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Saturday, January 29, 2022

The Swamp is closing, but not for good


The Swamp Restaurant's current structure opened in 1994 after the previous building was destroyed in a fire. The beloved restaurant and game day destination will remain open despite construction around it. 

Civilization. Leonardo’s. Burrito Brothers. Southern Charm Kitchen. Gainesville staples are disappearing or facing closure as big development and COVID-19 threaten their existence. The list grew larger last week.

The Swamp, located at 1642 W. University Ave., announced on Tuesday that after failed negotiations with the property’s landlord, the restaurant will close on June 30 and be torn down in late July. The land will be sold to a development group, and a high-rise apartment complex will be built in its place.

The response was instantaneous.

Within hours of the announcement, The Swamp’s social media were flooded with hundreds of messages and testimonials about memories shared at the restaurant. Ron DeFilippo, The Swamp’s owner, said many people wished they could travel to Gainesville to have one last beer at the Swamp, but can’t because of COVID-19.

Fortunately, DeFilippo said, he plans to reopen The Swamp on the same property by Jan. 2022 at the earliest. The restaurant will be built into the new apartment buildingsimilar to Bento Midtown, located at the base of The Standard apartment complex.

Unfortunately, he added, it will no longer have the outdoor space that The Swamp calls the Front Lawn. While staff members panicked at the thought of losing their jobs, DeFilippo said he would supplement their wages and pay them through the end of the year.

Cassie Crotzer, a 21-year-old hostess at The Swamp and UF criminology and international studies senior, said that while she had heard rumors about the closure and was prepared for the news, the experience is still difficult. Crotzer worked at The Swamp for almost a year. 

“If you haven’t been to a game day at The Swamp, you truly missed out,” she said. “There’s so much going on. When you’re working, you hardly have time to breathe. I would check my health app after every shift because I was running around so much.”

She will likely graduate by the time The Swamp reopens, otherwise she would’ve liked to reapply and work there again, she said.

“I don’t know a single person who values high-rise apartment complexes over local businesses in Gainesville other than those directly benefiting from those payouts,” Crotzer said. “It’s really sad because I know that Gainesville will look nothing like it used to when I come back to visit after I graduate.”

Jenna Knobbe, a 20-year-old UF environmental management Junior, said no other restaurant that reminds her more of the Gator Nation than The Swamp.

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“The Swamp is characteristically Gainesville,” she said. “You walk in and can feel the local history in that place.”

The Gator memorabilia on the walls fills Knobbe with a sense of nostalgia and pride for her school, she said. On game days, Knobbe said she loved to sit with a group of friends and cheer on the Gator football team from her table with a basket of fries and chicken tenders.

Knobbe brought her mother to The Swamp when she visited Gainesville one weekend, she said. Her mom loved the ambiance and said the restaurant simply “felt like it should be there.”

“I feel like I won’t be over it for a while,” she said. “It’s sad to know that my friends and I went to The Swamp and had no idea it would be our last time there.”

Christina McCue-Hoek, 35, is a 2007 UF marketing alumna. Her best memories of college were spent in The Swamp with her friends, she said.

“We were there at least five times a week if not six, and sometimes even seven,” McCue-Hoek said. “My dad used to joke that I was paying rent at The Swamp.”

When she saw The Swamp’s Facebook post, she dug up pictures of her and her Tri Delta sorority sisters during their senior year. The girls stood around the TouchTunes Jukebox with drinks in their hands and smiles on their faces.

Swamp restaurant closes

Christina McCue-Hoek and her friends stand around the Swamp’s jukebox in 2007 during their senior year at UF. 

“And I think our favorite memories are just dancing by the old jukebox,” McCue-Hoek said. We didn't care if we were all dressed up. We always ended up at The Swamp.”

She spent many nights laughing and dancing with her now-husband at The Swamp, she said. The couple now has a 3-year-old daughter who they hope may one day join the Gator Nation.

McCue-Hoek said that when she and her husband return to Gainesville for football games, they always meet at The Swamp for drinks, food and a flashback to simpler times.

“The thing that’s the saddest about The Swamp closing is that our daughter will never get to see her Mommy and Daddy’s favorite place in Gainesville,” she said.

Contact Avery at Follow her on Twitter @ajlotz8.

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