The Box Social: A Beacon In Sarasota's Night Scene

Anyone who has ever said, "There's nothing going on in this town tonight," has probably never been to The Box Social, a new gourmet pub and café conveniently located right in the heart of downtown Sarasota.

The Box, as it's called by local patrons, hosts a variety of attractions that consistently draw large crowds, making it one of the most interesting and entertaining hot spots in Sarasota Mondays through Saturdays, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Part coffee shop, part bar, part music venue, part art gallery, The Box stands as a beacon in the city, offering a cozy, yet bustling locale for members of the city's unique creative community to gather, interact and exchange ideas and inspiration on a nightly basis.

But more than that, The Box is just one of Sarasota's cool, independent establishments on a mission to unite, catalyze, reinvigorate and transform  a downtown core once best known for shuffleboard and bingo into a burgeoning urban landscape full of energy and diversity.

Leading The Way

At The Box, patrons enter through a relatively unassuming façade to find an interior decorated in a funky, bohemian manner that makes it an excellent place to simply lounge on a couch with a beer, a glass of wine or an espresso to  take in the distinctly hip and contemporary atmosphere.

The walls are adorned by graffiti and available-for-purchase work of local artists, which, along with the gallery shows frequently held there, seamlessly encapsulates the vibrant, thriving pulse of the artistic community in Sarasota.

Although relaxing on the couch is perfectly fine, many prefer to jockey for a position near the front of the stage because the pub is a veritable pantheon for connoisseurs of live music. The Box holds a weekly open-mic night and is host to performances by incredibly talented local musicians most other nights.

On Monday nights, patrons can catch a screening of an independent film that is guaranteed to be followed by an engaging discourse between the host and viewers.

Still looking for more? The Box Social also rents out a hookah, which, keeping in trend with the pub café's flair for variety, features a different flavor every week.

And don't forget free Wi-Fi, a large draw for the local college crowd seeking a late-night study joint. Also for bookworms, The Box even sells used books!

Aforementioned details aside, the distinctly homegrown, grassroots nature of The Box truly elevates its station beyond an already impressive status as a hip new hang-out.

Finding Perfection 24/7

At just 25-years-old, owner Rachel Withers' vision for The Box Social and her success in bringing it to life is indicative of the enormous potential that lies in Sarasota, a city filled with similarly minded successful young entrepreneurs. Withers, who was born and raised locally, graduated from culinary school at the Manatee Technical Institute before starting her own successful business as a personal chef and party-planner.

On a trip to London, she encountered a corner pub and café that she describes as having been "perfect for us at any time of the day." Inspired by this establishment and chagrined by the lack of such a business in Sarasota, Withers formulated the concept behind what would become The Box Social.

Rather than bemoaning the struggling economy, Withers used it to her advantage and, at a fortuitously affordable price, acquired the optimally located storefront on the corner of Lemon and Main Street in downtown Sarasota. Already backed by her culinary education and successful background in event-planning, Withers combined a little business savvy and ingenuity to create The Box, which since its opening in August, has rapidly grown into a dynamic éclat.

Withers' boyfriend and business partner, Ryan Baucom, provides his own music equipment and talent to facilitate the shows that are such an enormous attraction, further illustrating the distance that a little innovative economizing can carry a small business with a big idea.

At the end of the day, when the commercial 9-to-5 businesses that have been the anchor of downtown Sarasota for so long are turning out the lights and locking their doors, The Box Social springs to life as a symbolic representation of the "everything more" aspects that the city has to offer.

Above all, The Box Social is an emblem of the progressive direction in which Sarasota is headed:  With the emergence and success of such establishments, Sarasota is constantly transforming and growing into a city that, like Rachel Withers' favorite corner pub across the pond in London, is perfect for us any time of day.

Jessi Smith is a Sarasota-based freelance writer working from the dark corner tables in various local coffee houses and bars. Working, that is, during the occasional lapses in time when she isn't strolling through art galleries with a finely honed look of feigned intellectualism or digging her toes deep into the perfectly powdered sand on Siesta Key. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

 Jessi Smith is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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