The strip mall neighborhood bar on U.S. 19 comes with a storied history: once a rustic pool hall named Pockets, then Rockets, followed by a rather glorious run as Bourbon Street Nightclub, a blues turned rock 'n' roll venue with an "every night is Mardi Gras" feel that brought the likes of Leon Russell, the Family Stone, Lucky Peterson (junior and senior), Juice Newton, Vanilla Fudge and Edgar Winter to New Port Richey.
But in September 2010, the owner suddenly shuttered the doors, to the dismay of those who came out for a taste of heavy metal and Southern rock, wrestling, karaoke, wet T-shirt contests and church. Yes, church. Rock 'n' roll church.
After that it became a sports bar. Twice. Now it's back to Bourbon Street.
The new Bourbon Street is more of an amalgamation of what it once was, and the decor and weekly event schedule are a reflection of that: bands and a DJ on the weekends, with weekdays filled with a karaoke night, bike night, ladies night, NFL Sunday Ticket on the tube and a male revue tossed in here and there.
Two pool tables are all that's left of the billiards era along with a couple of dart boards and arcade games. Gone is the giant football field mural of the sports bar years. That has been replaced by a hometown street scene that backdrops the stage. Glittery Mardi Gras decorations hang from the ceiling and on the walls lined with 21 plasma screen and two projector TVs. The old Formica bar has been resurfaced, replaced with a smooth wood. The kitchen has been updated. The sound and light systems, too.
New owners Stephen Arendt, 44, and Natalie Bass, 38, a Port Richey couple who share a household and five kids between them, decided to take on the new business with him bankrolling it and her managing the bar it while he telecommutes in the back office for his job with an IT outsourcing company.
"We like to go out on the weekends. We go to all the clubs around here. We love live music," said Bass, citing a list of bars they patronize. "The Reef, Cocktails, San Ann Liquors, City Side and Gulfport on the Rocks."
"We always bring people with us — an entourage, you could say — and I was spending a lot of money just going out," Arendt said. "I thought, 'We should just open up our own place.' "
They signed the lease in June and opened in early July, giving the place its old name with the thought they could recoup some of what worked before.
"Nat and Steve have put their heart and soul into it," said Dale Dunn, 59, a regular since Bourbon Street's first incarnation, who manages the bar website and remembers the glory days. "I'm excited about it. There's still a lot of things in the works.
Top of the order, said Bass, has been the music — which this time around is geared to the over-21-year-old crowd.
The new Bourbon Street promises to feature an array of bands frequently seen at other local bars and clubs in the St. Petersburg/Tampa area; country western singers Jennifer Lee and Nevaeh Peek, Mark Anthony Band, Nashville recording artist J.T. Curtis & the Silver Eagle Band, along with Brandon native and blues guitarist aficionado Damon Fowler.
The bar has also served as host for a couple of benefits, bringing in nine bands to help pay for the funeral for a young mother and her unborn child, and serving as the first stop on a poker run to raise funds for Rockin' Horse Farm, a nonprofit therapeutic riding program for special-needs students.
"We love doing the benefits. If it's for kids, vets, the elderly or animals, we're all over it," Bass said.
"We threw that first benefit together in a week's time and we matched what we took in at the door," Arendt said. "The bands all put a tip bucket out and whatever they took in they donated, so we had enough to pay for the funeral and then some."
Business, so far, has been fair, Arendt said, noting that he is contemplating installing a canopy to increase visibility from the road. "I keep hearing, 'I didn't know you were open.' We've got to do something about that."