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Pasco's Bourbon Street nightclub suddenly closes its doors

Among its many eclectic draws, the Bourbon Street Nightclub hosted Christian musicians like Andy Bryant, left, and Bo Gravino, right.

Times files (2009)

Among its many eclectic draws, the Bourbon Street Nightclub hosted Christian musicians like Andy Bryant, left, and Bo Gravino, right.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Tuesday nights were for wrestling, guys bloodying each other with glass and chairs and barbed wire. Wednesday nights were for karaoke.

But the real draw to the Bourbon Street nightclub was the music: the hair bands, the heavy metal and the Southern rock supergroups who had packed the club known for 12 years to make it one of the biggest names in town.

Its sudden closing Monday — likely for good — shocked fans and promoters who thought the club, "Where Every Night was Mardi Gras," was an untouchable success.

"Every major city has one classic, legendary venue where local bands cut their teeth and where big rock bands hang out," said John "J-Rock" Staffieri, a Lakeland radio DJ whose Rock Solid Pressure show had hosted concerts there. "In Tampa Bay it was Bourbon Street."

Club owner Greg Serio said the poor economy and an occupancy cap killed the club, where organizers of a wet T-shirt contest and members of a church service had set down stakes.

"People can't go out every night. They're broke," said Serio, who showed a tattoo of the club's emblematic jester on his forearm. "Maybe it's just time. Time to move on."

Bourbon Street filled 10,000 square feet in a fluorescent-lit strip mall on U.S. 19 next to a tattoo parlor, a Thai market and a place called Tha Chopp Shop. Inside were two bars, a dance floor, band dressing rooms carpeted with Persian rugs and old showers from the defunct gym next door.

For years it had been a rundown pool hall called Pockets Billiards, and Serio supplied it with vending machines and coin-operated video games. After the owner went broke in 1998, Serio took over the lease to the hall. To save money on signs, he changed its name to Rockets.

A thrash band called Lost Dope, a couple of teenagers sick of playing in a field, convinced Serio to revamp the hall into a concert venue. He started hosting blues pianists, classic rock groups and progressive metal bands, changed its name to that of a defunct club in Safety Harbor, and watched sales explode.

"The money wasn't in pool. It was in music," Serio said. "On our first Fat Tuesdays, we were going through 15 kegs in a night."

Rock groups like Great White, Vanilla Fudge, Less Than Jake and Christian glam metal band Stryper brought big crowds through the doors, though the club found further success with a strange assortment of smaller gigs. Sunday worshippers held a "rock 'n' roll church" near the bar, with bikini posters on the walls taking the place of stained-glass windows. Hype men held "booty shake contests" for women, who danced in panties that advertised, "Auto Corral Inc., Hudson, Fl."

"We had seen something grow from nothing," said "Roughhouse" Ralph Mosca, a wrestler and promoter who ran the club's American Combat Wrestling Underground matches. "It was like a second home to people. It was fun. … It was magic."

The trouble began in February when rapper Snoop Dogg, fresh from a Super Bowl party performance in Miami, booked a number of lower-profile venues like Bourbon Street along his tour route out of Florida. As tickets to the blockbuster show began to sell, Serio said, the Pasco fire marshal said that the club was too small for the concert.

Serio was given an ultimatum, he said: Install a sprinkler system, at a cost of about $40,000, or slash the occupancy. He couldn't afford the sprinklers, he said, and the landlord who leased him the space wouldn't chip in for the installation. He dropped his maximum head count to 300, a third of what the club had once held.

"That was the death of Bourbon Street," Serio said. "The bigger shows were the ones that footed the bill. You take away the bigger shows, pretty much what you've got is a neighborhood bar that's 10 times the size of anything else down here."

After Sunday night's band, Smile Empty Soul, had boarded its tour bus, Serio told staff the club would be closing. The landlord had sued for back rent, and Serio was being evicted. Messages left for the fire marshal and the landlord's attorney were not returned.

"It was a devastating blow," Staffieri, the Lakeland DJ, said.

Serio said he had no plans to reopen the club and that the last few months of tough decisions had left him exhausted.

"He's such a workhorse," said his wife, Allison Serio, who met him as a clubgoer five years ago. "If he could have willed the doors to stay open, just by sheer will, he would have kept it open forever."

The organizers who used the venue said they didn't know what their next step would be, either.

"Right now we think a break might be a little bit good for us," said Mike Hannigan, a.k.a. Sideshow, who was slammed into a mat of thumbtacks during the club's final title match. "It wouldn't hurt to let our bodies heal."

Club regular Gary Clayton said he went to Bourbon Street every other day to shoot pool, except for Wednesday, when he stared through the tinted windows at the empty bar, looking sad.

"This is where I came to get my head straight, to come down to earth a little bit," he said. "I hate it, man. Now I've got to go to some biker bar."

Contact Drew Harwell at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6244.

Pasco's Bourbon Street nightclub suddenly closes its doors 09/02/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 2, 2010 9:52pm]

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