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One week after shooting, Scene nightclub is calmer place

The Scene attracts hundreds of customers on Top Shelf Tuesday. Patrons are checked now by a security guard before entering.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

The Scene attracts hundreds of customers on Top Shelf Tuesday. Patrons are checked now by a security guard before entering.

ST. PETERSBURG — A week after they ran for the exits as two men were felled by gunfire, the regular Tuesday night crowd returned to Scene Premium Night Club to drink and dance to hip-hop.

But it was not the same club they left.

Doormen patted down patrons as they entered the club at 211 Third St. S and searched them with metal detectors. Security warned against smoking inside as the club tried to crack down on marijuana use.

Nearly a dozen officers stood outside, looking for any hint of the chaos that has erupted in nights past, when hundreds of patrons have spilled onto downtown streets at 3 a.m. In the wake of last week's shooting, police criticized club managers for flouting their calls to tighten security and curb drug use.

As the night's revelry came to a close at 2:41 a.m. Wednesday, owner Richard Fabrizi appeared to have kept his pledge to beef up security after the Feb. 8 shooting left two of his customers hospitalized.

No arrests were connected to the club, and the night appeared relatively calm save for two women thrown out for fighting. The exiting crowd, which was down by half to about 400 people, didn't block traffic on Third Street S like it usually does.

Police called it a good start.

"We were pleased that things went as well as they did," said St. Petersburg police Maj. DeDe Carron. "But there's room for improvement."

• • •

Two Tampa Bay Times reporters spent Tuesday night and Wednesday morning at Scene to gauge efforts by police and club managers to get the club under control.

At 11:29 p.m., the place was nearly empty. It doesn't usually get busy until about 1 a.m.

The smoke machine blew onto the dance floor, creating a neon-lit haze. Women outnumbered men 2-to-1, but no one danced together as R. Kelly sang about getting wild In Da Club.

At one point, the DJ's voice boomed: "No weed smoking in here tonight. Those caught will be thrown out."

A man with "SECURITY" printed across his black T-shirt aimed a flashlight at a patron's cigarette. Another bouncer leaned in, explaining that smoking is now allowed only outside in the courtyard.

After the Feb. 8 shooting, police said they found marijuana on the club floor and complained that pot was routinely and freely smoked inside. Fabrizi agreed to crack down on smokers.

It's hard to do, Fabrizi said, because many patrons disguise marijuana using tobacco products such as hollowed-out cigars.

For every smoker admonished, another two seemed to discreetly puff out of sight. It wasn't long before the aroma of marijuana permeated the upstairs lounge.

Police entered the club twice and, despite the obvious smell, didn't find anyone smoking.

Carron said the club must get better at halting open drug use.

"They still may need to add more supervision to address the marijuana usage," the major said.

• • •

At 2:15 a.m. the club was finally hopping with about 400 people packed inside.

Not bad, Fabrizi said, considering it was a week after the shooting and Valentine's Day.

Patrons come for Top Shelf Tuesday, when it's all you can drink for $20. It's the club's most popular night.

Stacy Darrigan, 26, of Largo has been going to Scene most weekends since it opened. "It's usually wall to wall," she said.

She wasn't sure what to expect Tuesday.

"I think it went really well," Darrigan said. "Everybody seemed calm. I thought it would be more rowdy but it wasn't."

When Darrigan and her boyfriend walked to the club's entrance, a security guard passed a wand over her body.

Her boyfriend, Chris Williams, 29, of St. Petersburg was subjected to a patdown.

"Last night was the first time they did that," Darrigan said. "It actually made me feel kind of safe."

Williams, who said he has been to his share of clubs throughout the Tampa Bay area, was surprised.

"I haven't been patted down like that in a long time," he said. "No bouncer around here pats down anybody."

Williams didn't mind the extra police presence outside. "No matter how tough you are, you've got to feel safer about that," he said. "The only people it'll deter is the people it should deter. It'll deter the right people."

• • •

Though no arrests were connected to Scene early Wednesday, the same could not be said of the rest of downtown. Such headaches have become commonplace for police ever since the city pushed closing time to 3 a.m. in 2010.

At 1:10 a.m. an officer saw a 24-year-old man throwing a bottle of amaretto onto the ground at Central Avenue and Second Street N. The man was so intoxicated he could barely stand, police said.

At 2:37 a.m., a 57-year-old man was arrested on a charge of public urination outside Somethin' Different at 2420 Central Ave. The man cursed and complained the restroom was being used.

At 3:10 a.m., officers saw a 22-year-old man knock down and pummel another man outside Vintage Ultra Lounge at 16 Second St. N. He ran when confronted, police said, and an officer ended up shooting him with a Taser and arresting him.

"We have incidents at other clubs, too," Carron said. "When you're dealing with people who are drinking to the point of intoxication, their judgment is compromised."

One week after shooting, Scene nightclub is calmer place 02/15/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 11:03pm]
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