Before the Fish House was the place to be in Downtown Pensacola, there was Beef & Ale – a small burger joint that was, for its time, the place to be in Downtown Pensacola.
The year was 1989, and Collier Merrill – whose Great Southern Restaurant Group today includes The Fish House and Atlas Oyster House in addition to Jackson’s and Five Sisters Blues Cafe – went to Beef & Ale all the time.
(Back then, Pensacola nightlife was nothing compared to the vibrant scene we now enjoy.)
The owner of the hole-in-the-wall burger joint was a retired drummer who just wanted to chill, Merrill says. So in 1998, Merrill decided to rent the Beef & Ale and rebrand it to create The Fish House. In 2001, he purchased the building where the Fish House was later joined by its sister restaurant, Atlas.
At the time, the building housed many tenants, among them law firms, a nail salon and a bait shop for the marina below. In 2002, Merrill stopped renting to the smaller businesses, and the offices became storage and meeting rooms for his successful restaurants.
This is when Atlas was created, offering a similar menu to the Fish House, but with more steamed food, sushi and, of course, oysters by the dozen.
In the former bait shop sat a few pieces of furniture and a plastic table, he tells us. Someone asked to use it for a meeting, and Merrill agreed. More and more people began to rent it for small gatherings, and the next time he wanted to use it to do some paperwork himself, he was told by his Director of Marketing that it was booked for the month.
(Excellent marketing, indeed.)
Now, the bait shop that formerly sold shrimp for catching fish is the (fancy capital letters) ‘Bait Shop,’ a private room with its own bathroom and beautiful furnishings, rented for intimate parties.
The Fish House and Atlas Oyster House offer both indoor and outdoor seating, with a view. Located on a harbor overlooking Pensacola Bay, it’s the perfect place for a casual lunch or date night dinner, and a great spot to grab drinks and an appetizer – particularly on the popular Wednesday Ladies Night.
Where food is concerned, you ought to try the Grits a Ya Ya, a rich and creamy pile of some the best Gouda grits you’ll ever eat, paired with fresh Gulf shrimp. Fish House is also a lovely brunch spot, for all-you-can-drink mimosas at only $5 on Sundays, with a view and a breeze off the water.
Merrill says the key to success is taking care of the customer. Many of his employees have been here since the restaurant opened.
You know who else has been here? Celebrities like Mariah Carey and Shaq, who are pictured in framed photographs behind the host stand. Many athletes who come for rehabilitation at Andrews Institute also dine here.
“Lots of celebrities come in, from movie stars to actors and singers. You never know who you’re going to see at the Fish House,” says Director of Marketing Maria Goldberg, who can help you plan an event if you’re celebrating while you’re in town.
If you enjoyed your time here, be sure to leave a review.
Mr. Merrill loves to read them.
“The good ones, at least,” he says, with a grin.
– Ashley Kahn Salley
Lead Storyteller, Innisfree Hotels