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Bar-BQ Sauced: An oral history of Bar-BQ-Bar

The beloved downtown dive is closing; here's what its owners, staff and longtime patrons have to say

Photo: Photo by Christopher Garcia, License: N/A

Photo by Christopher Garcia

Hurst Marshall and Ashley Dishman

Photo: Photo Courtesy of Fiction and Ashley Dishman, License: N/A

Photo Courtesy of Fiction and Ashley Dishman

It’s 1998, and downtown Orlando is home to fewer bars than you could count on your fingers. The best national bands tour almost exclusively through Sapphire Supper Club (now the Social) and local bands lay claim to Barbarella (now Independent Bar). Sitting squarely between the two is Orange Avenue Card and News, an unassuming, practical stop for the daytime crowd that would over the next 16 years become speckled by the colorful legacy of Bar-BQ-Bar.

When Bar-BQ-Bar opened its doors in 1998, it was primarily to serve up its namesake: authentic Southern-style barbecue. The laid-back joint was the brainchild of co-owner Ashley Dishman, who at 21 realized she did not do well working for others and let her imagination conjure the rich concepts that eventually embodied the trifecta of downtown debauchery found at Bar-BQ-Bar, Eye Spy and Sky Sixty.

Once Dishman got the notion in her head to create her dream bar, her stubbornness to see it realized led her to propose a partnership with co-owner Hurst Marshall. On a Sunday at Dexter’s in Thornton Park, Dishman sat at the bar, enjoying brunch with her friends. Marshall, Dexter’s bar manager at the time, was in local bands and the two shared mutual friends, but he’d never met Dishman until that day she perched on a stool to ask: Want to open a bar with me?

Marshall said yes, but only if he could be a full partner and co-owner. They assembled a core staff, a quirky group of distinct personalities who would remain behind the bar for 10-year spans or longer, some of whom went on to open current favorite Orlando haunts like Matador and Lucky Lure.

Attracting musicians and their scenes with cheap drinks and proximity to popular venues, the bar culture overtook the restaurant ambitions, and when plans to build the rooftop bar Sky Sixty (inspired by Dishman’s interest in hotel architects like Philippe Starck and love of Miami hotel bars) were laid a year later, the kitchen was scrapped to make way for the elevator that transports inebriated 20-somethings to the rooftop bar. Eventually, the pair went on to buy out the back of Barbarella to achieve Dishman’s next vision, Eye Spy, a maze of hidden rooms and cameras she dreamed up after a trip to Milwaukee’s spy-themed Safe House.

Then and now: Bar-BQ-Bar photos demonstrate the dive’s unruly nature

The success this downtown duo experienced led the bars to grow every year since they opened, and now, at what Dishman calls the height of their best business, all three bars are closing on Aug. 31 and reopening under the ownership of the Social/Beacham as Olde 64, Spy Bar and Sky Bar. Dishman and Marshall will exit downtown and have no plans to reopen Bar-BQ-Bar in a different location. Instead, Marshall and Dishman, whose creative use of space is tried and true, will summon a new hangout as soon as negotiations on a location are settled, using only some of Bar-BQ-Bar’s kitschy remnants. The bar’s jukebox will go to one lucky patron through a special Facebook giveaway at the bar midnight Friday, Aug. 29 (facebook.com/barbqbarinc or sign up at barbqbar.co for more updates).

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