SEBASTIAN — Bill Curry, beer in hand on a Tuesday afternoon, recalled stepping out of the bathroom at Earl’s Hideaway Lounge and getting whacked over the head with a pool cue.
Thirty years later, Curry, 68, stood about 50 feet from the same spot and he laughed about it. Now, Earl’s is where he enjoys his retirement, pulling up on his ’94 Harley Road King, stopping there for a drink once during the week and once on weekends.
“It’s nice,” he said. “It’s been here for a long time. A lot of people have been through these doors.”
Decades ago, Earl’s, set alongside the Indian River Lagoon, was a “true” biker bar, he said, so of course it saw the occasional brawl. But since then, it has evolved — and so has its crowd. The next phase in Earl’s evolution: Its owners of more than 20 years are hoping to sell the place for $7.25 million.
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The waterfront bar remains a Sebastian staple. It attracts large weekend crowds — many of whom still roll up on their Harleys — with the live music at its sandy Tiki-bar. Earl’s is, and always has been, a good time, Curry said; the drinks flow freely and the blues guitarists shred loudly.
And the changes it’s seen over the years have been great, he said — so great that he hopes a new owner keeps it just the way it is.
William Ballough, 67, has co-owned the place for around 22 years, said he, too, hopes Earl’s won’t change much under new ownership. In fact, he brought the name “Earl’s Hideaway Lounge” back after its previous owners tried briefly to rebrand the place.
“There was a certain panache, maybe, or at least a recognition benefit to where it was Earl’s, as opposed to where he brought it,” Ballough said, with a touch of nostalgia.
Ballough and John Laman co-own the place, which originally began originally as a fruit stand, he said. But even as they brought Earl’s name back to its roots, it continued to evolve.
“How it evolved, it was very much a case of just watching Indian River County, or Sebastian, grow — it did around us,” he said. “That’s back when Sebastian was 3,000 or 4,000 people.”
Ballough is selling the place simply because he wants to retire, he said.
“Like anything, it’s great, but there’s a time when it’s time to move on,” he said. “And that’s where I’m at in life.”
Listed at more than $7 million, the place is still highly profitable, bringing in about $2.6 million a year, according to Ballough. Even in 2020, in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it raked in nearly $2.2 million, according to his listing for the property.
Ballough bought the bar more than 20 years ago simply because he thought it would be a good business opportunity. The property, less than an acre, went for $410,000 in 1999, according to Indian River County property appraiser records. And based on the bar’s typical weekend crowds since then, Ballough’s bargain paid off.
“It was the the classic motivation,” he said. “There’s a bar for sale, it’s riverfront, it’s got some history to it and it’s reasonably priced. So those were probably all the components that made us think, ‘Yeah, let’s give it a try.'”
The place has since become more family friendly. For example, “colors” — insignias representing different biker gangs — are now strictly prohibited, as evidenced by a number of signs posted around the joint.
“Back then, some people wore colors, and you had arguments,” Curry said — hence his encounter with the pool cue. But that particular occasion was just a mixup, he said. He was mistaken for someone else.
Sebastian retirees of a different ilk enjoy the space now, too.
“I typically come in Sundays … I just love the music,” said Meg Frigon, 67, while sipping on a beer with her husband, Ray, 74. “I just think it’s such a landmark.”
About a dozen other lively customers sat alongside them 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, each apparently unfazed by the bar’s imminent sale.
The Frigons, originally from Connecticut, moved to Sebastian four years ago. Meg Frigon has been going to Earl’s since then, and even with her roots in the northeast, she says that Earl’s pizza is one of the best, and easily the best she’s found in Florida.
“Their pizza is great pizza,” she said.
Just like Curry, the Frigons like where Earl’s is at in its evolution and are hoping new owners will keep it the same.
“I hope it doesn’t get gentrified, doesn’t get too uppity,” she said. “Everybody’s welcome here. It’s got a nice flavor.”