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It was once a hospital, later a strip club. Soon Atlanta Highway location will be vibrant 787 Hacienda sports bar
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Gainesville businessman Angel Retana is nearing the opening date of his new restaurant club 787 Hacienda located 787 Hospital Drive. The 8,000-square-foot building dates to 1934, when it served as a hospital, with the name of the “county physician,” W.W. Liles, etched into the cornerstone. - photo by Scott Rogers

When people enter the doors of what used to be the Top of Gainesville, they’re now greeted by a vibrant sugar skull, a classic symbol of the Mexican Day of the Dead.

Angel Retana has transformed the former 8,000-square-foot strip club into 787 Hacienda, Atlanta Highway’s newest sports bar and entertainment hall.

He plans to hold the grand opening for the business, which is located at 787 Hospital Drive in Gainesville, from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday, May 4.

The opening day’s festivities will involve prize giveaways and live entertainment.

The building was originally erected in 1934 as the Hall County Hospital, which included an almshouse for the poor and elderly.

“The concept is to have fun and enjoy life,” Retana said. “We wanted to grab something that was used for a great purpose to build on it and make it better.”

Sugar skulls, or calavera, serve as a symbol during the Day of the Dead, and can be found sprinkled throughout 787 Hacienda.

“The Day of the Dead theme is all about celebrating a new life and era,” Retana said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Covering up to 15 feet of walls, some of the murals depict striking images of women with faces painted in the decorated fashion of a sugar skull.

Gabriel Jeanette, a Gainesville-based painter, said he enjoyed collaborating with Retana on the artwork. Most of Jeanette’s experience comes from painting signs with his father.

“He (Retana) really gave me the chance to try some really cool artwork,” Jeanette said. “It has been fun to have this type of freedom and expand out.”

The business includes an entertainment hall, bar, patio and hookah lounge. Retana said he intends to hire around 20 employees.

The entertainment hall includes a stage for a D.J. and live performances, and an expansive dance floor. This section of 787 Hacienda will only be open on weekends.

Through the blue LED lit hallway people can find the “Blanco Bar.” The room, which will remain open on weekdays, is enhanced with minimalistic white tables, walls, chairs and a bar.

Travis Binns, the business’s general manager, said the Blanco Bar will provide a “really relaxed atmosphere,” serving cocktails and local craft beer.  

“Given the space and the team, we hope that everyone likes it as much as we do,” Binns said.

Toward the back of the Blanco Bar, doors open up to a nearly 2,000-square-foot patio.

While the business’ target demographic is those 21 and up, Retana said the space offers a family atmosphere during the daytime.

He said the section will include outdoor seating, cornhole and a space for live bands. Instead of having kitchens attached to the building, permanent food trucks will be parked next to the patio.

Customers will be able to eat dishes from the food trucks on the patio or at the Blanco Bar.

Ileem Alonso, 787 Hacienda’s kitchen manager, said the food trucks’ menu items will incorporate dishes from Latin and South American countries like Argentina, Peru, Venezuela and Cuba.

One of her favorite options entails Argentinian-style empanadas, which are pastries filled with beef and other ingredients.

“Coming from Miami, I want this to be a place where you can come and try things from different cultures,” Alonso said. “I want people to remember it not only for the ambiance, but for the food.”

Alonso said 787 Hacienda will strive to purchase most of its ingredients from local farmers.

To the right of the entertainment hall lies the hookah lounge, also called “The Altar.”

This space includes seating, tables and hookah services.

Retana said unlike most hookah lounges, he will provide only non-nicotine hookahs.

Unlike the typical coal-based hookah, these are powered by electricity.

“They’re all water-based and you can try different fruit flavors,” Retana said. “It’s all about the experience.”

The upcoming sports bar and entertainment hall isn’t Retana’s first rodeo. His career goes back 25 years when he first opened El Carreton Mexican Taqueria along Atlanta Highway. He also owns the Gainesville Seafood Market on Atlanta Highway.

“I started very small with the little taco stand down the road,” Retana said. “It’s humbling to be able to say, ‘Hey, hard work pays off.’”

Although 787 Hacienda may look dazzling with its murals and stylish interior, Retana said it started off as the opposite.

The complete renovation of the building took around two years and $700,000.

By breathing life back into the historical building, he hopes to foster a sense of pride in the community along Atlanta Highway.

“We want this to become a destination,” Retana said. “For so many years it was a hole-in-the-wall kind of bad business. We want to embrace the building and make it something new. We don’t want this to be here for one year, we want it to be here for a long time.”

For more information about 787 Hacienda, visit its Facebook page. The business hours will be 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday-Friday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday.