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A bar is a bar is a bar, neighbors complain

The restaurant that Randy Levin wants to open in Ballast Point would have 60 stools, 12 tables and serve a full menu of food, beer, wine and liquor.

But Levin doesn't call it a bar.

It's called Elmer's "sports cafe," a place where "people go for good times, good food and good friends," he said.

That's not how neighbors see it. They spoke out against the restaurant at a City Council meeting Thursday.

"They may not call it a bar," said resident Susan Etheridge, "but it is a bar."

The City Council gave Levin conditional approval to serve alcohol at his "sports cafe" as long as he doesn't disturb his neighbors. He'll have a one-year probation period to show that he won't create problems.

Levin agreed to prohibit loud music and to post no trespassing signs on his property, which is on MacDill Avenue south of Gandy Boulevard.

City Council members warned Levin they would revoke his right to serve alcohol If he doesn't keep his word.

"We are real serious," council member Linda Saul-Sena said.

She urged him to work with neighbors to avoid parking problems. Residents told council members that under the previous owner customers parked all over the neighborhood.

Customers also would leave the bar and drink beer in an apartment complex across the street. Residents would sometimes wake up and find drunks sleeping on the hoods of cars.

"When I lived there, it was like being under siege," said Victoria Mang, a former resident.

Etheridge noted that the restaurant was three blocks from Ballast Point Elementary School and next to a school crossing.

"This City Council will have that on its head if there is an accident," she said.

The Ballast Point Neighborhood Association didn't feel as strongly. They were split over the issue and didn't take a position on the wet zoning, residents said.

Levin's attorney, Joseph Diaz, told council members that the problems came from a previous owner. That owner abandoned the site so long ago that the old orange Tampa Bay Buccaneers logo still remains on the building.

"Apparently, it was a hell hole," Diaz said. "Give us a chance. We have a whole lot to lose if we don't deliver."

_ Times staff writer David Karp can be reached at 813-226-3376 or