The announcer called out trivia questions on the other side of the meeting room, waiters quietly tiptoed through the door delivering wings and burgers, and a few late-arriving spectators sneaked in and grabbed a spot.
Nothing, however, could really detract from the glib speaker. The audience sat in rapt attention as Bob Buckhorn waxed about the city he leads — at O'Brien's, naturally.
It's not a big deal to find Tampa's proudly Irish mayor in an Irish pub, but it's noteworthy when that pub is in Brandon. Exactly why did the mayor come all the way out here to speak to nearly 100 members of the East Hillsborough Democratic Club?
Well, first and foremost, because the club asked. But really, Buckhorn brought his Tampa Terrific showcase outside the city limits because he recognizes we all have to play a role in helping him succeed.
"Usually when I show up outside the confines of the city limits, the rumors start," Buckhorn quipped. "Either, 'He's going to annex,' or 'He's running for governor.'
"In this case, it's neither. As we all know, we're all in this together. As Tampa goes, so goes Brandon. As New Tampa goes, so goes South Tampa. We have to make sure we all succeed."
In the daily assessment of news coverage, we journalists often divide our focus between city and county, north and south, east and west, Tampa and elsewhere. Suburban enclaves like Brandon, New Tampa, Carrollwood and Westchase stand as different places in terms of governance and politics.
Although shades of purple have begun to blur some lines, the city leans Democratic blue and the county tilts Republican red. A Democratic mayor and City Council lead Tampa, while the GOP majority reigns on the County Commission.
But Buckhorn brought a message to the burbs that more than just club members needed to hear. The city swells with tens of thousands of commuters every day, and if we work there, its progress matters to each and every one of us.
"My vision isn't just contained to the city limits," Buckhorn said. "Everybody has to buy into it. I want it to be as contagious in Brandon as it is in Tampa."
Buckhorn boasted about successes like Tampa's positive turn as host of the Republican National Convention, and next summer's ballyhooed Bollywood awards — the first time the India movie industry will showcase its awards event in the United States.
He spoke glowingly about the emerging energy of downtown, his hopes for mass transit and his belief that the Tampa Bay Rays will find a home in Tampa.
Mostly, he talked. And talked. Buckhorn held court for nearly 90 minutes — and nobody blinked.
Maybe because they realize Tampa becomes more inviting for businesses looking to relocate if it heightens public transit areas and boosts downtrodden pockets in the urban core. And with more businesses comes greater security for everybody in suburbia paying a mortgage.
"We're going to rise together, or we're going to fail alone."
I can only hope a wider swath of people share the same interest. The provincial boundaries between our municipalities and unincorporated areas may define our current existence, but they don't have to dictate what the future holds.
That's all I'm saying.