The lights have gone out at Restaurant Fire.

The recent second-time winner of a Florida Trend Golden Spoon award, the Gulf Place restaurant is no more as of this week.

Fire owner Brenda Darr declined an extended interview about the closing but did say the decision did not come easy. But for her at this time, "it was the right thing to do."

Director of Operations Mario McNally said his former boss just wanted to be able to spend more time with her family in Atlanta, where she will move.

"Her son lives there and she has new twin granddaughters she wants to spend time with. She's been working it a long time and when you work in the restaurant business, you don't get time off to spend with family," said McNally. "It has been hard. She was like a mother to me."

Darr hired McNally as a server when she opened the original Fire restaurant in an old abandoned fire station in New Orleans in 2005. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the restaurant floundered and Darr made the decision to move it to South Walton. Eight of her loyal staff followed her in a caravan down Interstate 10 to a new beginning at the beach. She opened Fire in Grayton on July 13, 2007. It moved to Gulf Place in 2011.

Darr sold the restaurant to third-generation restaurant-owner Drew Messina of New Orleans. She did not publicly list it for sale, but through mutual friends Messina heard of a possible opportunity and met with her.

"It was like it was God arranged," said Messina of the meeting.  

Messina and Darr reached an agreement that Darr takes the name "Fire" with her and all the Fire memorabilia, and Messina agreed to retain all the restaurant's employees who have been with Darr for several years.

"It worked out beautifully," said Messina.

Gone is the large portrait of a firehouse Dalmatian that formerly hung in the entryway, and a large TV takes its place.

Where the large TV used to hang over the bar, a large chalkboard is being installed where all the restaurant's bourbons will be listed, along with the bourbon of the month. More than 40 different bourbons, 10 single-malt Scotch, and blue-cheese-stuffed martinis will be offered.

The restaurant's signature drink will be an Italian milk punch.

As for the food, Messina said the menu will reflect his New Orleans' family's Italian, as well as French/Creole.

Messina said he has worked in the food industry all his life. He has been in this area on and off for 10 years, as well as working with his family and the famed Brennan family in New Orleans.

"The popular place used to be Sandestin, but from being in this area, I know the beaches of 30A have taken over from Sandestin and it continues to grow," he said.

Messina's should be open by the 29th, with a grand opening planned for after the first of the year, he said.

The restaurant will be open seven days a week for lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and dinner from 4 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday brunch will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Takeouts will be available, including bag lunches for the beach. Call 267-9020.