APOLLO BEACH — It's a ladies' night unlike any other.
"Forget about your kids, fantasize that your husband doesn't exist, and continue to despise your mother-in-law. Rock on Wonder Woman, rock on!"
That's the energy behind Circles Waterfront Restaurant's Sunset Tiki Ladies' Night, which is held the fourth Thursday of the month and has grown from a crowd of 300 when it began in March to about 500 in August.
People from all over the South Shore area start to arrive and save tables at about 5 p.m., said general manager Mike Sora. By the time the party starts at 7, the parking lot is filled, leaving dozens of customers to park on the side of the road and along the street's median.
To handle the rush, the staff grows from eight or 10 employees for a typical summer Thursday to more than 30 — and that's not counting the kitchen staff. All food is delivered to customers in take-out containers so the staff can keep up. Beyond the indoor bar, the restaurant opens a back tiki bar plus three pop-up bars to handle the thirsty crowd.
"There's nothing like it around here," said Lea Latorre, 40. If she wants to go out with her girlfriends, the Riverview resident and mother of two typically has to travel all the way to Ybor City. "This is low-key," she explained as she sipped a pink cocktail at the August ladies' night.
What is different about ladies' night at Circle's is that it is for ladies. Typically, ladies' nights are really targeted at single men looking to find a date. Here, a handful of male customers look out of place next to the massage chairs, psychic palm reader and henna tattoo tables. Groups of women lounge on chairs nearby, paying them little mind.
The event was one of the bartender's ideas.
"Every bar I've ever worked at had a ladies' night," said Joey Davis, who lives down the street and was a regular at the 19-year-old restaurant before he started bartending a few years ago. He mentioned it to owner Vic Granowicz.
Davis credits clever Facebook posts and marketing with the success of "Sunnset Tiki Ladies' Night." Edgy advertisements, plus partnering with local businesses for raffles and giveaways made a big difference, he said.
For the first month, "all the tables were full," general manager Sora said. The restaurant had found itself completely unprepared for the roughly 300 people who turned out.
"We couldn't keep up," he said. The DJ had to be moved to the special event stage after the first month because he was being inundated with song requests on the dance floor.
"He said, 'I can't be down here next to the dance floor,'" Sora said.
Even in the draining heat of July and August, the event continued to grow.
As the restaurant enters the busy time of year this fall, the staff is waiting to see how big the crowds will become.
"No one expected this thing to turn into this," Sora said.
Contact Alli Knothe at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @KnotheA.