Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Sun Sentinel.
Dania Beach Grill, a 75-year-old landmark that has sat empty and run down since April 2019, will be reborn as Lucky Fish Dania Beach after a $5 million transformation to revive the beachfront watering hole.
LM Restaurants, the Raleigh, N.C.-based owner of waterfront eateries including Lucky Fish Pompano, Oceanic and Two Georges at the Cove, will take over the city-owned seaside shack at 65 N. Beach Road. Under the agreement, LM will tear down the weathered beach bar within six months and replace it with Lucky Fish, a 6,000-square-foot restaurant, outdoor tiki bar and live-music bandstand, by the end of 2022.
Dania Beach commissioners voted 4-1 late last month to pick Lucky Fish, ending a competitive bidding war involving seven major restaurant groups on the East Coast. Other contenders included PDKN Holdings (Bokamper’s, Bo’s Beach), owned by former Miami Dolphins linebacker Kim Bokamper, and Caddy’s, which runs seven beachfront spots on the Gulf Coast.
LM Restaurants co-owner Lou Moshakos says he signed a 75-year lease to run the entertainment complex. He also agreed, in his bid, to give the city a 4 percent cut of profits, although finer details will be negotiated when he meets with Dania Beach’s finance department in late November.
“For 75 years, it was the place to go,” says Moshakos, a longtime restaurateur who opened Deerfield Beach’s Seafood Shanty in 1978. “We want that vacation feel, like you’re on an island somewhere. We want to bring it back and make it the place to be again.”
For the past two years, the former home of Dania Beach Grill, once popular for its conch fritters, live music and cheap beer, had become a place to avoid. Dania Beach officials shut down the “structurally unsafe” beach bar for racking up a trove of code violations more than three pages long, including damaged and corroded awnings, broken walls and beams, rotten wood and exposed wires.
The abrupt closing of Dania Beach Grill sent regulars fuming, sparking online campaigns to save the grill. “I want my damn conch fritters,” one woman vented on Facebook at the time. “This is how they ruined old town Davie. Don’t do it to Dania.”
Moshakos says he wants what regulars want: to revive Dania Beach Grill’s breezy Old Florida vibe with laidback tiki drinks and live music every day. Ambitious plans call for turning the northern wedge of Frank C. Adler Park, where the Grill sits, into covered patio seating framing the outdoor bandstand. The restaurant also will take on the sleekly modern character of Lucky Fish Pompano, the sister restaurant and Keys-style tiki bar near the Pompano Beach Pier. The building also will sit on an 18-foot elevation designed to avoid rising seas.
“It’s going to be competing with views from the Dania Beach Pier,” says Moshakos, who is building Lucky Fish with his wife, Joy, and daughter, Amber. “In my mind, [Lucky Fish and Dania Beach Grill] have a lot of similarities. You can be very casual, come in with dogs or dressed in your bathing suit, and just be yourself.”
He says his family-run company will be busy these next six months finalizing designs and securing permits to raze the grill and put shovels in the ground by next summer.
The fast-tracked build-out and one-story design of Lucky Fish appealed to Dania Beach commissioner Lori Lewellen, who says Moshaka’s project had the fastest construction timeline of any bid, and would assuage residents still upset over Dania Beach Grill’s sudden pre-pandemic demise.
The Eat Beat – Restaurants, Bars and Recipes Newsletter
Dining out, cooking in and all the South Florida restaurant news and information you need.
“In talking with residents, they don’t want to delay this any further,” says Lewellen, who visited the beach bar occasionally. “Lucky Fish reminds me of the old Grill, only much nicer. Things will have to be modernized. Two-dollar beer doesn’t really exist anymore, and even when the old restaurant was around, they were charging too little for what they were selling.”
Carey Souder, a local blogger who runs the Friends of Dania Beach Facebook page, says an informal group poll of 30 residents recently praised Dania Beach’s choice of Lucky Fish. Count him a fan, too.
“The concern was that Dania Beach didn’t end up with two Quarterdecks,” says Souder, referring to the neighborhood pub chain perched next to Dania Beach Pier to the north. “Saving the Dania Beach Grill for me is not about saving the original structure, but about saving the idea of the grill: a place that’s affordable, has live music and an Old Florida vibe.”
The new Lucky Fish will tout a menu similar to Lucky Beach Pompano, with sandwich, smash burger and salad prices in the $8-to-$14 range, draft beer and wine in the $6-to-$10 range and cocktails between $8.50 and $13. A Nathan’s footlong hot dog costs $9, and Lucky Fish Dania Beach will feature a breakfast menu of bagels and lox, omelets, burritos and croissants.
The ambitious plan to recapture the nostalgic feel of a landmark beach bar is not the only waterfront project on Moshakos’ slate. In December 2019, he also bought Deerfield Beach seafood pub Two Georges at the Cove, now under construction and being remodeled as The Cove Restaurant and Tiki Bar. (Its patio remains open.) In December or January, Moshakos plans to open Morea, a Mediterranean small-plates restaurant inside the Paramount condo building two blocks north of the W Fort Lauderdale hotel.