For decades, St. Petersburg had a national reputation as "God's waiting room" and "home of the newlywed and the nearly dead."
In recent years, however, the city has come alive with a nighttime scene that draws young people from all over the bay area. And now there's a new spurt of bars and nightclubs that seem to pop up about as quickly as a new bank on Fourth Street N.
As we reported Sunday, a group including shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem plans to open a nightclub called Scene in the former American Stage building this summer.
Move over, Bubba. You've got company.
Drynk is being added to the mix.
While it was first thought that the popular Tampa lounge would open a St. Petersburg venue in the Bank of America building, the owners say they may invest in a brand new development.
There are five owners: Bryan Pascual, Jason Amos, Enrique DeJesus, Robert Solomon and Steve Gianfilippo.
DeJesus, Solomon and Amos were first partners in AJA Channelside in Tampa. They later secured property at Howard Avenue and Platt Street in Tampa and approached Pascual about joining as an investor.
That union produced Drynk Soho.
"Drynk is a lounge. We want it to be a chameleon for everything. It has a lot of outdoor-indoor experience. At night it will definitely turn into a party scene," said Pascual, who said the owners are looking to expand all over the country and will use the St. Petersburg location as a model.
"We are currently securing a location, a standalone property. A one-of-a-kind facility that downtown St. Pete hasn't seen the likes of," he said.
While Pascual declined to rule out the Bank of America site, he said there is "another location that better suits our model. A brand new standalone building that will be world class."
"We got lucky. We think we will revolutionize downtown St. Pete. Since we're still working out the kinks, we can't give out a location at this time."
Asked to describe Drynk, Pascual said, "We're more like a New York lounge."
The venue offers happy hour and live music on certain days, house music on certain nights and is basically Top 40.
Pascual added that there's a buzz about coming to downtown.
"St. Pete is not a market where people get stuffy. It is such an artistic area and I don't think people (bar and club owners) understand that. High-end ultra lounge is not the answer."
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But, wait, there's more.
Acropolis Bar & Grill will open its fourth restaurant in the bay area later this summer at 515 Central Ave. once Bella Brava leaves for its new home on Beach Drive.
The owners, brothers Sam and Costa Waez of Tampa, have been looking to move to downtown St. Petersburg for a year or so. They already have restaurants featuring Greek cuisine in New Tampa, Ybor City and Riverview.
Patrons should expect plate breaking during festive occasions, live music and belly dancing on Saturdays.
"We signed a lease last year to move there in September, but Bella Brava decided not to move," said Costa Waez, 47.
"We've always wanted to be in downtown St. Petersburg and at that location. This time they (Bella Brava) guaranteed they were leaving. Hopefully we'll be open on Aug. 1 or sooner," he said.
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Taps Wine and Beer Merchants, which has a restaurant in Tampa, is considering expanding to downtown St. Petersburg.
"While Taps is considering St. Petersburg, we haven't nailed anything down just yet," said James DeVito, president of TAPS International, LLC, Wine & Beer Merchants.
"We've considered BayWalk and we're also looking at" retail space in the newly opened Ovation development on Beach Drive, he said.
DeVito said other cities, including Sarasota and Fort Lauderdale, are in the running for the expansion, but the Sunshine City location is more appealing.
"We've been looking and St. Petersburg is probably sitting in the lead position right now," he said. "Its location is geographically better suited for us. We also like its growth potential and reputation."
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Isn't it interesting that amid all this talk of bars and restaurants looking to expand here only one mentions BayWalk. Its problems may be more serious than optimistic city officials are willing to admit. But that's for another column.
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John A. Bodziak, an architect, is helping principle owner Richard Fabrizi convert the old American Stage building at 211 Third St. S to a three-story club. His son, Jack Bodziak, was a promoter at Jannus Landing. My column Sunday was unclear on this point.
Sandra J. Gadsden is assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at (727) 893-8874 or at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/StPeteSandi.