ST. PETERSBURG — After close to 20 years as a gathering spot, a watering hole and a stage for jazz great Buster Cooper, the Garden on Central Avenue has finished its long run.
The owners of the restaurant that will replace it promise that all that was special about the Garden will live on in the new Calypso Rum Bar & Island Grill.
"We are not taking away the Garden's original charm; we are just enhancing it and freshening it," said Jon La Budde, a minority partner in the new venture. Jeff Knight, owner of Jannus Live, is the majority partner in the new restaurant and is taking over the lease at 217 Central Ave.
Local businessman and philanthropist Bill Edwards was the most recent owner of the Garden. La Budde had been looking on Fourth Street, Central Avenue and downtown for a place to reopen Jonny Reno's surf-style restaurant.
He closed that 2-year-old venture with the end of the Pier in June. He has put that plan on hold to be the lead operator of this venture with Knight.
Work is under way on the Calypso Rum Bar & Island Grill, due to open Nov. 20. "The decor is going to be big time Bahamian island flair … with very vivid colors," La Budde said.
The kitchen has been gutted and scoured and all new equipment is going in. Decorative stone walls and new pavers are in the courtyard, along with a retractable wrought iron gate.
"If there is a big event or First Friday we can retract that," he said. "The courtyard is a wonderful thing, but we want to make it a little bit more inviting. The sidewalk cafe will be kind of an extension of the courtyard."
The courtyard also will get a new band shell to host live music seven nights a week from island songs with steel drums to "Reggae Sundays."
The menu will include conch chowder, sweetbreads and chicken dishes with a choice of 12 sauces with island flavors such as curry.
Knight grew up living part of the time on the Abaco Islands, and La Budde has spent significant time there, too.
"The Bahamas are much more than just Nassau and Freeport," La Budde said. "We really want this to be authentic."
The lobby bar will feature several flat-screen TVs and serve as a sports bar during big games and a nightclub for the "over 30 crowd," La Budde said.
His Jonny Reno's concept isn't dead. He hopes to get it going when the Island Grill is established and the timing is right.
"Maybe now I could end up in the new Pier," La Budde said. "I feel the people have spoken and they seem to want something that would have more space for several restaurants."
Reach Katherine Snow Smith at kssmith @tampabay.com or (727) 893-8785.