Stepping into Federal Bar Lakeland is a little like stepping back in time. But just for the right reasons. Designed with Prohibition style, appropriately I might add, because the building was built in 1917. If these walls could talk, they would tell tales of being used as a Post Office, an office for the FBI and more.
I think this reincarnation is by far, the best use of this gorgeous building.
Ten years married, countless travels across the world, Kara and Stewart Simm have talked about opening something someday, but the opportunity never presented itself. Kara spends an enormous amount of time doing event planning for local nonprofits. They run a business, Max Home Inspection, a commercial and residential inspection company they’ve had for over seven years. To say they were busy is an understatement.
While at an event for Emerge Lakeland called Rally in the Alley a few years ago, they happened to be standing right outside of the Federal Building. Stewart, looking up at the space from the alley, saw potential. “I looked up and thought, wow, that would make a great event space.” They both fell in love with the building. The character, the history of it, they loved everything. Kara looked at it like a potential event space. Unfortunately, the building wasn’t up to code, so they decided to let it go for the time being.
Some time passed, and even though the Simms weren’t actively looking for a property to create a restaurant and bar, they jumped when a lease became available with this building. “Most of the design and decor was all Stewart,” Kara explained. And by the way, did I mention she found out she was pregnant, too? I’ve got to say, they’re a power couple. Stewart was very proud to say they had the fastest buildout in downtown Lakeland, taking only seven months when it’s typically 2+ years! Next, they wanted to find out what the people of Lakeland wanted.
“We polled lakeland, and asked what kind of things did they want? What kind of atmosphere did they want to visit in the downtown area,” explained Stewart.
“We visited Tampa, Orlando, and we’ve been to big cities. So, along with the coolness of this building, the original brick dating back from 1917, we really wanted to bring that prohibition style to downtown Lakeland because there’s nothing like that here,” Kara said.
There is a full lunch and dinner menu all day, with brunch on Sundays. The restaurant is kid-friendly with a new kid’s menu coming soon. You can sit in the front bar area and order craft cocktails and food, all night. (And take a selfie with Jack Daniels!) However, I think the real jewel of the place is the back. Stripped down to original brick, with natural wood moldings, modern floor and light fixtures, makes The Bureau one of my new favorite spaces. Comfortable, leather seating is arranged like little lounges by the enormous windows. Giant plants dotting the room, a collection of board games to play, a second bar with the same craft cocktails, I can’t say anything I don’t like about this place.
“We can use The Bureau as an event space,” Kara added. The space is very flexible and can be rearranged within an hour for a totally different feel, great for parties, corporate events, etc. Stewart continued, “It was a shell when we got it, we ran plumbing, electric, AC, everything. It’s 1917 on the outside but 2018 on the inside. We left every brick available to be exposed.”
The gorgeous bars are made of poured concrete, weighing in at about six and a half thousand pounds, “It’s not going anywhere,” Kara laughed. While at the bar, try a Mule. It’s their most popular drink with thee best seller being The Interrogator, made with fresh strawberry, basil and vodka.
“We have a really healthy menu, people don’t realize or expect that from a bar,” Kara pointed out. The bowls are very popular and with good reason. They’re healthy and delicious. The most popular is the Blind Ahi Tuna Bowl made with sushi-grade tuna and a quinoa and brown rice mix. Stewart added, “we’re not being fussy with our ingredients, we’re not over processing. The food is regional, made cleanly.”
They do brunch, personally one of my favorite meals and activities to do on a lazy weekend day. Brunch is every Sunday from 11am until 5pm. Kara talked about the food, “We kept it really easy, biscuits and sausage gravy, breakfast egg rolls made with sausage, egg and cheese, Belgian waffle bites, breakfast tacos,” The Belgian waffle bites were so good! Crunchy on the outside, fluffy and warm in the middle, made for dunking in maple syrup, kids love them, too.
Daily happy hour goes from 4-8, including the weekends, with half-price selections. While you’re there enjoying your drinks, check out the details on the bars. Stewart made all of the wood sections, including the Union Jacks on the front room bar, he pays homage to his home country. Can you find them? The purse hooks are actually old railroad pins. It’s these small details that I love. It shows a passion and love for what Stewart and Kara are doing. I love the front bar, but Wow! I loved The Bureau in back.
I will be back for more brunch, more cocktails, more lounging, more just chilling out.
Check them out on Oct. 27 for Fright Night at the Federal, a fundraiser for Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine, purchase tickets at lvim.net.
As Stewart said, “Giving back feels good.”
124 S. Tennessee Ave., Lakeland