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Daniel Ruth: Praise for Heights market worth repeating. Because it’s so loud in there

By Daniel Ruth | Times columnist
Published: March 7, 2018
A crowd gathers in the new Heights Public Market at the Armature Works building in the Tampa Heights neighborhood. Expect fine food and a unique experience, but not intimate conversation. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

"We’re the oldest people in here," the Bombshell of the Balkans said as we began walking around the newly opened Heights Public Market on the banks of the Hillsborough River.

Or more accurately she said "WE’RE THE OLDEST PEOPLE IN HERE!!!" almost at the top of her lungs. This is the cost of communing with the beautiful people of Tampa on a Saturday night — decibel levels rivaling front and center at a grunge band concert. What fun.

We had just finished a delightful dinner at nearby Ulele and decided to walk over to check out Tampa’s newest addition to the culinary scene — the 22,000-square-foot Heights Public Market, which is part of a larger development of the area, the Armature Works project, which will eventually include office and retail space as well as a hotel.

RELATED COVERAGE: Heights Public Market elevates Tampa’s culinary scene

The venue is part of a growing trend in dining out — food halls, which include several different eateries all under one roof. Just a few months ago, a somewhat smaller operation, the Hall on Franklin, debuted just blocks away, catering to the same beautiful people the Heights Public Market is trying to appeal to. Well, it would seem there are plenty of beautiful people to go around.

Apparently the Heights Public Market offers up to 14 different restaurant concepts. And it appears to be working splendidly, with as many as 2,000 to 3,000 customers during the week and upwards of 10,000 to 15,000 people on weekends. And so hats off to the developers, Chas Bruck and Adam Harden for tapping into an idea that has Tampa’s riverfront quickly becoming a trendy go-to location. It’s a beautiful thing.

In fact, the Heights Public Market would seem to be the ideal night on the town for couples who hate each other and have absolutely no interest in speaking to one another while they slurp noodles, or whatever.

It is true, I am old and I harbor what apparently is an antediluvian notion that breaking bread is also a lovely time to converse.

As we walked around the Heights Public Market, the Azalea of Athens and I had to practically lean into each other’s ears to be heard.

Perhaps it is a factor of age. Perhaps it is entirely possible I have no understanding of the youthful beautiful people of Tampa, but sitting around a vast expanse eating and trying to socialize as if you were stuck behind a 747 at take-off really does not constitute a particularly great or relaxing time for me.

Too senile?

The Sunflower of Sparta and I have been together for nearly 30 years— nearly three decades of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and yes, plenty of cocktails, too. And we still have stuff we like to talk about — to each other.

But the chi-chi of Tampa are flocking to the Heights Public Market to stand in line for food and then retire to an immense communal dining area to be lost in a cacophonous drone of white noise. Perhaps date night now consists of young couples sitting three feet apart and texting each other all evening long. How romantic.

Bruck and Harden are obviously smart guys if the crowds flocking to the Heights Public Market to revel in a dining experience akin to eating underneath a roller-coaster are any indication.

They are savvy entrepreneurs who have tapped into a unique market who apparently enjoy dining in the middle of a bombing range. And they are playing a major role in the ongoing development and success of the city’s Riverwalk. Good for them.

How can one not wish these chaps the best of luck.