Until Sports Illustrated hit town, everything was just fine at Razzel's Lounge, a neighborhood bar on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.
Owner Kathy Everett presided over a place where, as she puts it, a loyal clientele enjoyed great food, a friendly atmosphere, dancing, pool, darts and sports on high-definition flat screens.
But the Feb. 23 Sports Illustrated — circulation 3 million — challenged that description.
The cover story described Razzel's as a beer joint where "four quarters will buy two tablets identified by the handwritten sign on the men's room vending machine as MAX AROUSE SEX STIMULENT (sic). There's cold Jagermeister on tap, and the SMOKING PERMITTED signs on the front doors serve as more of an enticement than a warning."
Everett is livid.
"I do not like that they portray me as some sleazy hooker bar," she said. "I worked hard for this business, and I'm not going to let anything happen to it. This is my life here, and I think they hurt me tremendously."
That perception of Razzel's has cost her some business, she said. "It's not enough to close me, but I did see an effect."
Razzel's shows up in a story on Philadelphia Phillies' ace pitcher and 2008 World Series most valuable player Cole Hamels. The article describes a January 2005 brawl at Razzel's as a pivotal point in the lefty's career. Hamels broke a bone in his throwing hand in the fight, sidelining him for three months.
The article goes on to say that Razzel's "is not the kind of establishment the Phillies like their players to frequent" and that players for the Clearwater Threshers, a Phillies' minor league club, are fined $500 if their cars are seen in the parking lot.
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Everett and others add context to the story.
• First, the smoking sign:
"The law requires that we put the sign in a place that everyone can see so that they know that smoking is allowed here," said Everett, 58. "And it's not against the law to smoke. People smoke."
• On the matter of fines to players patronizing Razzel's:
"It's a common-sense thing more than anything," said Steve Noworyta, director of minor league operations for the Phillies. "It's a place where an incident happened that raised questions, and we remind our players that they have to be smart and use common sense."
Noworyta said players are fined if their car is seen at any establishment after curfew, not just Razzel's. He declined to answer whether players are fined for being at Razzel's before curfew, instead referring a reporter to Chuck LaMar, the Phillies' assistant general manager for player development and scouting. LaMar did not return several calls.
• As to the men's room vending machine:
"Every bar you go to has a condom dispenser these days," said Razzel's patron Mark Tischhauser, 44, of Safety Harbor. "I don't smoke, but it's kind of like Cheers. Everybody knows everybody here. But if you are looking for trouble, you can find that anywhere."
Records show Clearwater police have responded to fight calls at Razzel's address, 2794 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., 10 times since 2004.
• The fight:
According to a Clearwater police report, Hamels and four other professional baseball players were hanging out at Razzel's in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2005. They got into a verbal altercation with local patron T.J. Ferrol.
Hamels and the other players, who were affiliated with the Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays, left, according to the report, and Ferrol followed them outside. Another argument occurred in the front parking lot, but ended with the parties going their separate ways.
Leaving Razzel's in a sport utility vehicle driven by Hamels and heading north on Hampton Avenue, the players noticed Ferrol in the bar's back parking lot, the police report says. They stopped and several climbed out of the vehicle. They approached Ferrol and started punching him. Ferrol tried to fight back. Hamels injured his hand. Ferrol's face was left black and blue.
No one was ever charged in the fight.
"I have no hard feelings,'' Ferrol said. "I don't carry bad blood. It was a drunken barroom fight. It wasn't like he did anything to my mother. I'd shake his hand and congratulate him for winning the World Series."
Ferrol now works at a Men's Warehouse, a block west of Razzel's on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.
Hamels did not return a request for an interview, but William Gwaltney, a pitcher who says he was released from the team in 2005, in part because of that fight, said it was a bad night.
"I know for a fact that he (Hamels) had never been in a fistfight before then or since then," said Gwaltney, 28, who still talks to Hamels about once a month. "It was a pretty crazy night. I lost my job, my buddy Cole was looked down on in a negative light. A lot of things didn't go right."
Gwaltney is in Fort Worth, Texas, in the last-semester pursuit of a business degree and pitching in an independent baseball league. He doesn't blame Razzel's.
"All of us had too much to drink that night," Gwaltney said. "It was like a bad decision on everyone's part. I wish it never happened, but these kinds of things happen a thousand times a night. It just so happen the guy on the other end was Cole."
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A recent Wednesday was Ladies Night, and Everett was readying for another evening of hugging customers and flashing her huge smile.
At about 10 p.m., DJ Iobo started to play music. The party atmosphere shifted from those who wanted to have a brew while enjoying the long drag of a Marlboro Light to the younger crowd wanting to show off their skills on the dance floor.
Everett said she is still left trying to remove the stain one incident has left on Razzel's reputation.
"I run a good business here," said Everett, drinking another cup of coffee as the night turned to early morning. "I shouldn't be put in that light. There are not fights here every night. It's a good bar with good food and people."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.