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BBQ, Beer and Bears Await at The Lodge - The River District restaurant revolution continues

Jun 20, 2015 08:16AM ● Published by Kevin

No matter how hot it gets in downtown Fort Myers, it will always be cool in The Lodge. The restaurant with a northern hunting and ski lodge theme is the latest addition to the dining empire created by Kearns Restaurant Group, Phoenix Holdings of SWFL and McGuigan Restaurant Concepts.

The group is the brain trust behind Ford’s Garage, The Firestone Grille, Capone’s Coal Fired Pizza and Los Cabos Cantina. Each is unique in theme and cuisine. The Lodge is one of their most ambitious downtown renovations to date.

It sprung from the restaurateurs considering what type of cuisine was missing in the River District. Determining it to be barbecue, the rest of the plan began to unfold.

Lodge-7They purchased a massive smoker that can accommodate 700 pounds of meat and brought in a chef and pit master from North Carolina to run it. The “All American” barbecue served here comes with a dry rub; rub and sauces are for sale.

Lodge-6While barbecue is the signature item at The Lodge, you’ll also find casual, pub-style food such as salads, sandwiches and specials that include wild game.

The new dining and entertaining concept is taking over 5,000 square feet of what was formerly Red Rock Saloon on First Street. Greeted by an eight-foot grizzly bear, you may forget you’re in Southwest Florida from the minute you walk in the door.

You can even pose for photos with the intimidating beast, courtesy of an in-house camera that allows for direct posting on social media.

In the center of the restaurant is a large, open and inviting bar, made with beautiful wood from a town appropriately named Wilderness in West Virginia. Wild artifacts hang from the walls, antlers surround the chandeliers and an elk head is mounted above a huge fireplace. A fireplace might seem counterintuitive for a restaurant located in a tropical climate, but this one is designed to contain rather than emit the heat.

One of the most talked-about features is the full-size ski lift that rises along a backdrop of lighted trees. Managing partner Daniel Kearns says, “There’s a lot of movement inside.”

The hunting theme brings a sporting element to the space, as does the 176-inch LED TV, said to be the biggest south of Orlando. Televisions can also be found around the bar, but most eyes are drawn to the video wall that takes up the side of the restaurant opposite the ski lift. This wall not only shows snowy landscapes but can also display major sporting events. A video specialist came in from Germany to get the projections just right.

Audio engineers were also brought in to make sure the speakers both looked and sounded optimal while being surrounded by so much wood. Managing partner Nils Richter says, “There is nothing to this degree here (Southwest Florida.)”

Big sound systems and big screens mean the managers are expecting sports fans to find a new home in The Lodge. “It’s a cool place with good food, cocktails and there’s no better spot to really watch a game,” says Kearns.

Whether you’re a sports fan or a beer connoisseur, you’ll be hard pressed to find a colder draft than at The Lodge. That’s because the bar is equipped with frosted Ice Cobra taps; the interior walls stay frozen. Not only will your find top brands and craft beers here, but also many local brews.

Another trendy new bar feature is the craft beer wall with 12 rotating selections. Similar to a system you may have seen in some wine bars, each beer tap has a digital screen above it, displaying information about the beer. A special credit card or key fob provided by your server allows you to select the beer and the size of the pour.

Try as much as you want, and pay at the end. “A lot of craft beers are expensive, so if you’re not sure if you want to spend $7 on one, get a taste first to see if you like it,” suggests Richter.

All the other restaurants in this group have historical themes, and this newest one is no exception. The Lodge pays homage to Billy Bowlegs, the famous (and infamous) Seminole Indian chief who once called Fort Myers home. The Billy Bowlegs Bloody Mary is a signature cocktail here.

The Lodge is the restaurant group’s fifth entry into the downtown-dining scene, but no one is concerned about cannibalizing what already exists. Richter says the philosophy is, “More restaurants will bring more people, and everyone is doing better.”

Partner Mike McGuigan adds, “If after opening The Lodge and with our four other restaurant concepts you can’t find something downtown to suit your palate, chances are you’re just not hungry!”

Gina Birch is a regular contributor, a lover of good food and wine, and a well-known media personality in Southwest Florida.

The Lodge 2278 First Street, Fort Myers kearnsrestaurantgroup.com

Greeted by an eight-foot grizzly bear, you may forget you’re in Southwest Florida from the minute you walk in the door.

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