BROOKSVILLE — Ed Sanderson knows the lore and legend behind the Hilltop Lounge, back in the days when it was a classic smoky honky-tonk frequented by hard-drinking Bubbas who often liked to settle arguments with parking lot fisticuffs.
He doesn't want people to forget the old times. But as he reopens the doors of the iconic Brooksville watering hole this weekend, he wants customers to know that things are going to be different.
"I'll just say it's changed for the better," said Sanderson, 41, as he stood on the brand new hardwood dance floor of the bar, being relaunched as the Hilltop Saloon. "The history is still here, but now we're adding a new chapter."
Sanderson and his business partner, Ed Garcia, bought the storied Miss Kitty's Hilltop Saloon after former owners Jerry and Darlene "Miss Kitty" Terry announced last June that they were closing after 27 years because of Darlene's health problems. For the past six months, the new owners and their employees have been busy scrubbing floors, repainting walls and upgrading much of the bar equipment and furnishings.
Sanderson said that while he wanted to retain much of the flavor of the original establishment, he knew some things had to go in order to give it the nightclub atmosphere he and his partner envisioned.
"Smoking was one of them," Sanderson said. "We just didn't think it fit in with what we're trying to do."
Smoking will only be permitted in a fenced area on the back patio.
And the new Hilltop will not be a seven-day-a-week operation, at least for now, said Sanderson. Rather, business hours will be from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.
Opened in 1952, the edifice at Jefferson Street and Saxon Avenue was originally home to Snook's Hilltop Restaurant, a popular downtown dining spot. When Hernando became a "wet" county in 1962, the owners turned it into the city's first full-liquor lounge and package store.
Through the years, the Hilltop became downtown Brooksville's most popular bar, attracting a wide-ranging clientele that included everyone from ranchers to bikers to politicians and law enforcement officers.
But there was also trouble, too. Bar fights were commonplace before the Terrys took over the 1987. Sanderson promised that such behavior won't return. Instead, he and Garcia, both of whom have more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality business, want to develop a casual, slightly more upscale atmosphere.
"It's going to be a nice place to bring a date or family members for dancing or just having a good time," he said.
In addition to a full bar, a number of imported and craft beers will be available. And while he won't be offering food service, Sanderson said he plans to have food vendors on site during business hours.
Sanderson said this weekend's launch party will feature drink specials, prize giveaways and live entertainment.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.