Make us your home page
Instagram

Zo Lounge in Clearwater is worth the visit, despite unlikely location

From a glance, Zo Lounge looks like the kind of place that's destined for failure. The tiny nightclub is located on an aggressively unattractive, permanently-under-construction stretch of U.S. 19 in Clearwater, and simply pulling in and out of the dirt parking lot — which is also occupied by various construction vehicles — means weaving through neon-orange traffic barriers after taking a mile detour to make a U-turn if approaching from the south.

The neon-blue sign out front looks like a mirror image of another one farther south on U.S. 19; like that business, I had assumed for some time that Zo Lounge was a strip club. To me, the odds seemed heavily stacked against Zo Lounge.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I finally paid it a visit and found that my preconceived notions were wildly off the mark.

Somehow, Zo Lounge has avoided the curse of 25032 U.S. 19, an address that's hosted a number of short-lived nightclubs and lounges over the past few years. I never made it to any of the previous incarnations — Famous Cigars, Dirty Martini, Votka Gastro Lounge — so I wasn't really sure what to expect. A barren nightclub? A seedy lounge?

Neither, it turns out. As soon as I stepped into Zo Lounge, I was struck by how clean and attractive the place was. A long, winding bar flanked the left side of the main room, backed by a stone- wall façade and more than 100 different backlit spirit bottles arranged neatly along the length of the bar's back. Cool, blue light emanated from a Grey Goose-branded aquarium on one end.

The second thing I noticed was the music. The sound quality was excellent — pro quality — but it was also at a reasonable volume for the early part of the night, so people could mingle, order drinks without shouting and get into the mood before the DJ — positioned in a small booth between the bar and the large center dance floor — started to heat things up.

And heat up, they did. Zo Lounge may look oddly out of place from the street, but once you're inside, it seems like a thriving club. By 10:30 p.m., the dance floor was packed. Much of the crowd was a touch older than you'd find in Ybor — mostly 30-somethings — but the range of clientele was diverse, from young partiers to the girls-night-out crowds to older, suit-wearing guys sipping wine at one of the granite-topped tables at the booths along the wall.

An attached, closed-in room holds a second bar and VIP lounge seating, as well as an exit to an outdoor patio. Despite the apparently diminutive quarters — it's hard to believe this is the site of a legitimate nightclub when looking at it from the street — Zo Lounge feels roomy and very comfortable.

So why is Zo Lounge doing so well in a spot plagued by failed businesses? I think it all boils down to an attention to detail, offering a region with few club options an experience that they would otherwise have to cross the bridge to find. The staff is friendly and attentive; the music — ranging from live bands to DJ King JB from Wild 94.1 — is good and varies nightly; the drink specials are fair and the drinks themselves served strong; and, crucially, the place draws a real crowd.

I was surprised at what I found in that small, neon nightclub surrounded by gray, dusty construction, traffic congestion and shuttered storefronts. Not only is Zo Lounge a quality late-night club option for Clearwater folks who would prefer to stay on their side of the bay, it's a good club in its own right, offering all the frills of the big places over the bridge, even if the surrounding environment is just a little less polished.

Zo Lounge

25032 U.S. 19, Clearwater; (727) 725-3093, zolounge.com

The vibe: A hip, popular nightclub in a location where you'd least expect one.

Booze: Beer, $5.50-$6.75; wine, $5.50; liquor, $5.75-$9.75, although Johnnie Walker Blue Label is an exception at $22.

Specialty: The beer and wine options are basic, but there's plenty to choose from in the spirits department, ranging from imaginatively flavored vodkas and rums to high-end tequilas and single-malt scotch. Ask about the nightly specials, which include deals on a variety of drinks, including beers, sink-or-swim promotions and discounted bottle service, if you're feeling like a VIP.

Hours: 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Monday, 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday, 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Wednesday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Zo Lounge in Clearwater is worth the visit, despite unlikely location 09/19/13 [Last modified: Thursday, September 19, 2013 9:54am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Cast up to the challenge in Richey Suncoast's 'How the Other Half Loves'

    Stage

    Theater has many plays where there are two completely different apartments depicted on the stage, usually split down the middle, one on the right, one on the left.

    "How the Other Half Loves" runs weekends through Oct. 29 at Richey Suncoast Theatre in New Port Richey. Cast members are Christine Stoll and  David Daly (in front) and Bob Marcela, Heather Clark, Mike Worssell and Blake Parker (in back, from left). [Photo by Jess Glass]
  2. Review: Excellent cast delivers entertaining production of 'Young Frankenstein' at Stage West

    Stage

    I went to see the musical comedy Young Frankenstein at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill with some trepidation. I had seen a very good production of the show at another theater a couple of years ago, and I was concerned that I would subconsciously compare the two to the detriment of one or the …

    "Young Frankenstein" plays weekends through Oct. 29 at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill. Keith Surplus, left, performs as Igor and Lynda Dilts-Benson, right, as Frau Blucher. [Photo by Carol Ballard]
  3. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Oct. 23-29

    Events

    R. L. Stine: It's fitting that the week before Halloween, USF's Lecture Series features the popular horror author known for the Goosebumps series. Stine will discuss his career, creative process and sign books Wednesday at the Marshall Student Center in Tampa. Free. .

    ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 09: Singer Anthony Hamilton performs onstage at the 2014 Ford Neighborhood Awards Hosted By Steve Harvey at the Phillips Arena on August 9, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for Ford Neighborhood Awards)
  4. Seasoned cast scores an extra-base hit for St. Petersburg Opera with 'Faust'

    Stage

    TAMPA — Charles Gounod's Faust sets the table early. The world-weary philosopher immortalized in a dramatic poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is in his study, lamenting his state of affairs. He's willing to give away everything he has to be young again, even his soul.

    The St. Petersburg Opera Company begins its season with Faust, in a production seemingly aligned with the original intent of French composer Charles Gounod and librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carre. [St. Petersburg Opera Company]
  5. Blake High grad Taylor Trensch lands lead role in 'Dear Evan Hansen' on Broadway

    Stage

    For those who saw Taylor Trensch grow up in Tampa, his rise from promising student to star is heartwarming and entirely predictable. In January, Trensch, 28, will be moving into the title role of Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway, one of the hottest tickets in theater.

    Taylor Trensch, a 2007 Blake High graduate, will play the title role in Broadway's Dear Evan Hansen. Courtesy of Frank Trensch.