Downtown St. Pete has a lot to offer — waterfront dining, an entertainment and dining complex, museums, shops and boutiques, parks, fine dining and quite a bit more on top of that. I'm a night owl, so when I envision downtown St. Pete, I tend to focus on the Central and First Avenue blocks positioned between First and Third Streets N — arguably the epicenter of St. Pete's nightlife and bar scene. In just four square blocks, you'll find a cigar bar, a concert venue, half a dozen restaurants, twice as many beer and cocktail bars, and even a few nightclub/lounge combos. That's a lot for a short walk around the block.
As a club DJ in a previous era (admittedly, I still moonlight now and then), I always take notice of what's going on in the local club scene. Usually, the answer is a resounding, "not much." In my opinion, electronic dance music — the stuff you're most likely to hear at the average club — enjoyed a mini-renaissance circa 2005, and most of the energy and new ideas from that period have since dried up. A lot of the output these days is entirely listenable, but it just doesn't have the same energy that it used to.
Still, a packed club with a good DJ can be lots of fun regardless of the level of one's musical jadedness. There are more than a few places I'd expect to find such a thing in downtown St. Pete, and a small, shotgun-style unit that used to belong to a digital copy center on Central Avenue is not one of them. Or at least it wouldn't be, had I not personally witnessed that exact scenario several times over the last year, after the space reopened as Suite Six Lounge last January.
Suite Six is a bit of an audacious proposition, positioning a swank nightclub and — as its website puts it — "hotel lobby style" lounge right in the middle of the busiest downtown thoroughfare, where casual bar-hopping is the norm. This is the kind of thing you'd see everywhere on South Beach, but a dedicated nightclub on this particular downtown St. Pete block seems a little out of place.
I stopped by Suite Six on a Tuesday to find a fairly sizable crowd. This seemed unusual, until I was told that Tuesday is ladies' night, wherein ladies drink wells all night for free. The bar was slammed, and the dance floor was already starting to pick up steam, despite the fact that it wasn't even 11 p.m. yet. Maybe a Central Avenue nightclub isn't such a stretch after all.
Right inside the entrance to Suite Six is the main bar, featuring a modest beer selection on tap and a wide variety of bottles, many of which fall into the flavored vodka category. A cooler of Red Bull is prominently displayed at the end. I was told that there was no cocktail menu or bar specialty per se, but upon rechecking the Suite Six website, there are three house drinks listed. Our bartender recommended a drink made with Kraken rum; it was tasty and surprisingly strong.
A cool, rectangle-patterned divider separates the space between this main bar area and the rest of the lounge and dance floor, which are combined into a long stretch between the front and rear bars, above which sits a balcony that doubles as a VIP loft and DJ booth. Both sides of the lounge are equipped with continuous booth seating and small tables. The faux shrubbery of the outdoor patio extends inside, with high wall panels covered in tiny green leaves — an interesting look, and consistent with the hotel lobby vibe. The ceilings, embedded with bright LED lights, are very high, giving the entire space a roomy, open feel, despite its relatively small actual size.
From the lounge area, I was surprised by just how good the sound was. I've played in clubs much bigger than this, and the sound wasn't even half as good as it was at Suite Six. Between the strong sound, energetic DJs, and what quickly turned into a packed dance floor, the club had the energy and feel of a much larger operation.
Suite Six has a niche demographic — one that I wasn't sure would be enough to support a business like this on such a busy and competitive block, but it has apparently thrived on for about a year now. I was impressed by what I found at Suite Six, though it's clearly not for everyone. If you're just out for a casual drink and conversation, you might want to keep looking. But if you feel the need to get your club on, then the walk may be shorter than you expect.