By: John Christopher Fine

Most people would have thrown their hands in the air and given up following Hurricane Irma’s wrath in September 2017. But not George and Angel Cabrera, owners of Old Conch Marina & Giftshop in Tavernier. 

Ocean water poured through the gift shop on the lower level — as much as 4 feet high — destroying inventory, fixtures and electrical conduits. Sand and noxious waste remained and had to be cleaned up. Old Conch Harbor docks and marina areas were devastated.

Old Conch Harbor is one of the area’s landmarks with a souvenir and gift shop, as well as a fresh seafood market with live lobster tanks where boats bring in their catch every day. The fishing boat marina is in a sheltered harbor. Now, almost four years after Irma, an adventure is about to emerge in the form of an expanded marina, restaurant, Cuban coffee shop, raw bar and Lobster Walk II — their signature fish and shellfish market.

The concept, planning, design and labor was done by the Cabreras along with trusted workers who turned wreckage into functional beauty.

The Old Conch Harbor gift shop has been expanded on the first level. Lobster Walk II is enhanced with large counter refrigerated displays and a new steamer to prepare their specialty, stone crab claws. Outside, the 32-foot catamaran ‘Reef Roamer’ is moored, ready to sail with guests on charters and ocean sunset cruises. Slips and docks have been renovated to accommodate more charter fishing boats. Outdoor picnic spaces and parking has all been expanded and enhanced with plantings.

Upstairs, the Cabreras created the feel of a magnificent wooden sailing ship out of what was once a jewelry store, then a yoga studio. 

“This is palope wood from Brazil. It is 30 times denser than red wood and seven times denser than teak,” Angel said of the long wood bar in the new Chart Room restaurant. 

Advertisement

The entrance is through a cathedral-like archway of coquina brick. The portico door was made on special order in Colombia. The bar is set with coquina brick, behind-bar porticos are artfully made with the same hand-crafted bricks. Illumination is provided by antique ship’s lights and fittings. 

Walls and the ceiling are paneled, carefully shaped to resemble the inside of a sailing vessel of yore. Nautical decor is everywhere along with a collection of art framed in lobster trap wood recovered from the ocean.

“We will serve lobster in season, stone crab claws, fresh locally caught seafood and jumbo Key West pink shrimp. None of our seafood will be imported,” Angel said. “There has been an overwhelming response from the local community asking when the Chart Room will open.”

In a special act of kindness, when husband and wife owners of Cuban Cafe were forced to move out when the property location they were in sold for development of a gasoline station, they were offered ground-level space at Old Conch Harbor. Specialty coffees and Cuban fare will continue their tradition just north and across the street from Cuban Cafe’s former location.

Terry and Cindy Adams, owners of “Reef Roamer,” will take guests on snorkel trips, social outings and sunset cruises. With capacity for 42 passengers, the charter catamaran is becoming a favorite among visitors to the Keys.

“Soon. Very soon. The Chart Room will be fully open by June,” Angel said. “Cuban Cafe has most of their installation completed. We have a raw bar set up on the marina deck already and Lobster Walk II is open for business.” 

More information is at www.oldconch.com or 305-853-1010. Old Conch Harbor is located at 90311 Overseas Highway, Tavernier.

If you would like to have the Weekly delivered to your mailbox or inbox along with our daily news blast, please subscribe here.