It was the first night of preseason football. With folks home watching the game, things were a little sleepy at the Tiny Tap Tavern.
So Kasey Mitchell turned off the radio and yelled out with her husky boom.
"Anyone want to play a game?"
Soon, eight guys were lined up trying to shotgun 16-ounce servings of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The winner got a beer courtesy of Mitchell's own pocket. The losers had to pay for theirs.
"They love stuff like that at the bar," Mitchell said.
The bar regulars love Mitchell, too. They voted her tbt*'s Ultimate Bartender for 2010 out of 300 nominations. She won $500, a photo on the cover of tbt* and eternal cheers.
Mitchell is 34 and lives in Brandon with her 12-year-old daughter. She's a former Hooters girl who arrived a year and a half ago to the Tiny Tap, one of Tampa's oldest bars.
Nestled among South Tampa's glossy establishments, the little pub that opened as a gas station in 1934 has a reputation for cheap beer and quarter pool tables. The place felt right to Mitchell, a no-muss straight talker with a bawdy sensibility.
"People come here because you don't have to be fake," she said. "You can come in pajamas. You can come with your hair sticking up. Nobody judges you."
Most Fridays, she spends 17 hours behind the bar. By 2:45 a.m., loyals know to get out.
"I love you," she tells them. "But you gotta go."
During the day, she serves employees from Bern's Steak House, SideBern's and other nearby restaurants. At night, old faithfuls in flip-flops mingle with SoHo elite in heels. She ribs everyone.
"If you tease her, she'll come right back at you," Tiny Tap owner Casey Powell said. "She'll tell you to go to hell and you'll look forward to the trip."
Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon comes in. So do radio personalities and football stars. They bring their friends, and their friends' friends.
"We call it the Tiny Trap," she said. "You don't leave. Everybody just keeps coming back."
Some customers rely on Mitchell for therapy: One woman comes there first with every life problem. Others help Mitchell study to become a nurse, quizzing her from textbooks while she tends bar.
"I will never regret this in my life," she said. "I have met so many people who have changed my life in some way or another."
The other day, a woman came into the Tiny Tap. Her mother had worked there in 1971, and she wanted to see what it looked like now.
The woman sat down at the bar and started talking, and Mitchell listened.