Thanks to an inspired mix of vision, form and function, the new Beach Club at John’s Island Club has quickly come to life-and stayed active almost ’round the clock.
A lot of sad words are being written this spring about Vero Beach, Fla. For the first time in 61 years, the Los Angeles Dodgers, like the Brooklyn Dodgers before them, didn’t come to Vero to get ready for the upcoming baseball season, abandoning their famous “Dodgertown” training facility for a new complex in Arizona. In the Dodgers’ absence, sportswriters from around the country have been visiting Vero and writing plaintively about how this latest loss of baseball tradition has caused an “eery quiet” to come over the town.
These writers clearly haven’t had their ears, or eyes, open very wide while surveying the scene, however. While the sound of bats hitting balls may be harder to hear, in another part of town there’s an impressive amount of new activity that’s actually making Vero Beach a more lively spot than ever.
Club: The Beach Club at John’s Island Club
The center of this action is the new Anglo-Caribbean-style Beach Club at the John’s Island Club, a 1,400-member property that has been a Vero Beach fixture since 1969. Opened in November 2008, the new Beach Club replaced a facility with the same name and in the same location—across the road, along a stretch of pristine, club-owned Atlantic Ocean shoreline, from where John’s Island Club has its main clubhouse, three championship golf courses, 18 tennis courts, a 13,000-sq. ft. fitness center and much more, as part of an impressive array of member amenities.
Having the same name and location, though, is pretty much where the similarities between the old and new Beach Clubs end. The first version had long been a popular casual dining spot, but was one-dimensional in what it offered and severely limited in its ability to host large numbers. So after the old Beach Club, like the rest of the property, took a double whammy of hits from successive hurricanes in 2004, the John’s Island Board and its management team, led by General Manager Brian Kroh, stepped up plans to revamp the site and building so it could provide a better fit with John’s Island’s changing membership and activity needs.
Same Space, Much Different Place
Those changes started with more varied menu options. Drawing heavily on input generated from member surveys and focus groups, and working closely with the club’s Design and Facilities Committees, Kroh, along with Assistant GM David Colclough and Executive Chef John Farnsworth, wanted to turn the new Beach Club into a venue where members and their guests of all ages could enjoy a greater variety of food and beverage choices in a wider range of settings. At the same time, they wanted the new site to also give people young and old who weren’t planning to eat or drink incentive to cross the road, by providing new places to relax and hang out that could be every bit as attractive and enjoyable as the beach itself.
For the F&B side, a plan was drawn up to create three distinct dining venues: a main “Island Room” that would open up to an elevated terrace overlooking the new pool deck and ocean; a more intimate “Ocean Hearth” dining room, and a “Rafters” bar. The concept for the new Beach Club was also packed with a list of attractions that included a game room with billiards and other tables; “soft seating” areas, both indoors and outdoors, arranged around inviting fireplaces; a library; a kids room, and more.
It all certainly made up a grand new plan. But there was another similarity with the old Beach Club: All of these features would have to fit into the same footprint, because there was no room to expand beyond the original site. And the need to address inadequate parking and provide more kitchen and storage space, while keeping service operations largely hidden from view through a “Disney-like” system of underground corridors, only added to the challenge at hand.
|The “Rafters” bar and its tapas-style menu has proved to be the most popular venue of the new Beach Club. “We built Rafters for 300 meals a day, and at Christmas and other peak periods we’ve already had 600,” says GM Brian Kroh. “It’s clear we tapped into a market—the after-movie snack and after-dinner drink crowd—that’s bigger than we thought.”|
Rising to the Occasion
The solutions, devised and directed by John’s Island’s Director of Engineering, Rex Wilson, in conjunction with a team of experienced outside contractors well-versed in club projects, began with an innovative decision: If the site couldn’t be expanded outwardly, it would be increased vertically, by adding another seven feet of elevation. This not only provided more space for a lower-level parking garage and out-of-the-way service areas, it also created optimal ocean views for everything that would be above ground.
And for the new spaces that the membership would use, the emphasis was on keeping everything, inside and out, as open and as integrated as possible.
The new Beach Club experience starts by proceeding past a landscaped wall that establishes a connection with the rest of the John’s Island property, by replicating the look of the base of the club’s Golf Clubhouse. Stairs and ramps beyond the wall lead to entry doors for an atrium that offers an immediate view across the pool to the ocean. Specially milled, mahogany-planked doors with louvered sidelights can be adjusted to modulate the sea breezes as they come through the atrium.
“We were concerned it might be a real wind tunnel,” says Kroh. “But we’ve been surprised at how pleasant it’s been to have the breezes coming through as people come in, and we’ve kept [the atrium doors] open more than we thought.”
|The “outdoor living room” has proved to be a popular destination for members who like to hang out at the Beach Club, even if they weren’t planning to eat or drink there.|
The atrium also provides access to the adjacent food and beverage venues. The Island Room has been designed to seat up to 144 in booths, banquettes and freestanding tables of various sizes and shapes. Reflecting a recurring design theme throughout the new Beach Club, the center of the Island Room opens entirely to an outdoor dining terrace through mahogany bi-fold, stacked wall panels, and its east wall opens to pool deck seating through bi-folding mahogany doors. Like other rooms in the new clubhouse, it features heavy timber trusses and milk-washed, woodplanked ceilings with lighter-toned stone floors.
The more intimate, 68-seat Ocean Hearth room also has exterior walls that provide cross-ventilation and abundant natural light through mahogany bi-fold windows over raised planter boxes. To create a quieter dining venue, acoustical ceiling treatments are disguised behind a decorative foil of painted wood grilles. And the intimacy of the room is enhanced by a planked wood fireplace.
“All of the Beach Club rooms have been designed to offer an indoor/outdoor ambience that most clubs and restaurants can’t provide,” says Brian Idle, principal with Peacock + Lewis, the project’s architectural firm. “This gives the flexibility of expanding seating capacity on nice days and nights.
“Further, the variety of seating options within each room, with booths and banquettes in addition to tables, makes it possible to have different experiences each time you dine,” Idle adds. “Being able to offer these kinds of environmental options and create the concept of ‘restaurants within a restaurant’ are going to be keys for clubs that want to provide truly unique settings in the future.”
Filled to the Rafters
To the north of the atrium is the “Rafters” bar/lounge space that has proved to be the new Beach Club’s most popular venue since its opening. Featuring views to the beach as well as the pool deck and an adjacent “outdoor living room,” Rafters’ perimeter walls also open, with mahogany bi-fold doors, to raised, covered loggia areas for additional dining space.
Rafters also offers an abundance of seating options, including bar stools along a face-lit, granite-topped bar, bistro table stools, club chairs at cocktail tables, and cushioned rattan lounge chairs. And from the moment the new Beach Club opened, pretty much every seat of every kind has been filled, from earlier in the day to much longer at night than anyone at John’s Island anticipated.
“We built Rafters for 300 meals a day, and at Christmas and other peak periods we’ve already had 600,” Kroh says. “It’s clear we tapped into a market—the after-movie snack and after-dinner drink crowd—that’s bigger than we thought.”
|The design of rooms throughout the new Beach Club makes innovative use of bi-folding doors, panels and windows that lead to outdoor dining terraces, to greatly increase the variety and appeal of dining and relaxation options while staying within the same footprint as the previous version of the club.|
Much of the appeal comes from the food. Rafters features a tapas-style, small plates menu (presented, appropriately, in special mahogany frames, into which Chef Farnsworth slips computer-generated “chalkboard font” printouts as he makes menu changes). “There’s been overwhelming acceptance,” Farnsworth reports. “We’ve had constant, positive comments about how much people like the opportunity to eat light here.”
But atmosphere has also contributed to Rafters’ appeal—even from the pool and beach itself. Walk-up snack windows have proved to be extremely popular, and John’s Island has also instituted a service stand at the water’s edge, to serve beachside sunbathers from the same menu available within the building.
“The Beach Club’s the future; it captures all the reasons people want to come to Florida, and that’s why it’s a runaway success,” Chef Farnsworth says. “We’ve already set new records for lunch traffic, and we haven’t even seen the Easter and Spring Break crowds yet.”
Leading a tour, Kroh sees a young woman with several small kids, all happily enjoying what the new clubhouse has to offer. “That’s what we’re looking for,” he says. “We were convinced that if we stayed with the core mission of making this a family-friendly place for all generations, it would give more people more reasons to come here, and that’s certainly proving to be the case.
“All in all, we’re very happy with how the new design and concepts are working out; it’s been perfect timing that’s really given us a booster shot.”