Review: Dave's Aqua Lounge has the cure for the late-night blues
Here was my Saturday:
1. Rise at 8 a.m. and head to Ybor City to see Rosa Rio and Paul Wilborn at the Homemade Music Symposium. Then write this thing from a Starbucks.
2. Spend the bulk of the afternoon in New Tampa, Carrollwood and Westchase, working on an upcoming project about bars.
3. Head back to Ybor City for another segment of the Symposium.
4. More trendy bars, this time in South Tampa.
5. Back to Ybor City for an eco-friendly hip-hop and poetry concert at The Roosevelt in Ybor City.
I know what you're thinking: "What the hell is eco-friendly hip-hop and poetry?" Sad to say, we'll probably never know, because it turned out the show ended up being canceled, and nobody thought to tell me. This was a shame, because I was really looking forward to making a joke involving the phrase "Reduce, Reuse, Remix." SEE WHAT YOU'VE COST THE WORLD BY CANCELING YOUR CONCERT, ECO-FRIENDLY POETS AND RAPPERS?!?!?
At this point, it was late, and I was pretty tired, but I was still determined to etch another notch into my Belt of 50. So on my way home, I stopped in at what might be Tampa Bay's most unpretentious bar, Dave's Aqua Lounge, for a performance by Tampa Tina and the Delta Aces.
Yes, another bar. Something like my 15th of the day.
Turned out it was exactly what I needed.
Dave's is just so cool. Dirty little blues lounge, popular with the casual Pinellas boaters and fishermen, working-class and unfussy all the way. It reminds me of the stevedores' bar in Season 2 of The Wire. Not the most eye-popping menu in the world, but hell, it's got Knob Creek, Ms. Pac Man and Howlin' Wolf on the jukebox -- what else does a man really need*?
And it's an absolutely excellent live music bar, especially for the blues. There's live music at Dave's six nights a week, including live blues every Wednesday, and usually on weekends. And Dave's stage has arguably the coolest backdrop of any venue in town: Hundreds of gleaming silver CDs affixed to the wall**. Love it.
I probably got there a little after 10 p.m., and I couldn't have at the bar maybe 5 minutes when Tampa Tina and the Delta Aces*** managed to get the crowd -- some of them older, some of them younger -- up on the dance floor with Elvis Presley's Burnin' Love and Patsy Cline's Walkin' After Midnight.
Yeah, the Delta Aces played covers. What of it? This is what a good blues bar band should do, and they did it well. Steady beat, solid vocals, great guitar work. They were background enough that you didn't feel like you owed them every ounce of your attention, but they were talented and fun-loving enough to keep people interested and get them dancing whenever they felt like it.
And the selection of covers was cool: Dolly Parton's Jolene, Gene Vincent's Be-Bop-A-Lula, Paul Butterfield's Shake Your Moneymaker, and Dock Reed and Vera Hall's Trouble So Hard, which was later made famous as the hook in Moby's Natural Blues.
Guitarist Franc Robert was a lot of fun. During Slim Harpo's Shake Your Hips, he wandered offstage and around the bar, riffing all the way. And on Elmore James' It Hurts Me Too, he pulled out a nasty laptop steel and made it cry for its fat, skanky mama.
At one point, an older, long-haired dude named Rusty, wearing a Jack Daniels hat and a wallet on a chain, threatened to leave unless Tina played his song.
"This one's for you, Rusty," Tina said. She and the band hop-skipped into Bobby Gentry's Ode to Billy Joe. Rusty started shuffling and jiving across the dance floor.
This is apparently the sort of thing that happens at Dave's Aqua Lounge.
Tampa Tina and the Delta Aces were your standard blues bar cover band, but they were the perfect standard blues bar cover band, you know? I'm sure the party continued well into the night, but I left at intermission. I was just too beat to keep going.
But the music definitely helped. To quote the great Bender: "The blues -- the tragic sound of someone else's suffering. That's kind of a pick-me-up."
Good job, Dave's. Another weary soul saved on a Saturday night.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*
* It also has, on the wall of the men's room, the rustiest condom dispenser I've ever seen in my life.
** My two runners-up: The brick wall at the Orpheum and the sparkplug-with-wings mural at The Garage.
*** Who hail, somewhat curiously, from New Port Richey.