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UNF’s original dining and entertainment venue reopens

The University of North Florida campus has grown exponentially in its more than 50 years, but there is one place that past, present and future Ospreys are sure to know — The Boathouse.
Three gentleman socializing at the UNF Boathouse restaurant in the 1970sNamed for its proximity to one of the campus lakes, now known as Boathouse Lake, the eatery has a brand-new look for its grand reopening this week.
Originally designed in 1972 as a snack bar to supplement the small cafeteria, The Boathouse doors officially opened in early 1973 with a menu consisting of light snacks such as sandwiches and pizza, and quickly became the “go-to” spot for UNF students and employees to enjoy a quick slice and relax.
“It was a reliable place to go grab a bite for lunch,” said longtime faculty member Dr. Jay Coleman, who arrived on campus in the fall of 1988 — just four years after the University began admitting freshmen. Coleman said there was not much land development around Beach Boulevard when he started at UNF as there is now, nor was the Town Center in existence, which contributed to The Boathouse serving as a premier campus destination for years.
The Boathouse circa 1982Since then, The Boathouse has gone through considerable changes from its early days serving buffet-style food and with indoor and outdoor seating. The original structure, which was made of wood to complement the natural landscape, was destroyed by a fire in 1978. Resurrected in 1980, it was a substantially larger building with a sloping roof and a deck overlooking Boathouse Lake. It continued to serve as a primary meeting location for campus clubs and sports teams and as an entertainment venue that frequently hosted open mic nights, comedy shows and musical performances.
“It was the place to go,” recalls UNF alum Bo Brooks, class of ’96. “Fraternities would rent it out and have parties. You could go out on the deck and enjoy the lake.”
Brooks also recalls The Boathouse serving as a place to see up-and-coming comedic talent such as Wendy Liebman during his days as a student.
UNF Boathouse restaurant circa 1999In 2002, the Boathouse was rebranded as Wackadoo's Grub and Brew, a full-service restaurant with booths, a serving bar and upgraded entertainment features including video games and a projection screen. Then in 2007, the building was named UNF Boathouse Grill before closing its doors in 2008 to make way for construction of the John A. Delaney Student Union.
A new rendition of The Boathouse opened its doors in May 2009 — this time as a space within the second floor of the Student Union East Building. Thanks to a growing student population and the University’s desire for The Boathouse to remain a campus staple, discussions began in the summer of 2022 to upgrade the space.
“There had been no substantive changes to the venue since opening in 2009 and it was time for a major refresh,” said Vince Smyth, associate VP of administration and finance. “The ultimate goal is to make a more inviting, modern space with a theme that will be a destination of choice for students and other members of the University community.”
Interior of The Boathouse restaurant at UNF (2023)Thanks to the combined funding and planning efforts of Student Government and Dining Services, a full renovation project by Auld & White Constructors, LLC began prior to the fall semester and the official opening of the new-look Boathouse on Wednesday, October 18.
The one-of-a-kind venue now has self-order kiosks, multiple flat screen TVs, a projection screen, a bar, a game room and beautiful views of the campus. Patrons will enjoy the wooden, nautical theme throughout the restaurant – most noticeably expressed by a re-imagined canoe light fixture near the front doors. The open space includes signs of the namesake made of rustic lightbulbs, a plethora of hanging light fixtures, several comfortable booths and a wall mural of the original Boathouse.
The menu features many delicious choices from juicy burgers to fresh salads, and the campus favorites everyone loves — including the Osprey Burger, chicken tenders, and wings.
Many favorite entertainment activities from the previous venue will continue, including small live performances, trivia, karaoke and game nights. Sports fans are in for a fun treat as The Boathouse plans to host watch parties for many UNF team games and major sporting events.
If you’re looking for the perfect spot to unwind, chat with friends, watch sports or shoot pool, look no further than The Boathouse.