When the IndyCar Series hits St. Petersburg, it bills the event as a three-day street festival. But not all events of this weekend's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg are open to race fans. Here's our guide to the starting grid of the weekend's best parties. — By Dalia Colon [email protected] and Peter Couture [email protected]
These fiestas are open to the public, so get your outfit together.
Michael Andretti Foundation Gala
Hobnob with racing royalty at this fundraiser, Friday at 7 p.m. in the Renaissance Vinoy Resort's Palm Court Ballroom. Confirmed appearances include Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan, Hideki Mutoh, Dario Franchitti and Gil de Ferran. Tickets are $200 and include valet parking, open bar, hors d'oeuvres, music by the band Hologram, dancing, casino games and auction to bid on memorabilia and IndyCar race packages. Proceeds benefit the Bayfront Baby Place, All Children's Hospital Pediatric Trauma Center and Mayor's Mentors and More, City of St. Petersburg. Cocktail attire. 501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 767-8422, andrettifoundationgala.com.
Cafe Alma's Party on the Piazza
The al fresco fun is Friday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Enjoy $5 mixed drinks and $1 beers at the three outdoor bars, giveaways, live music by rock band Talk to Mark and tunes from deejays Rein and Mathu Bishop. You'll be able to order food on the patio, but for a sit-down dinner indoors, make a reservation at (727) 502-5002. Free admission. 260 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg.
Fast Friday Night
First Friday + race weekend = awesome. Carouse at downtown St. Pete's monthly block party Friday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., featuring the music of teen saxophone prodigy BK Jackson. Beer, wine, sodas and water will be for sale, with all street beverage sales benefitting local children's programs. No outside food, alcohol, coolers, glass containers or pets allowed. Central Avenue between Second and Third streets. Free admission; no ticket required. (727) 393-3597, breakfastoptimist.org.
Pit Stop at Push Ultra Lounge
On Friday, the club's rooftop will host a private party for anyone with race credentials. Why do you care? Because the rest of the club will be open for the commonfolk, giving you a chance to rub elbows with crew members as they come and go. The main level will be open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. with $5 Ultimat Vodka, $7 Ultimat Vodka bombs, $150 Ultimat Vodka bottles, $10 Patron and $300 Patron bottles. Los Angeles' DJ Serafin will work the turntables. Admission is free all night for ladies, free for guys before 11 p.m. and $5 for guys after 11 p.m. 128 Third St. S, St. Petersburg, (727) 871-7874; pushlounge.com.
Vintage Ultra Lounge
Show a Grand Prix ticket stub and get free admission all weekend. Otherwise for men it's $5 before 11 p.m. or $10 after 11 p.m.; ladies always get in free. As usual, the club will be open Friday 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Saturday 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., and in honor of the Grand Prix it'll be open Sunday starting at 4 p.m. with half-price bottle service on Sunday. Manager James Guttridge said race fans may run into their favorite stars there this weekend. "Quite a few drivers and teams have already made reservations," he said. 16 Second St. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 735-3344; vintageultralounge.com
Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant
The downtown St. Petersburg restaurant in the Ponce de Leon Hotel is at one of the turns of the course. It is having a Grand Prix Sidewalk Party with food, drinks and music from 11 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. all three days of the race on its closed-off patio and sidewalk. Admission is $10, with food and drink extra. 95 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 209-2302; cevichetapas.com.
Dan Wheldon After Party
Party alongside the St. Pete resident and Panther Racing driver from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday during his second Grand Prix shindig at Push Ultra Lounge. Admission is free. No drink specials, but deejays Fresh and T Quest will spin. Danica Patrick dropped by last year. We're just sayin'. 128 Third St. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 871-7874, pushlounge.com. See what Wheldon has to say about his party on Page 30.
You have a shot at attending this shindig.
Luxury Lifestyle Tour
Here's your chance to hop aboard one of those yachts you always see docked on race weekend. Saturday and Sunday from about 4 p.m. to midnight, a 100- and 120-foot-long yacht will be party central for the 50 to 70 people who can fit on each of the two boats. Enjoy beer, wine, cocktails and a strolling saxophone player. The vessel will be stationed on "Yacht Row" behind the Mahaffey Theater, where team owner and billionaire Roger Penske has docked in the past. Tickets are $95 per person, per day. Call (352) 385-9450 or go to festivalsofspeed.com
Don't bother RSVPing. You're not invited.
The waterfront theater is hosting three parties this weekend and, sadly, you can't attend any of them. Honda's shindig is in the east upper lobby. The city of St. Petersburg is hosting a soiree in the west upper lobby. And the Progress Energy folks will throw down in the Bayview Room.
Reingruber & Company party
The folks attending the annual bash for staff and clients at this accounting firm may just have the best view of the race. How good is it? Longtime IndyCar Series reporter Jerry Baker usually sets up on one of their two balconies in the Northern Trust Building. (Baker will miss this year's race because of shoulder surgery, so his replacement will sample the hospitality.)
You heard it here first: Dan Wheldon is the Diddy of St. Petersburg.
On Wednesday, the Panther Racing driver and St. Petersburg resident arrived at the Grand Prix track in style, descending in a Black Hawk helicopter courtesy of his sponsor, the National Guard. And after racing this weekend, Wheldon will host a Grand Prix after party Sunday at Push Ultra Lounge. IndyCar's Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti and Justin Wilson dropped by last year's shindig. At this year's bash, Wheldon says to expect more celebs and plenty of mojitos.
But the Emberton, England, native has slowed down somewhat since marrying his personal assistant, Susie Behm, last year and welcoming their first child, Sebastian Daniel, in February. Wheldon, 30, called tbt* to chat.
So you're having a party at Push.
That's the rumor on the street. We did one last year, and it turned out to be incredibly successful. ... It's always not talked about quite so much before the weekend starts, but as the weekend progresses and gets closer, then everybody starts talking about it. It just gets better and better as the night progresses.
You're like the Diddy of St. Pete.
I have been known as the P. Diddy of St. Pete. You're right. Only I'm bigger than P. Diddy. (laughs)
What's your drink of choice?
I really don't consume much alcohol, certainly now that I'm a father and a husband. But mojitos do definitely sound very good after probably a long, hot day. I would say I'll drink a few nice energy drinks and then probably consume some mojitos.
Why was it important to host a party that's open to the public?
I think you've got to consider how valuable the fans are to the motor racing community. It's incredibly important, certainly with the economy the way it is, to let the fans enjoy events like this. I've always been very thankful for the fans that I have, and I think this is the least we can do. There's certainly going to be a VIP area, but it's certainly an open event, which I think is going to attract a lot of attention.
Besides Push, what are some of your favorite hangouts in St. Pete?
We do spend a lot of time in Bella Brava, and my wife (Susie) and I certainly enjoy the Vinoy hotel.
Where was your first date?
Actually, we had our first date in the Vinoy. We had brunch on Sunday.
Where's your favorite quiet place?
Probably the gym. That's my quiet place right now. I go to Speed Source Athletics. It's out near Brandon. It's actually a ways from my house.
Are there places that you've now discovered since having the baby?
Babies R Us — my wife just shouted Babies R Us.