Mills Avenue newcomer The Guesthouse introduces itself to the neighborhood.
I miss the Peacock Room. The funky art hung haphazardly on the cigarette smoke-smelling walls, the $5 PBR and whisky shot special, and the small music room that housed raucous punk bands and local poets were so memorable. I spent many nights holed up there with other residents of the Mills 50 district.
But the Peacock Room is long gone, and in its place stands The Guesthouse, a stranger that, until I stepped inside, was sort of unwelcome. The dive vibe I held so dear has been replaced with an air of sophistication in an intimate, minimalist setting that will appeal to Millennials and more mature folks alike. Clean gray walls and a generous amount of potted shrubs, trees, vines and other greenery fill spaces that were once home to rickety tables and oddly shaped couches in need of a deep cleaning. And what’s more, the bartenders are excellent examples of neighborly service done well.
Owners Hurst Marshall and Ashley Dish-man, who got their start as the owners of downtown’s infamous Bar-BQ Bar (which has also closed), have turned their attention toward a more refined idea of what a bar can be—offering a beer list that is “accessible to craft beer drinkers, but we don’t think is intimidating to someone who would rather drink a domestic,” says Cory Bennett, who is the bar’s menu-crafter and manager.
“We didn’t come into this wanting to be a craft cocktail bar,” says Marshall. “We wanted to offer a handful of good traditional drinks. Philosophically, we also didn’t want to be a craft beer bar. We’re not here to do things on the scale that Lil Indies and The Matador are concerned with, but we wanted to still have something to offer.”
There are plenty of local beer selections, though, which speaks to another side of this reinvented Mills drinkery—the concept behind The Guesthouse was born from Marshall and Dishman’s desire to re-create an actual Old Florida guesthouse.
“She [Dishman] was thinking a ’60s or ’70s kind of feel, maybe a lake guesthouse, and that’s where the plants come into it. We really wanted that casual feel. We really want people to be comfortable,” says Marshall.
And if comfortable is what they’re looking for, they nailed it. Patios with small tables and lit candles grace the front and back of the establishment, and a large horseshoe-shaped bar with a butcher-block aesthetic sits in the middle of the interior. Marshall calls it a “centerpiece,” as though it’s a table in his home. The sentiment is both charming and familiar, as many of the patrons stay sitting at the bar for hours—the same way family and friends might gather around the island of a kitchen.
I’ll always be nostalgic for the Peacock Room, but it’s safe to say that The Guesthouse is a welcome addition to the Mills Avenue strip. Stop in and stay as long as you like—just like home.