Thursday, January 18, 2018
News Roundup

From vodka bars to art museums, GOP has convention party sites lined up

TAMPA — Looking to throw a big party during the Republican National Convention? Consider the official venue list, which came out this week.

It has something for the upper crust: Tampa Yacht and Country Club, for instance.

Something for the artsy: St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts.

Something for, say, the electro-dance fan seeking $2 PBR tall boys: Czar Vodka Bar and Nightclub in Ybor City.

It even has a bowling alley, a hookah lounge and a comedy club.

Republican convention organizers will market the list of 73 Tampa Bay venues to delegations, associations, media organizations and others looking to book parties for late August, convention spokesman James Davis said.

"We kind of try to play matchmaker a little bit," Davis said.

To be on the list, the venues agree to hold off on making any deals on their own and wait for the RNC to match them up with potential clients. The venues and party organizers later negotiate deals. The convention is Aug. 27-30 in Tampa.

Davis acknowledged some places on the list may not be the first to come to mind when thinking of Republican conventioneers. But he predicted they will fare well.

"We have a diverse party," he said. "You kind of need a smattering of venues."

Maryann Ferenc, who serves on the local host committee, is the co-owner of Mise En Place and also holds the food service contract at Tampa Museum of Art. Both of those are on the venue list.

She said she expects convention organizers will do a good job of matchmaking — maybe high-tech companies would reserve party space at the Tampa Museum or an entertainment company looking for a concentration of clubs might look in Ybor.

She said her partner is starting to get a little nervous about waiting to hear about their date. "That's the hard part," she said, with a laugh. (At some point this spring, the venues can start making their own deals if the RNC hasn't come through with clients, she said.)

The owners of Gaspar's Grotto in Ybor, a pirate-themed restaurant and bar, were approached by local organizers, said co-owner Shere Schiller.

She said Gaspar's has a reputation for hosting big events. It seats 250 in the restaurant and also has a 6,600-square-foot patio. She added that she thinks the pirate theme will help, too, for those seeking a Tampa experience.

"We have an indigenous theme to Tampa Bay," she said.

Though some venues are going out on their own and trying to broker deals, Schiller said she thinks the official RNC stamp will help her attract business.

"We're going to be busy from morning to evening," she said.

Hattrick's Tavern, a sports bar in downtown Tampa that can hold 300 for receptions, made the list, too.

General manager David Mangione said Hattrick's was approached by the RNC's Committee on Arrangements.

"We felt it was a safeguard for us to be part of the venue (list) rather than try to go out on our own and facilitate private parties," he said. "We felt they'd give us the best possibility to reach the best number of people."

The list may introduce local Republicans to new places, too, particularly those who have never sipped a $5 Socialist Martini at Czar's "People's Party" on a Saturday night.

"Um, no," Hillsborough GOP chairman Art Wood said when asked if he'd heard of Czar and a handful of other locations. "I guess you're going to find out I'm not a night owl."

Thomas King, the 27-year-old treasurer of the Tampa Bay Young Republicans, had a different response.

"Czar?" he said. "Cool."

King said he expects young Republicans will flood Ybor and South Tampa bars and nightclubs.

County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, a Republican, said he figures the list is diverse enough to accommodate the mix of people who'll flood Tampa in August.

"Republicans come in all shapes, sizes and ages," said Higginbotham, who also hadn't heard of a number of the night spots but does set his cellphone ring tone to Foo Fighters songs.

Reach Jodie Tillman at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.

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