I am not a country/western guy. But I had been to Scandals Saloon in Wilton Manors many times over the years, a fan of the friendly atmosphere, great drink prices, and the hospitality of owner Ken Kelley and General Manager Howard Merritt.
So, you can imagine my dismay when I heard last month that the club was closing.
I made it a point to be there for the Sunday closing party — as did about a thousand other people. Even though there was an aura of sadness, there was joy in hearing all the regulars recount their favorite Scandals stories.
We all thought that Sunday would be the last day we would ever set foot in Scandals. But a few weeks later, two angels came forward and bought the storied saloon. The club that we all know and love will open its doors. once again, in the beginning of July.
The new owners are Bob DeBenedictis and Khan Bashir. I’ve known Bob for years because I worked in nightclubs in New York City before moving to South Florida, and Bob is the longtime owner of a number of LGBT businesses in New York City, including The Townhouse Bar, The East Side Club, and The West Side Club. He’s also owned many well-known LGBT businesses right here in Fort Lauderdale including Lips, Windamar Beach Resort, Better Bodies Gym, and many more.
Khan is Bob’s partner in Scandals, he’s also his friend of 20 years. Khan is an entrepreneur himself, having owned businesses including a car rental establishment, a travel agency, a limo company, and a restaurant.
Over the years, many people have asked Bob to open a Townhouse Bar here in Fort Lauderdale, but he didn’t believe The Townhouse formula would work in South Florida. Still, Bob has always been interested in opening a bar in his southern home; he was just waiting for the right opportunity.
Bob is admittedly a homebody when he’s not working. Khan, on the other hand, likes to go out. Scandals was his favorite bar, and he was understandably upset when he got back into town from a month-long visit to his native Pakistan last month and heard that Scandals was closing in a few days. Khan discussed the matter with Bob, and they agreed this would be a great opportunity for them.
With the help of realtor Joe Birmingham and community leader Toni Barrone, they were able to set up a meeting with Kelley and make the deal happen.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Bob and Khan and ask them a few questions about the new Scandals.
Why didn’t you reopen the doors the moment you purchased Scandals?
We know everyone loved Scandals the way it was, but we wanted to give it a fresh look, to show the club’s longtime customers that we care about them and are taking good care of the place they love. Basically, they have simply upgraded and cleaned up the place.
You are keeping the name, correct?
It’s Scandals we bought, and we have no intention of changing the name. We have, however, changed the bar’s tagline from “A Cure for the Common Bar” to “The Place to Make Friends” because it is more meaningful and we feel that’s what Scandals is all about. It’s a place where you make friends.
Scandals’ staff was very well loved. Have you been able to hire back any of them?
So far, we’ve confirmed seven familiar faces. And we’re hoping for a few more. But we can assure you, any new staff will have the same friendly demeanor that Scandals is known for.
How did you choose your general managers, Howard Merritt and Dan Boutin?
Well, Howard has been the GM of Scandals from the moment it moved to its present location. No one knows Scandals better than he. Besides that, he’s been in the industry for 47 years. Dan’s family is in the hospitality industry, so he grew up in it. He spent many years in Key West involved in restaurants, guest houses, and other businesses. Most recently he was the GM of Tropics for almost four years. Howard and Dan will make an amazing team.
How are you getting the facelift done in less than a month?
A lot of the credit goes to the two guys we just mentioned, our fabulous GM’s, Howard and Dan. Plus, the team we have doing the cosmetic work is top notch.
Here’s the question on everybody’s lips: What’s the parking situation?
Parking will be free!
Is the weekly lineup going to remain as it was?
Basically. The format will remain the same.
How excited are you?
This is our first venture into a country/western bar, and we are extremely excited about its differences, and for this new project. We want to make it the best of its genre. More important, we’re happy to be able to give the community the bar they’ve known and loved for so long.
For the latest on Scandals reopening, visit ScandalsFla.com.