Jackie’s Art Café
By Mary Stein Hurst
Tucked away in Haines City’s downtown business district is an eclectic find that has drawn art and music lovers for more than two years now. But how it opened in the first place was quite by happenstance.
Jackie’s Art Café holds a treasure trove of Florida-themed paintings and woodcrafts by local artisans. The art and photography cover the rich-colored reddish, tuck-pointed brick walls. In addition, a few antiques are for sale here and there. Vintage instrument and guitar cases are strategically placed, offering a quaint, charming ambiance.
A cardboard cutout of a guitar hanging on the glass front door invites folks to bring their own instruments to play music. What began as a Monday night jam session has turned into a regular draw for a few quite famous lretired professional musicians and amateurs.
Restaurant partners Jacque Palomaki and Chip Newton are friends who happened by the location when he wanted her to take a look at the Ingraham Avenue area that is just around the corner from where the new city hall and public library were then being built.
“When we saw the brick wall we knew it would be a great place for an art gallery,” says Newton, who had a long career in journalism and still takes photographs. Palomaki herself is an artist who paints mostly Florida landscapes.
“Then we saw the kitchen equipment in the back,” Palomaki says. “I thought, ‘We could serve Chicago hot dogs.’”
Vienna beef hotdogs are on the menu, but so are other items named in honor of famous artists, like Raphael’s Renaissance Chicken Salad and Pablo Picasso Tuna Collage. Fresh soups are made daily, as are a variety of desserts.
“This is an art gallery where we happened to serve food,” says Newton.
During summer hours, the café is open Monday through Friday for lunch, and features daily live music of one sort or another, except on Tuesdays when patrons can master the “art of conversation.” And on Monday nights dinner is served up for those who want to play music or those who want to listen.
New hours beginning Oct. 1 will include evenings on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. A weekly jazz night is in the works – most likely on Saturday nights. A guitar giveaway is slated for Oct. 13 and occasionally the owners sponsor other art contests and offer music lessons for those who’d like to learn from the experts.
For local musicians it is like old home week. Professional drummer and Auburndale resident Jon Corneal plays drums with other musicians every Thursday. Corneal, a former drummer with The Legends, which featured the late Gram Parsons, jams with his friends from noon to about 2:30 p.m.
Part of the old Winter Haven 1960s and 1970s music scene, which included Jim Stafford, Jim Carlton, Bobby Braddock and Gram Parsons, Corneal is thrilled to have a place to play live music.
“I watched karaoke take over,” he says. “There used to be many clubs in this county. To have a place to play traditional live music is very rare here now I am a professional in an amateur world.”
Corneal says he still has fans that love his music and appreciate the chance to see him perform.
Toni Brown and her husband, Ed Munson, also jam at Jackie’s when they have time. Brown, a former publicist for the Grateful Dead, says Polk County is enjoying a resurgence in its music and musicians. She coordinated the recent concert to raise funds to restore Gram Parsons’ Derry Down in downtown Winter Haven. Hundreds attended.
Brown and Munson jammed on the Derry Down stage with Les Dudek, guitarist with the Steve Miller Band and Steppenwolf; Stafford, who grew up in Winter Haven and is planning to move back; Carlton and Corneal that night. She’d like to see that happen more often.
“We really enjoy it when we get over to Jackie’s,” Brown says. “You can go there for pie and coffee, or have a sandwich, and everybody knows you.”
Of Corneal, she says he’s one of the original country rock veterans. “He kind of hybridized country rock,” she says.
Brown believes having a venue in the Davenport-Haines City area is welcomed because musicians have been rather fragmented around Central Florida.
“Jackie’s has brought the artist community together, bridging the art and music communities in a place we can call home,” she says. “Chip and Jacque are so welcoming. They both play, so they get it.”
Palomaki says that while she never thought she’d be running a restaurant and knew nothing about doing so before she opened the café’s doors, she and Newton are having fun and really appreciate the local people who patronize their eatery.
“We wouldn’t have made it without them,” Palomaki says. “And the musicians who helped create this monster.”
She says some of their customers refer to the art café as the cultural center of Northeast Polk County.
“We encourage the arts and artists,” she says. “I’d like to start a music writers’ group.”
The luncheon musical line-up on Monday is Janice Rodenbaugh, a former comptroller who plays keyboard; on Wednesdays Jane Rosenbohm brings her classical guitar and plays her favorites; and on Thursdays Corneal plays while Rodenbaugh is plays keyboard.
For more information call 863-421-0777. The menu and events can be viewed online at JackiesArtCafe.com.
Editor’s note 11/9/17: Jackie’s Art Cafe is no longer in business.