Red Bar owner Oliver Petit hopes to re-open for business on Memorial Day weekend.

GRAYTON BEACH — When the iconic Red Bar burned to the ground in February, co-owner Oliver Petit made a promise to the community and his staff that the business would be back and better than ever.

So pencil in a May 25 celebration of a man's being true to his word.

“I have some good news. We're in full rebuild mode,” Petit said last week when asked about the Red Bar renovation. “We're shooting for a Memorial Weekend opening.”

Construction began in earnest in early October, Petit said. Debris has been cleared to the foundation level and concrete is going to be poured on the site either next week or the week following the New Year's holiday.

Framing work will get underway shortly thereafter.

“The community, our local government and the insurance company have been really wonderful,” Petit said.

It was early on the morning of Feb. 13 that the South Walton Fire District was dispatched to Hotz Drive, off County Road 30A, in response to a call that the Red Bar was burning.

Opened in 1995 in a building whose history dated back to 1939, the Red Bar was historic and hugely popular. County Commissioner Tony Anderson called it “the reason many people discovered Grayton Beach.”

Firefighters battled the blaze for about three hours in high winds, reports indicated, and though some nearby buildings suffered superficial exterior damage, the only true casualty was the bar itself, which was labeled a total loss.

The Red Bar fire ranked high on the list of most viewed stories published in 2019 by the Northwest Florida Daily News. In that story Petit vowed to “rebuild to the exact specifications — maybe with a better bathroom.”

And so, Petit said, it will be. Some restaurant floor space has been sacrificed in the new construction plans to expand the building's restrooms to increase customer comfort.

Another alteration, one that won't be noticed by patrons, are changes in the kitchen area, he said.

After the fire Petit was able to offer about 20% of his employees work at Louis Louis, another South Walton restaurant in which he holds an ownership stake. The other 80% had to seek employment elsewhere.

Nevertheless, Petit said, the former staff “unanimously” assured him at a recent Christmas Party that they expected to return when the Red Bar reopens its doors.

The Red Bar jazz band, which has been playing together for 24 years, also anticipates returning when the Red Bar reopens, as does local favorite band Dread Clampitt.

“We have a lot to look forward to,” Petit said.