WEEKI WACHEE — John Nicol arrived Monday morning to the bar that has more or less been his home for nearly two years. His mission: to salvage what he could from the blackened hulk that once was the Ramble Inn.
Nicol and two friends spent much of the day shoveling ashes and debris from pool tables and the floor while securing liquor and whatever else survived the early Sunday blaze that destroyed the bar on U.S. 19 about a mile south of the Hernando-Citrus border. According to the State Fire Marshal's Office, the fire at the one-story watering hole in a remote section of the county is being investigated as an arson.
Nicol, 46, and his partner Sal Tufaro, took over the business in January 2008 from building owner Harold Sonnay. Attempts to reach Sonnay by phone Monday were unsuccessful. Nicol said Tufaro is in Citrus Memorial Hospital recovering from heart surgery.
For years, the bar was a favorite watering hole for the biker community and a host site for numerous charity events.
"They've been very supportive of the biker community," said Don V., editor of scootergoods.com, an online motorcycle magazine in Hernando County. "It's big loss, and there doesn't seem to be a place in Hernando that can replace it."
Nicol said that trucks and vans were coming and going from the bar throughout the day Sunday. People were stealing signs off walls, liquor bottles that appeared undamaged and anything else they thought they could salvage. "Every chair in here we paid for with our own money and now it's gone," he said.
"The crazy thing is that this puts me and three good bartenders out of work," said Nicol, who said he had only liability insurance for the bar. "It just sucks."
State fire marshal spokesman Detective Stacy McIntrye said that anyone with information on the fire is asked to call the state's tip line toll-free at 1-800-877-NOARSON (1-877-662-7766).
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or email@example.com.