When Merrill and Tony Hodge first bought the Dearborn Street building that housed a mini-mall back in 2004, they thought they would just continue to lease it out and relaxingly spend Tony’s retirement in Englewood. They had moved to the area from Marco Island, after falling in love with the area and the people who lived here.
But by 2009, the mini-mall tenants had begun to flame out and the huge property, which also included a courtyard, had fallen into disarray. The couple decided to take action and use the space to open something of their own.
“My husband is Austrian, and he’s always wanted to have himself a little bar,” Merrill said. “And he’s been in the restaurant business since he was born, practically. Of course, this isn’t exactly a little bar.”
She’s right — it’s not little and it’s certainly not just a bar. Englewood’s on Dearborn is a music event spot, where live music is played every evening they are open. The musicians are primarily blues-related, with some classic rock and dance bands sprinkled in, and they play at venues up and down the Suncoast, though Merrill also books some Grammy Award winners, too.
Music drives the vibe of Englewood’s on Dearborn. It originates from a stage back in the spacious courtyard and is piped into the main dining room, if diners choose to eat inside. If the weather is bad, the musicians set up on an inside stage in that dining room.
The bars are also plentiful, with one out front by the street, another in the main dining room and a third in the courtyard. But music and alcohol are not all the Hodge’s place has going for it.
“We also have great food, and we have a very eclectic menu,” Merrill said. “Because of where Tony is from, we have the Schnitzels and Hungarian Goulash, and we sell out of that all the time, but my Chef (Chris Coyne) worked in New Orleans for 10 years, so we also have things like Etouffee and Shrimp and Grits.”
Merrill and Tony have a distinct division of duties at their business, and they’re both there almost all the time. Merrill helps Chris expedite food orders back in the kitchen and Tony works in the front of the house, acting effectively as the face of Englewood’s on Dearborn and greeting everyone who comes in the door.
All the regular customers are familiar with his fedora and colorful euphemisms, both of which have ended up on t-shirts sold at the bar. Though the couple has completed several renovations and updates to the property in the last few years, the next one will include a gift shop, where people can buy restaurant/bar branded merchandise and even fedoras similar to the one Tony wears.
As much as the Englewood community appears to love and support the Hodges and their establishment, it’s obvious that the couple loves them right back. Merrill said she and Tony feel very fortunate to be both living and operating their business in Englewood.
“I just love this town,” she said. “We live about a mile from the downtown area and I can walk my dog here in the morning and get a cup of coffee. This place just has a relaxed feeling.”
Englewood’s on Dearborn is located at 362 W. Dearborn St., in Olde Englewood. It’s open Tuesday through Thursday, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. The music starts nightly at around 7 p.m.
To learn more, and to find an entertainment schedule and a menu, visit the website at www.englewoodsondearborn.com or call 941-475-7501.