NEW PORT RICHEY — Latin music will be the backdrop for a landmark special event Saturday as city officials for the first time will allow patrons to take beer and wine purchased in bars onto the street.
Bar owners' hopes are high for this year's Night in the Tropics after the city eased alcohol restrictions earlier this year for downtown special events. The City Council adopted an ordinance allowing revelers to leave bars with just beer or wine after downtown watering hole owners complained the old restrictions, which prevented patrons from taking their drinks to go, cut into their sales during special events.
The event by Greater New Port Richey Main Street will feature a wide variety of music, including Latin swing, reggae and Jimmy Buffet-style tunes. There also will be a variety of street performers and food vendors serving everything from Jamaican to Cuban cuisine.
But it's the new alcohol ordinance that has bar owners hoping for a boost from this year's event.
Main Street executive director Beth Fregger said the alcohol boundary will be at Grand Boulevard from Circle Boulevard to Montana Avenue; at Nebraska Avenue from Adams Street to Bank Street; and Missouri Avenue from Adams Street to one block west of Grand. Montana Avenue will be closed half-a-block east and west, she said.
"I think it's going to be a big thing for us all," said Karl Reef owner Joe Karl. "It's something we have been asking the city to allow for years."
Passing the ordinance sparked debate months ago, as some residents feared rampant alcohol abuse during downtown events. Some nonprofits were worried too: In the past, they relied on beer truck sales to raise money for their cause. They might lose money if people decide to get their drinks from nearby bars instead.
Fregger, whose Main Street organization is one of those nonprofits, reached a deal with local bar owners. Nearly every establishment will concoct a special tropical themed cocktail or sangria for the festival. One dollar from each $3 specialty drink will go to Main Street. (Of course, if the drink contains hard liquor, you'll have to finish it at the bar; only beer and wine purchases can be taken outside.)
"I'm really excited," Fregger said. "It's going to be great and I'm really happy that we're all working together to put on a great event."
Karl Reef will be serving a Bacardi Tropical Punch, which will feature six different rum flavors, including orange, mulberry and Limón. Boulevard Lounge is whipping up a drink called Tropical Delight, while Fitzgerald's specialty will be the Cotee River Sunset.
Boulvard Beef & Ale owner Joe Nordon is making a Tropical Mango Cocktail, which will have mango and coconut vodka with cranberry and pineapple juices. Stormie's Country Legends will offer a drink called Stormie's Tropical Backfin, while Cocktails will serve up a Rum Punch and the Village Pub will mix up Mike's Tropical Storm.
Nordon hopes the event draws a good crowd.
"I'm hearing about the event a lot more than in years past," Nordon said. "I think a good job has been done in advertising and marketing the event this year so more people are talking about it."
If liquor isn't your bag, two local businesses will be serving sangria as their theme drink. Little Corona's Cigar Lounge will be serving a cinnamon-based sangria, according to bartender Liz Inglee. And at Mezzaluna Pizzeria, owner Michelle Filippou will be serving her special sangria blend — but she won't give up her secret recipe.
"It's a secret," she said, grinning. "You'll just have to come try it."
With this being the first downtown event under the relaxed alcohol ordinance, New Port Richey police Chief James Steffens said his officers will aim to educate people about the rules.
"But people need to be responsible, and if there is any disorderly behavior we will deal with it accordingly," Steffens said. "We don't want to be the focal point. We want the event to be."