way it will open up or close and we can follow the sun. It’s still an open deck, but during the winter I will be able to heat the deck and during the summer I can A.C. it to some extent.”
The area will also have movable plastic windows that can enclose the area in inclement weather, but be raised up when the weather is favorable.
Laird said he has an aggressive timeline for the renovations, and hopes to complete them before the busy summer season starts in July.
“We are expecting to set the piling for the upper deck in the next two weeks,” he said. “That will be a two week job, then we will start the observation deck and then the roof will be in the following week, so hopefully everything will be completed in 30 days.”
Laird added that he has other projects for the Destin location set for later in the year, but those, he laughed, will have to wait until after tourist season.
“I’ve been doing a lot of building,” he said, mentioning his newly opened AJ’s Oyster Shanty on Okaloosa Island and his soon-to-be-open location on Cinco Bayou.
“In the future for AJ’s Destin, I will be taking down the dry storage building, adding 28 parking spaces and square footage because we want to add another hall,” he said.
Work on the hall, McCraw explained, will begin in the fall. The new building will act as a venue for events and weddings and will serve as the front entrance to AJ’s when not in use.