The new Sandbar Grill has opened on the site of the
old Hungry Fisherman in Coconut Grove with a decided Southern
California ambiance, a 'feel' that comes as no accident.
Owner Eric Leitstein (left) and General Manager Andrew Bunin outside
Tastefully furnished with ash blonde tables, stools
and chairs, hand-painted waterfront murals and an overall beachy
interior décor, this newest Grove watering hole, at 3064 Grand
Avenue, promises to be a mecca for the 20 to 40-year-old casual crowd
for lunch, dinner and after hours. It's also intensely sports
oriented, with 15 television sets and eight satellite receivers to
bring in just about any game or event.
"This menu is a fun menu and we're trying to be a
fun place," said Eric Leitstein, one of the two California
partners in the 4,000-square-foot, 210-seat Sandbar. "We feel
that we're filling a need with a casual atmosphere. We'll probably do
some live music down the road. But, it's more of a casual place to get
something to eat, relax with a very relaxed atmosphere in here
and then dancing late night, from 11 'til close."
Leitstein, 38, says the Sandbar Grill offers a
surfer's southern California-Mexican menu, one that has been a huge
success for him at his Canes Bar and Restaurant in San Diego. Prices
on the menu top out at $10 and a good lunch can be had for under $10.
You'll find such familiar fare as carne asada and pollo asada. But,
for a real taste treat, be sure and try the fish tacos -- three ounces
of marinated mahi or dolphin with pico de gallo, grated cabbage, a
special sauce and cilantro.
"Fish tacos are so popular on the West
Coast," Leitstein said. "Nobody does them here that I've
heard of and I've been dying to bring them to Miami."
Leitstein tells a story of wanderlust and success that
has origins in South Florida. He came to Ft. Lauderdale in 1984 at the
age of 21 to live with his grandmother, fresh out of college in New
York, with a degree in exercise physiology and a job in Surfside with
the Pritikin Longevity Center. He soon moved to North Miami and
wangled a bartending job with C.A.T.S., then an upscale club operation
in the Mayfair.
"I learned how to bartend there," he said.
"That was the first high-end place that I tended bar. So, I got a
taste for Miami bartending worked there for a couple of years."
Leitstein soon found he liked tending bar, worked on
South Beach for a couple of years before wanderlust struck and he
moved on to Hawaii. He landed a job in Honolulu tending bar at the
Hard Rock Café, decided to see Australia and worked the down-under
bar scene for a while, all the time adding to his contacts and growing
knowledge of the
food and beverage industry.
"I knew someday I was gonna own my own place," he said.
Leitstein soon found himself back in the U.S., in San Diego, where he went
to work in management for the Red Onion, one of the largest food and
beverage operations in the country. When the Red Onion wanted to transfer
him to another city, he quit and joined another big West Coast player, Joe
McGillicudy's, where he met Joe Longo, the man who soon would become his
"I fell in love with San Diego," he says. "It was kind of a
cross between Hawaii and Miami. The weather was great, but it wasn't as
fast-paced as Miami or New York, or as slow-paced as Hawaii."
When McGillicudy's eliminated his marketing job, Leitstein and Longo put
their heads together and began making plans to open their own place. In
1996, they unveiled a 13,000-square-foot operation called Canes, offering
live music with name bands. After a year of struggle, the place caught on
and became a huge success; so successful that the pair bought a second
operation, an existing bar in old town Pasadena called McMurphy's.
"The story here is a Jew and an Italian buy an Irish bar in Pasadena
from a Chinese guy," Leitstein chuckles. "Only in America does
something like that happen."
Leitstein notes that because he has family and friends in South Florida, he
always harbored the notion of one day returning to the area.
"I know Miami and I love Miami," he said. "I think it's a
great city. And, I love San Diego. So, my dream always has been to be
bi-coastal, to have a place in Miami and a place in San Diego."
For more information on the Sandbar Grill, please call 305-444-5270.