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In Indian Rocks Beach, a grandson runs Mahuffer's bar his own way

INDIAN SHORES — Not long ago, a police officer pulled up in front of Mahuffer's bar on Gulf Boulevard.

Someone had complained about the eyesore cars there — a 1980 Cadillac with no doors and a neon green hearse cut in half, its back end replaced with the stern of a Chrysler boat. Both acted as offbeat signs for the bar.

A few years ago, a cop paying a visit to Mahuffer's might have called for backup first. John Susor, the pack rat who founded the bar in 1972, had been known to scrap with police over lesser things. He once bopped a cop with a wad of paper. Another time, he pulled a revolver. Susor was stubborn and prickly and there was only room for his way.

But now Susor was dead and his grandson, Mikey Rogacki, 25, was running the place. It was time for him to decide what kind of bar owner he was going to be.

• • •

Mikey sauntered up to the officer. He moved down from Michigan three years ago to take over the place, and like his grandfather, he lives at the bar with a handful of dogs and cats and a ring-tailed lemur.

The officer nodded at Mikey, told him the tags on the cars were expired. The windshields had cracked into sunbursts. He had a week to replace them.

"All right, I'll take care of it," Mikey said. He didn't say how he'd take care of it.

• • •

Six days later, Mikey was sitting behind a bar made of sand dollars. A preschool teacher sat to his left. Over by the jukebox stood the guy who lives in the RV in the parking lot.

The bar was dark, cave-like, cluttered — the way his grandfather had left it. The walls were covered with worn photos, underwear and dollar bills marked up with a Sharpie. Weather-worn buoys and low-hanging bras dangled from the ceiling, along with the cremated remains of four bar regulars in pill bottles.

Mikey was telling a story. He was on a charter boat with his grandpa once when he threw up over the side. Some guy made fun of him. Next thing he knew, his 5-foot-2 grandpa slammed the guy up against a wall.

Don't ever make fun of my grandson again.

"Ooohhhh," the preschool teacher said.

"That's how my grandpa was," Mikey said, leaning back.

Mikey's bald, with a goatee and lots of tattoos. He reminds you a little of a ventriloquist's dummy when he smiles, and he has a voice like one too.

After Mikey finished high school, his grandpa asked him to come learn the business. He made the trip three or four times, but each time his grandpa flew off the handle and told him to leave. Susor was like that. He would kick out customers and employees for the slightest thing, like too much cleavage or a hat worn sideways.

He was legendary in this small beach town of high-rise condos.

He once hit a customer with a bat.

He shot a burglar.

He sued the town.

He stole dirt.

He was cited for violating more than a dozen ordinances, including the junk car law.

This was Mikey's legacy. But did it mean Mikey had to be the same way?

He wasn't as pugnacious as his grandpa. The health inspectors fined him when he kept his animals at the bar. The building inspectors were on him about the clutter. Now the cops. But he liked to say that he would meet you halfway.

• • •

A week after the cop came by, Mikey dusted pine needles off the trunk of his grandpa's Cadillac. It was his now.

He planned to renew the plates that day. As for the broken windshield, Susor would have cursed at the cop and kicked it out. Mikey would handle it differently.

He moved around to the back of the Cadillac and cranked up his saw. Metal crunched and gave. Mikey sawed around the entire car where vinyl met rusted metal, then began grinding across the windshield. Flecks of glass spit up. Sweat poured down his neck.

As bartender Kristina Corsetti, 24, watched, Mikey lifted the roof. It flipped over and landed like a turtle on its shell.

"They're really going to love us now," Corsetti said.

Mikey smiled. Windshield problem solved. He had created a doorless convertible Cadillac. He was like his grandpa. Only different.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

In Indian Rocks Beach, a grandson runs Mahuffer's bar his own way 06/13/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 9:31pm]
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