ST. PETERSBURG — Beach Drive has had a good couple of years, its Restaurant Row keeping parking meters constantly gulping quarters. But there's something interesting happening just a bit to the west. Central Avenue, from about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street to about 25th Street, is flourishing.
According to longtime Central Avenue property owner John Warren, it didn't happen overnight.
"It's been long in coming. It has been growing, but all of a sudden it hit the tipping point. The 600 block with the arts — that has helped to strengthen that little stretch, changing the distances between those blighted areas. Of course, there are the people behind the Grand Central District and all they've done in the past 10 years. And you can't discount the impact of the Fusion Apartments. Those have certainly influenced people's attitudes about the area."
All true. But this renaissance along Central may have as much to do with a few tenacious tenants as anything else. There's Ferg's, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, which was joined a few years back by quirky independents like Beak's Old Florida, Nitally's (Mexican/Thai fusion, with dishes so hot you have to sign a waiver!) and the Queen's Head. To this growing party came Ricky P's and Taps & Tequila (Warren owns both buildings and owned Savannah's, the restaurant concept formerly in the Ricky P's space), as well as the much-ballyhooed Taco Bus.
And now the pace of new additions is getting positively furious. A few weeks ago, Lou Albano and co-owner Marilu Rivera closed Cafe Bohemia and launched Everything Dolce at 937 Central Ave.
"The building is very Art Deco and we're bringing it back to its 1940s glory days," Albano said. With master pastry chef Michael Ostrander's cakes and confections front and center, the owners aim to do fine desserts, chocolates, gelato and coffee (using Ybor City's Naviera Coffee Mills coffees), with a big stage in the courtyard that will host jazz and blues shows. They've given the gritty cafe a major facelift, stripping out wood paneling and adding furniture in rich browns and chromes.
A few weeks before that, the Café at Art Pool Gallery opened at 2030 Central Ave. (see accompanying story), and by mid January, Bodega on Central will open at 1120 Central Ave. Owner George Sayegh, who formerly had a restaurant in Brooklyn, aims to offer a signature Cuban sandwich as well as other Latin-Caribbean dishes.
Next up? A sophisticated bar called the Amsterdam and Green Bench Brewing Co., which will inhabit the big red brick building on the back side of Ricky P's (technically on Baum Avenue and facing First Avenue N).
According to building owner Warren, "They signed the lease a month ago, construction starts in a week and they should be open in three months. That's really going to be a game-changer out here."
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow her on Twitter at @lreiley.