Saturday, November 25, 2017

New hip-hop club Ybor Live emerging in Ybor City

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For years the Good Luck Cafe hovered in the ether somewhere between a restaurant and a nightspot on Ybor City's bustling Seventh Avenue.

When new management came in and christened the building Ybor Live, the idea was to transform the midsized, two-story venue at 1910 E Seventh Ave. into an activity hub that would host to nationally recognized artists, dining and comedy.

Two months in, Michael Ricks feels like he's on his way. So far in April, rappers Mack Maine, Famous Kidd Brick, YG and Young Thug have all held shows at Ybor Live.

"We're not trying to be strictly a rap place or a black club," said Ricks, the operations manager who revitalized the Good Luck Cafe with his wife. "We're looking to be an urban destination for various age groups and bringing in R&B and soul and jazz acts to cater to lots of crowds."

The shows weren't packed. Some couldn't even manage to fill the dance floor. But brand ambassador Richard "Phresh" Bryant called them learning experiences.

"YG didn't have as many people as we would have liked but it was so short notice of a show that we've just taken that one and we're moving forward," Bryant said.

One thing they learned: promotion is key, especially with local radio stations. Young Thug's appearance on Thursday was the first time Ybor Live teamed with local hip-hop and hits station Wild 94.1. The venue provided DJs with free tickets to distribute and bought airtime on the station to promote the rapper's visit.

"It's Young Thug's first show in Tampa," he said. "We wanted him to have a great Tampa presence."

Though he still lives and works in Miami, Bryant has been dedicated to bringing quality acts to Ybor Live using his connections from years of working with clients providing concierge services to visiting artists.

"I know these people and their management because when they aren't working they come to Miami to relax or for vacation," Bryant said. "I've made a lot of connections through the years."

Grand plans have been rolled out for Ybor Live's future. Ricks wants to serve a simple lunch menu on the second floor of the venue, which includes balcony seating. It's not operational yet, but Ricks hopes to be at full steam by June. By September he wants to complete a full renovation to freshen up the antique-y, cafe space.

Bryant has suggested sprucing up the outside of the old warehouse space by adding Miami-lifestyle accoutrements, including spotlights, velvet ropes and red carpets.

"We want to have a different feel from all the other venues in Ybor City," Bryant said. "We want to offer some of that Miami-star feel to bring something new."

For now, to facilitate a more intimate feel, the stage remains only slightly elevated above the dance floor — fans can literally reach out and touch performers with no barriers in between.

An area to the right of the stage that used to hold dining tables now holds several leather sectional sofas with their own coffee table. Ricks has roped this VIP section off and sells increased price tickets for those who would prefer a place to relax during the show.

"We don't want the type of people who can't afford to be out and play," Ricks said. "This isn't that large a venue and we don't want it to be 700 people in here."

DJ nights are also a part of the mission, with a commitment to bringing in popular DJs from around the country to bring in fans.

Goldenboy, a popular hip-hop DJ from Miami, recently did a guest Friday night set at Ybor Live and Bryant hopes to make it a regular night.

Whether all the dreams for Ybor Live come to fruition is still the question.

"We have a six-month plan and we're executing it," Bryant said.

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