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Gasoline Alley is back and it's rocking

Rick Neal of Largo shoots pool during his first visit to Gasoline Alley since it reopened. The club had been closed for a year.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

Rick Neal of Largo shoots pool during his first visit to Gasoline Alley since it reopened. The club had been closed for a year.

LARGO — The old Gasoline Alley was a little bit rock 'n' roll, owner Mike Demino said.

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The nightclub's new venue is a whole lot of everything — including open for business a year after the original closed.

Life is slowly trickling back into the local icon. Demino said the weekends have been packed with up to 500 bar visitors.

The new location at 14046 66th St. N opened in July, boasting a sports bar with dartboards and pool tables, a music hall with a 1,000-square-foot dance floor and an upscale black and white piano bar.

The old Alley was less than half the size and primarily catered to rock bands and fans, Demino said.

New patrons and regulars slowly trickled in Tuesday as music thumped over the speakers in the dance hall. The reggae anthem Welcome to Jamrock fused into the modern rock classic Encore as bar patrons strained their voices over the booming bass. Colored lights danced across the empty stage, which is used on weekends for local acts.

Jamie Smith, 21, played pool with friends. The drink prices ($2 for single-liquor drinks) were a draw for the Florida State University student. Smith said she'd been to the old Alley but prefers the new venue.

"If they could get more people in here, it would be great," she said.

At the sports bar, former manager Shea Abbott, 27, and others watched the Rays hold off the Indians in the ninth inning as other sporting events flashed on the bar's five flat-screen TVs.

Abbott said he thinks the new Alley will bring in national acts, too.

"There's nowhere else like this in Pinellas County," Abbott said.

The original Alley closed it doors in Clearwater in May 2007 after the lease expired, Demino said.

Abbott said it was the sense of community that kept customers coming back.

"It was a local rock hangout that everyone knew about," he said.

But as the months fell away, some regulars started to worry if their haunt would ever reopen. "Cant wait til you guys open up again, I miss the ol' alley!" one patron wrote on the bar's MySpace wall.

Demino started to wonder too, as he ran into snags and setbacks.

Kevin Whitcher, 23, said he went to the old Alley, but it was too cramped. But since the club reopened, Whitcher and friend Kelly Meyer, 22, have been by several times.

"We like it from what we see so far," he said. "We'll definitely be back."

Demino said he plans to have an official reopening party Friday with a local radio station. For now, he's hoping the rain will hold off so he can get the side parking lot paved.

But even with setbacks, Abbott said the bar has a bright future.

"This place is really going to be somewhere to go," he said.

Jackie Alexander can be reached at jdalexander@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Gasoline Alley is back and it's rocking 08/08/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2008 4:41pm]
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