The ivy-covered I.R. Burns and H.H. Bell Commercial Building in downtown Sarasota  that connects to the opera house has spent the last century watching the city grow. It’s lived many lives, but Co-owners Raffaele Perna and Nicholas Perdue along with Managing Partner Kaye Warr are working to bring back its 1920s character and energy while creating an innovative guest experience.  Built sometime in 1925 and owned by businessmen I.R. Burns and H.H. Bell, the building is steeped in local lore, with stints as an antique shop, commercial office, city operations location, various high-end restaurants, and most recently, Azul. As an homage to its history, appearance and location in the theater district, Perna, Perdue and Warr have renamed and rebranded the eatery as Rose & Ivy. “We’re trying to play off the theaters,” says Perna, who is also a co-owner of Clásico Italian Chophouse. “What do they bring the principal performers at the end of an opera or ballet? They always bring roses. And ivy of course, because the building is covered in ivy.” Eagle-eyed guests will spot a stained-glass rose window as they ascend the stairs and neon rose lights in the garden, a fitting tie-in to the new name and branding overhaul.

“Our goal is to restore the building to its real glory, bring some of that history back, and have the community enjoy it,” adds Perna. He describes the space as the perfect trio—with the main dining room on the first floor, a live music and piano bar area, a sushi lounge and private dining room on the second floor and an enchanting outdoor garden. “Rose & Ivy as a whole plans to employ what I call yin and yang service which is embodied by the philosophy that you can have a nice upscale dinner, run upstairs to see a live performance and hang out in the garden until late night enjoying a few cold drinks and a DJ,” Perdue says.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

As guests head upstairs, they enter the second-floor dining area, piano bar and sushi lounge. “We were told that back in the day, this was a very busy piano bar, and we’re looking at bringing that vibe back,” Perna adds. The eatery is developing a program that pays tribute to the area’s performing arts culture. Artists like singers or piano players can come and perform upstairs, after which the restaurant will buy them a cocktail or an appetizer. 

The second floor also boasts a lovely room with hand-painted murals that will again be a private dining area. “This was I.R. Burns and H.H. Bell’s building, but they are rumored to have hosted John Ringling on many occasions, and it’s thought that he used this room as an impromptu office and entertainment space. Very close to substantiated rumor has it that these murals were painted by John Ringling,” says Perna. “There was a historian who came in, and I was told that John Ringling did these murals himself.” A potential self-portrait of Ringling—and his signature, adorn the walls, which also showcase scenes of Sarasota. There are even tales of a now-sealed off passageway connecting the room to the opera house, where during intermission the gentlemen of Sarasota would drink together, then reunite with their wives before the performance ended. 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Guests can access the private dining room via the inside staircase or an external one that leads into the Love, Yolanda Ivy Garden, named after Perna’s mother. With a bubbling fountain and plenty of greenery, the garden is destined to become a downtown venue with a retractable roof, projector screen and firepit. Diners will also have the chance to eat al fresco on the new sidewalk patio in front of the restaurant and survey the streets of downtown. 

While Perna, Perdue and Warr’s commitment to preserving the building’s history is impressive, their planned transformation of the menu is just as exciting. “We have such a vibrant and diverse local community—we plan on offering a super competitive happy hour program with obviously all the frills of dinner service for those looking for a refined experience. I love to see exotic menus in places that anyone can enjoy, so we’ve priced so that everyone can get a taste of what we’re doing,” Perdue adds. “Early happy hour, dinner and late-night happy hour will be really fun experiences.” 

Known for their steak and sushi, Rose & Ivy encompasses a Pan-Asian menu. Chef Wei Huang, Sous Chef Kang Kang, Sous Chef IceMan, Hot Kitchen Chef Carlos Gonzalez, General Manager Nick Jones, Bar Manager Taylor Glenn, Kitchen Manager William Simpson and the fabulous servers and staff are eager to guide guests through the menu. “We looked at national food trends and what we found was that dim sum, Japanese street food and izakaya-style dining was reigning supreme over the trendiest places in the country. It’s a phenomenon in bigger cities, so we wanted to incorporate this inspiration with a vibrant sushi program and incredible steakhouse selections but give Sarasota something it’s never had before. We’ve taken notes from places like San Francisco’s Rintaro, St. Pete’s Hawker’s and New York City’s Bumu for an eclectic small plates menu with exotic choices for everyone,” says Perdue. Expect fresh and innovative sushi, like Strawberry Fields, with tempura sweet potato and asparagus topped with thinly sliced strawberries and avocados, or the Perfect Trio, a rice-less option featuring cucumber filled with tuna, salmon, yellowtail and pickled radish. The filet mignon is tender and juicy and pairs well with the fragrant jasmine rice and crispy Brussels sprouts. For an appetizer or happy hour, savor the “Gaijin” cheeseburger bao buns. The cocktails will also be affordable, keeping diners in good spirits even when it’s not happy hour. “We want to make it somewhere you can go on a Tuesday or your birthday,” Warr adds. “It doesn’t have to be a special occasion; the special occasion is that you came here.”