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Tampa Bay's best small-scale live music venues

The crowd gathers outside at Skipper's Smokehouse for a blues band performance.

Ken Helle | Times

The crowd gathers outside at Skipper's Smokehouse for a blues band performance.

It might surprise some that the Tampa Bay music scene thrives, despite the accessibility of music in the digital age. If anything, MySpace and other Web sites have helped spread the word to get more folks out and ordering CDs. The area has several top-notch music acts. Concert halls and venues pack crowds without the anchor of a national headliner, just by booking the bay area's most reputable bands.

These are the places to see Tampa Bay's live music acts, where you can enjoy a rich and often overlooked cultural resource – and become part of a friendly community.

NEW WORLD BREWERY: Away from the fray and on the fringes of Ybor's party district, the cherished hangout out for brew and music connoisseurs presents local, regional and national touring bands, many the type folks call "indie." Locals and out-of-towners consider New World a home away from home. If you frequent the bar during the holidays, you'll find the place packed with out-of-towners who make New World an obligatory stop on their itineraries. Bands on the verge of hitting the big time, like My Morning Jacket, Okkervil River and TV on the Radio, have put on legendary shows at the friendly indoor-outdoor pub -- and worked out their pre-show jitters on the indoor foosball tables and Simpsons pinball machine. Though it attracts a stellar contingent of hipsters – baby-faced beardos in Chucks and fringy-banged girls in Flashdance wear – New World isn't just for trendy college kids, it attracts a wide range of folks by featuring jam bands, worldbeat, country, Southern rock, punk rock and folk singer-songwriters. Veteran local musician Mark Bustin does sound for shows and lends expert guidance, so if even a band lacks experience, it sounds its best. Folks all ages make the pub one of their stand-bys. Plenty of seating, great pizza, fantastic DJ nights, quaint and characteristic décor, a free jukebox and a swift and friendly bar staff make New World worth exploring every night. 1313 E Eighth Ave., Ybor City 33605. (813) 248-4969. brewery

CROWBAR: A top-notch sound system, the best sight lines, comfy patio and mind-boggling variety of bands have established Crowbar as one of the best places to catch a band in Tampa Bay. Ceramic-mosaic columns, red draperies and mirror-backed bar walls contrast against corrugated steel, black polished concrete floor, chrome and black bar stools and brushed aluminum countertops. Its look is a mix of all the types of bars it's been before -- a rave club, martini lounge and garage-rock bar all rolled into one. It can seem a bit cavernous if the band doesn't draw a big crowd, but when it does, Crowbar is the most comfortable venue outside a concert hall or theater to rock out with a crowd. There really doesn't seem to be anywhere inside where you can't see the stage. A raised platform with foosball deck gives you a good side-stage vantage point if the floor is too crowded. Owner Tom DeGeorge says the red curtain was added behind the stage to cover up a mirror that interfered with band equipment. Plus, the sound system is powerful, but not blaring. Special nights include $5 liter night on Tuesday with Soft Rock Renegades and the twice monthly Kinder, Gentler Sundays that feature unplugged performances at 6 p.m. 1812 17th St. N, Ybor City 33605. (813) 241-8600.

SKIPPER'S SMOKEHOUSE: Skipper's is an institution. Generations of music lovers have called themselves regulars at this classic, Old Florida-themed establishment. Not only does it provide a spacious outdoor concert area, communal benches and beachy sand add even more charm, and its restaurant serves some of the best Floridian fare in the bay area – one of the few places that serve gator tail! It gets a bad rap for being overloaded with aging hippies, but some of the best times can be had with jolly tie-dyed boomers, shaking it to a Grateful Dead tribute band. What gets overlooked in the frantic avoidance of ponytailed dads: Skipper's is a premier concert venue, offering the biggest variety of musical styles. It's where you can catch headliners as diverse as the Avett Brothers, Black Keys, Jonathan Richman, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Duane Eddy, Dickey Betts and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, along with a wide variety of premier local bands such as Nervous Turkey and Rebekah Pulley and the Reluctant Prophets. 910 Skipper Road, Tampa. (813) 971-0666.

THE ORPHEUM: The Orpheum gets the award for most improved venue. There's more seating, a pool table, ATM, drink specials and cool DJ nights, but the management still needs to do something about the restrooms. They're bad. Real bad. It's worth buying a drink at one of the nearby establishments just to duck out and wee elsewhere. However, the Orpheum is a kick-butt venue for seeing the latest up-and-coming touring bands. Portugal the Man, Los Campesinos!, Cute Is What We Aim For and other indie and emo-pop bands headline. So, for the most part, the Orpheum draws the bopping 18-25 crowds. On some nights, older reunited acts show up such and draw an older audience. 1902 N Avenida Republica De Cuba, Tampa. (813) 248-9500. 33605.

TRANSITIONS ART GALLERY AT SKATEPARK OF TAMPA: Transitions Art Gallery is the headquarters for Tampa's DIY culture – art, fashion and music. College kids in jeans and sneaks file in and out of the East Tampa warehouse room, with the added music of wheels rolling down pressure-treated plywood. It's the place to go to hear touring punk bands, local acts and experimental weirdness. The SPOT puts on great festivals several times throughout the year, including the Noise Fest, Beverages are purchased from a vending machine, and apart from an old sofa, attendees pull up some floor if they want to sit and listen to a band. Between sets, folks socialize and smoke cigarettes outside. When a band begins to play, SPOT weekend manager Matt Welch blows a whistle, signaling everyone back into the space. He's like a dad figure to the young up-and-coming artists and musicians he supports, and the love and camaraderie of Transitions and the Skatepark make it an important institution in Tampa's cultural scene and a fun spot to check out a show. 4215 E Columbus Drive, Tampa 33605. (813)382-3477.

DUNEDIN BREWERY: Hear some tunes and down them with quality beer and ale. The establishment, with brands on so many menus and draft handles around these parts, indeed looks like a brewery with vats and other industrial fixtures mixed in with the cozy pub-like trappings. Scottish-themed memorabilia hang on the walls to commemorate Dunedin's historical connection and sister city, Sterling, Scotland. The music shows are reasonably priced and not overbooked, a relief to people who don't want to stay up too late. Perhaps for that reason, Dunedin Brewery shows attract a wide range of ages, depending on which band plays. 937 Douglas Ave., Dunedin 34698. (727) 736-0606.

KELLY'S PUB: The small intimate and friendly pub situated a couple blocks from the St. Pete Times Forum serves beer and wine only but an extensive menu of bands on Thursday-Saturday evenings. Kelly's has become a mini-institution for music lovers and one of the cool places to hang downtown, where many folks think nightlife is nonexistent. Owned by former Vinyl Fever manager Kelly Cochran and his girlfriend, Anna Stracey, the homey bar and cafe provides plenty of eye candy – flat-screen TVs, cool rock posters plus original artwork and sports memorabilia – like championship photos of the Bucs and Lightning. Because it's a small space, punk and hard rock bands tend to be loud, so bring your earplugs if you have a low volume tolerance. There's usually band playing for every taste – with an emphasis on jam bands, indie pop, Americana, and Southern rock. 206 N Morgan St., Tampa 33602. (813) 228-0870.

YEOMAN'S ROAD PUB: A British red phone booth cheerfully greets patrons at the entrance as Tampanians hobnob and smoke on the adjacent patio. Jam bands, reggae, rock and folk artists perform, but the place is legendary for its open mike nights on Tuesdays. The draft selection includes Hoegaarden, Chimay, Smithwick's, Stella Artois and Rogue, and you can sit at a comfy booth and enjoy hearty fish and chips or meaty sandwiches. It's not a huge place, and the sight lines can become poor to nonexistent when the place is crowded. Yet, it's often so festive that pesky nuisances diminish in moments of sheer revelry. 236 E Davis Blvd. Tampa 33606. (813) 251-2748.

EMERALD BAR: Full of surprises and overflowing with cheap liquor, the Emerald does right by locals -- vets, drunks, businessmen, musicians and artists alike. St. Pete bands call the Emerald home, but national headliners and Tampa bands play there, too. It's where you're most likely to catch Burg rockers the Semis, Weapons of Ass Destruction and Nessie. Warning to the squeamish: Very loud and raucous performances book the Emerald, so bring earplugs, and if you don't like secondhand smoke, wear a face-mask. Oh, and a few occasions of public nudity have happened too, one incident from Jacksonville's Black Lips. Seating is plentiful for a small place, but crowded nights require some standing around. 550 Central Avenue N, St. Petersburg 33701. (727) 898-6054.

DAVE'S AQUA LOUNGE: Vintage, kitschy and a unique treasure in Tampa Bay's nightlife scene, 45-year-old Dave's is a favorite of blues and blues-rock fans. Local, regional and national acts headline the centrally located bar, just off the little old bridge spanning St. Pete and Tampa. Affordable concerts can be enjoyed Thursday-Saturday evenings, with open-mike nights each week and occasional unplugged showcases and karaoke in between. A pizza menu and package store serve other needs. The bar attracts a variety of ages but the biggest slice of the pie chart goes to folks 30 and older. 10820 Gandy Blvd., St. Petersburg. (727)

GASOLINE ALLEY: A Pinellas mainstay for music, Gasoline Alley recently moved from its space near Tri-City Plaza to the Pinellas Park area, and according to several local rockers, the new spot is improved. Along with taking in rock, ska and hardcore bands – with a few others – visitors can hang out in the multifaceted facility's sports bar, where patrons shoot darts and play pool. The 1,000-square-foot music hall gets crowds of up to 500, people in their 20s-50s grooving on the dance floor, or they might be slinking away to the sleek black-and-white piano bar. 14042 66th St. N, Largo 33771 (727) 532-0265.

NEPTUNE LOUNGE: Half the building comprises a bicycle shop, where customers rent bikes and in-line skates, as well as buy bicycles and have them repaired. The other half is devoted to live music, usually geared to younger audiences and bands begin playing as early as 7 p.m. Decor is bare-bones dive bar, with lighted beer signs, pool-playing and old sofas along the wall. Draft beers are mostly domestic with a few imports thrown in, such as Newcastle and Guinness. 13 S Safford Ave., Tarpon Springs 34689. (727) 943-5713.

GLOBE COFFEE LOUNGE: Listen to local folk, indie and Americana, usually unplugged and on the softer side, amid downtown St. Pete's most charming and kitschiest vintage decor. Drink coffee, order from JoEllen Schilke's homemade-meets-contemporary meals (many vegetarian-friendly) and socialize with a wide variety of regulars. The Globe is a rocking little world unto itself and a favorite for bay area musicians. 532 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (813) 898-JAVA.

BRASS MUG: Ah, the Mug! No Doubt played there. Green Day did, too. While still classic, it's no longer the vast breeding ground for bands it used to be. Sure, the establishment has grown bigger and better, but the variety has dwindled over the years. Now, it's mostly metal and hardcore, with some other styles thrown in. So though it may have undergone through improvements, you still wouldn't want to take a first date or your mom to the Mug – unless they can rock hard. 1441 E Fletcher Ave. Suite 101, Tampa 33612. (813) 972-8152.

PEGASUS LOUNGE: Pegasus took over where the Mug left off when it comes to booking new talent and billing a wide variety of bands, mostly on the heavy side. Popular with college students and greasers, the 200-capacity bar offers ample seating and a large stage with one of the best sound systems around. The full bar serves Killians Red and Michelob Ultra on tap, plus 28 bottled brands. 10008 N 30th St., Tampa 33612. (813) 971-1679.

RINGSIDE CAFE: Touring and local blues bands -- some legendary, some not -- routinely hit the longtime-popular Northeast St. Pete restaurant/bar, a former boarding house and boxing club, converted and made successful by owners Greg and Kelly Pugh. Visit Sunday night for the blues jam. Lots of recurring acts, often on tour elsewhere, play Ringside, including Damon Fowler, Sean Chambers, and Johnny and the Rude Boys. Rock bands such as Mojo Gurus play the Ringside, too. No cover except Friday and Saturday night. Seating and sightlines are often a problem, and the bar seems understaffed – otherwise, it's a fun hangout. 2742 Fourth St. N, St Petersburg 33704. (727) 894-8465.

MARKET ON 7th: Owned by Gino Iavarone of famed Tampa Sicilian restaurant dynasty behind Carmine's and other haunts, Market on 7th can be found in the historic Demmi's building, site of a turn-of-the-century grocery store. Known for its affordable and homemade-tasting pizza slices, Market also dishes out fresh live rock, indie and jam bands and other original local musicians Thursday-Saturday nights. Some seating provided; a bar and some booths in the back; better-than-expected sound system and stage lighting too. What's more, management treats the bands well, serving musicians free pizza. 1816 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City

CAFE BOHEMIA: A cafe with a respect for good espresso-making, humanitarian groups and cutting-edge cultural pursuits, Cafe Bohemia lives up to its name with creative and experimental electronic and rock music, as well as acoustic singer-songwriters and poets. 937 Central Ave, St. Petersburg 33701. (727) 895-4495.

RASHER TIERNEY'S: Out of town but worth the drive for Tampa Bay residents, Rasher Tierney's offers a spacious Irish pub-style atmosphere with good grub and many fresh brews on tap. Bradenton kingpins Have Gun, Will Travel and Sons of Hippies play often, as well as reggae and Irish folk bands. You'll even catch some Tampa Bay bands, too. 5106 14th St. W, Bradenton. (941) 752-1531;,


THE GARDEN, Jazz trombonist Buster Cooper, a one-time contemporary of Duke Ellington, plays Friday and Saturday nights. 217 Central Ave. St. Petersburg, FL , 33712. (727) 896-3800.

UPTOWN: A quirky and fun little bar owned by a friendly Eastern European family. 658 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.

BOOMERZ: Recent business shakeups have folks wondering about the fate of Boomerz, what's going on with the place, but otherwise it's a spacious venue with a top-notch sound system, popular for its all-ages concerts. 6990 Seminole Blvd., Seminole. (813) 329-9299.

TRE AMICI AT THE BUNKER: A sleek and sophisticated coffee lounge and wine bar with weekly singer-songwriter nights. 1907 19th St. N, Ybor City. (813) 247-6964.

PRO STAR SOUND STAGE: A theater run by studio professionals featuring folk and Americana artists. 3220 28th St N, St Petersburg (727) 526-0446.

HUB: Not very many shows happen at the famed downtown Tampa bar but a handful a year go down in memory, drawing big crowds. 719 N Franklin St., Tampa. (813) 229-1553.

CORNER CLUB: A neighborhood stop for fun punk rock in Seminole Heights. Karaoke Thursday-Saturday. 1502 E Sligh Ave., Tampa. (813) 239-9998.

Tampa Bay's best small-scale live music venues 01/21/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 11:16am]
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