It's that most titillating time of the year: spring break season! And there are few more fabulous places to be than Shephard's at Clearwater Beach.
What first opened in 1976 as the Lagoon has morphed from a rather pedestrian lodge to a full-fledged resort of the highest order. The entertainment complex began taking shape in 1990 and now features a hotel, restaurant, lounge, two killer tiki bars, a private beach and a double-level nightclub called the Wave. William Shephard has owned and operated the waterfront wonderland all these years. He's assisted these days by daughter Gerri and son Billy.
"We sometimes bring our boat here on my day off," Gerri says.
On occasion, she can also be found at the tiki bar sipping a margarita. I opted for a mojito ($6.75) when I visited on a gorgeous Saturday. It pleased me to see that the spectacular, panoramic view and eclectic crowd had not changed much since when I first started frequenting Shephard's a decade ago, shortly after turning 21.
My friends and I would make the trek from Tampa on Sundays after long nights spent getting twisted in Ybor City. The waterfront resort proved the ideal spot to wash away the nightclub grime in the refreshing Gulf of Mexico. The resort's signature drink, the Rum Runner (also $6.75), cured the hangovers. And entire hours of serenity could be spent admiring the freakishly hot women — many of whom wore T-backs and tiny tops on the private beach where drinking is allowed.
And yes, hot women could be seen Saturday, laying out in the sand or sunbathing from the deck of a boat. But the young and beautiful weren't the only ones there, which comforted me. The crowd ranged from coeds to crusty beach bums easily pushing 50, everyone united by the utopian beach setting that is Shephard's. The ace reggae band Impulse added to the laid-back charm.
"This is probably the most popular resort on the Gulf Coast," said Tommy Schaar, who has bartended at Shephard's for 14 years. "There's this very mixed crowd, all kinds of people, everyone having fun."
I switched to a Rum Runner and nodded in agreement. By Shephard's standards, the Saturday afternoon set was pretty sedate, which suited me just fine.
Now, if you're looking for the kind of wildness that lands young women on DVDs sold via late-night commercials, I recommend attending the "Wet Grooves" spring break bash on Sunday (see top of the page for details). There will be "go-go dancers" and "themed props" and who knows what else. But something tells me it will be awesomely naughty.
What's your favorite drinking destination? Contact Barfly columnist Wade Tatangelo at wtatangelo@ hotmail.com.