Flying Boat Tap Room has landed in Ocala

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Posted August 25, 2021 | By James Blevins

Flying Boat Tap Room staff serve some customers during its first week of business. [Meagan Gumpert/OG]

This month a new dining and drinking experience touched down in Marion County.

It is an experience straight out of the head of two retired pilots (with the help of a local chef.) By all accounts it was a smooth landing— at 9672 SE 58th Ave.

The Flying Boat Tap Room—owned by Tim Kirby and Bill Bow and managed by Tucker Bengoa—opened its bomb bay doors to the public on Aug. 14.

The new restaurant and craft beer taproom offers fine food, and 28 beer taps pouring Florida-brewed beer in a setting that harkens back to the “Golden Age” of aviation, said Kirby

“This is not your mom’s typical pizza and beer joint,” Kirby said. “We would like to think that we’re providing more unique Florida craft beers on tap than anyone else in Marion County right now.”

Kirby, a native Floridian, is currently an American Airlines pilot with little more than three years left till retirement. He got his passion for aviation from his father, who was a flight instructor during World War II and retired from Pan American World Airlines as an engineer in 1986.

“I’d always had this fascination with flying boats,” said Kirby. “With that in mind, as I grew older, I developed a passion for beer. I wanted to combine my passion for beer—craft beer especially—and my love for the flying boats of that golden era of flying in this one place.”

Inside, adjacent to the bar, poking into the dining room, almost like the nose of the “Spruce Goose” itself, is a floor-to-ceiling propeller.

The prop primarily came from eBay, said Bow, and was built piecemeal out of various parts. But Kirby also got pieces from former jobs he had in the airline industry.

One blade came from a plane that Kirby flew when he was 22 years old in 1984.

“Other than the floor plan, we had nothing in mind except that propeller. That’s it,” said Kirby of their early design ideas for the business.

The building required extensive renovation. It had sat empty for at least seven years and featured a “big, ugly boat,” on the property, Kirby said.

While the boat is gone, it did feature prominently in the early idea of the establishment.

“I drove Bill over here one day and I said, ‘Broken Boat Tap Room.’ And he just sat there for a second. I said, ‘Craft beer on tap, and a little pub.’ He sat for a second longer. Then he goes, ‘I like it.’ And that’s what started it,” Kirby said.

Bill Bow retired as a pilot from UPS Airlines in 2017. He and Kirby not only share a love of flying, they live in the fly-in community of Leeward Air Ranch near the Flying Boat.

They both also have a passion for craft beer.

“The craft beer industry is kind of like a big group of artists,” said Bow. “Everybody does something a little different. Even though it’s still the same formula, but they add things differently every time.”

The taps at the Flying Boat offer Florida-brewed craft beers from as far south as Miami and as far north as Tallahassee. They also serve beer from the Hiatus Brewing Company based in Ocala.

Here are just a few examples of the many creative options on tap and on the menu at the Flying Boat Tap Room. [Meagan Gumpert/OG]

Currently, the beer menu includes everything from hard seltzers, IPAs and lagers, to wheat, fruit, sour and dark beers.

Kirby thinks that 25 to 30 beers on tap are ideal.

“People can still make choices; you can still have a wide variety. But you don’t have to worry about people not purchasing it and it going bad. So, I think 28 for now is good,” said Kirby.

Bow thinks a variety of beer is what life is all about.

“Before craft beer,” Bow said, “everybody just had the beer that they drank, right? Budweiser. Miller Light. And I tend to look at beer like this: Do you only eat vanilla ice cream? Or do you eat chocolate ice cream sometimes? There are just too many flavors out there to only drink one beer.”

Unique flavors are also Tucker Bengoa’s raison d’etre, which is why Kirby and Bow approached him to be the Flying Boat’s chef.

Much like the craft beers on tap, Bengoa’s menu is heavily influenced by Florida: Chicken and waffles with fireball syrup. Tomahawk steak and egg tacos with a house chimichurri sauce. Herb-crusted shrimp covered in cheddar cheese grits.

Bengoa, who worked at other Ocala eateries in the past, wanted Flying Boat’s menu to be inventive.

“I’ve worked with pizza before,” he said. “But we decided to go a different route. We added a smoky flavor to it. We use hickory and cherry wood to smoke the pizzas.”

Along with firestone pizza, the Flying Boat also serves tapas, sandwiches, tacos, salads and desserts.

“One of the reasons we went with Tucker,” said Kirby, “was his great eye for food. He’s never had the complete autonomy to do whatever he wanted. Here he does.”

Since its grand opening on Aug. 14, Kirby, Bow and Bengoa have slowly seen their business grow. But on day one, it didn’t look promising to the nascent business owners.

In fact, it looked empty.

“The first day, nobody showed up—except Tucker,” laughed Kirby. “But we’re getting there. There’s going to be constant fine-tuning, but we’re getting there.”

Not unlike the giant flying boats that Kirby and Bow love and that helped to inspire the creation of their business venture: The two pilots (and a chef) will have to continue tinkering with their aircraft if they hope to keep it flying.

“We’re providing something unique here,” said Kirby. “And it may not be for everybody. We had people come by and ask if we got pool tables. No, that’s a different kind of place… You can’t make everybody happy, but I don’t see the problem with trying.”

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