To be 20-something tending bar in a nightclub is a dream for many young men. But years later, things change.
"That was the place I wanted to go then. This is the place I want to go to now," said Brian Storman, who poured drinks at Penrod's Palace in 1986 but is now managing partner of the Venue, a $5-million renovation of the same Feather Sound location.
Storman, 45, has developed a number of other business interests over the years, from Fred Fleming's barbecue chain to the Banana Boat bar, but he has long been tied to this place, which most recently operated as Storman's Palace. A year ago he closed the door on the young crowd to prepare for a complete makeover.
After rebuilding the interior, adding a new covered entrance and two patios, and constructing a multilevel, 23,000-square-foot space, the Venue opened at the end of February as an expression of middle-aged men who still like to party.
"As we get older, our lifestyle changes," said Mike Tolley, 40, the operating partner who trains and manages the staff at the club, "but people our age still have a lot of life in us. We still want to go out and dance, but we don't want to be part of a mob scene."
The Venue is large but is subdivided into many smaller spaces so as not to feel like a warehouse, Tolley said. Eight themed areas include a wine cellar, a champagne lounge and a martini bar with a stage looming over the bottles. There are also two restaurants: Viaggio, with tapas, and Takara, featuring sushi.
Among the nooks and crannies are sky boxes that hang over the main dance floor and an owner's-invite lounge that only the famous will ever see.
"We want this to be a sanctuary," marketing director Bobby Shay Lee said of the "executive lounge" that has a private entrance and a no-names-dropped policy among staff.
The club itself has the feel of exclusivity, with woodwork and wrought iron crafted on site. There are wine and liquor lockers for private stocks, a concierge service, hand-painted murals and a separate ladies-only lounge.
Capacity is 1,400 people, but with 130 staffers on duty at peak times, Shay Lee said customers won't have to go asking for help.
"We have an open-door policy," she said. "We open doors."
The Venue may be an expression of its owners' and investors' desires, but it also reflects the community, Storman said. When he started at Penrod's, there was little else along Ulmerton Road, and Feather Sound was for the country club set.
Now, he said, the Carillon office park and residential community is booming across the street, new hotels have sprung up to serve corporate centers, and Feather Sound has changed.
"I don't think the area was ready for this 20 years ago," he said. "Now there are younger people, urbanites who like to go out."
The central location helps, too, Tolley said. Not only can the Venue draw from its immediate surroundings, but he gets customers from Tampa, Sarasota, Palm Harbor and even Orlando, he said. Before they've even ramped up a slate of national performers and special events, owners say they've had the attention of the well-to-do, from NFL team owners to baseball players and entertainment celebrities.
The group of investors behind the project expect this to be more than just a nice place to visit, Storman said. They've trademarked the name nationwide, not an easy thing to do with a generic word, he said. And they hope to open a series of outlets elsewhere, not dozens of diluted franchises but a few well-chosen locations.
"This comes out of our heads, from all the things we've seen and done," Storman said. "We've taken all the cutting-edge concepts and put them in one place."
Paul Swider can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 892-2271.