By now I've learned that drinking establishments in New Port Richey tend to be a little outside the norm. So I didn't bother with preconceptions prior to my trip to Manilow's Nightclub, a place that I'd heard was a bit of a hotspot in downtown NPR, especially with folks in the LGBT community.
Still, looking at the club's website did give me a general impression of what to expect - a popular nightclub with a busy schedule, ranging from drag-queen talent shows to pool tournaments; and no less than three sink-or-swim nights per week. Fair enough, I thought, so I grabbed my accomplice and hit the road.
When I pulled up outside of Manilow's, I was impressed by how little it resembled your average nightclub from the outside, looking like more of your standard dive bar than anything. Inside, I found the reality to be somewhere in the middle, an unusual amalgamation of two completely different places.
After passing through a narrow corridor at the entrance, I found a small bar winding along the wall to the right, an elevated DJ booth to the left, and a large wooden dance floor covering the center area. At one end of the dance floor was a small stage, complete with go-go dancer cages, and pool tables filled the space at the fourth end. Several tables and benches completed the scene of the combination nightclub/neighborhood watering hole. The walls, decorated with a brick and stone arch motif, gave the bar - strangely enough - an bit of a Mediterranean feel.
I ordered a mandarin orange vodka and soda and had a seat to try and figure out the place. Manilow's is ostensibly a gay/lesbian night club, albeit one with some unusual features. On this particular night, a drag queen show was under way, with performers singing and dancing energetically to classic tunes. The flashing stage lights and professional audio setup seemed slightly at odds with the pool tables, dart boards and other trappings of your typical neighborhood bar. If the dance floor wasn't in the middle of it all, you probably wouldn't peg the place as a club at all.
But somehow, it seemed to make sense, at least in a slightly off-kilter New Port Richey way. I could just as easily imagine stopping in for a wild Thursday, Friday or Saturday night - all of which feature a $12 all-you-can-drink deal - as I could having a quiet cocktail on a Tuesday afternoon. And although I got the impression that most of the people in attendance were regulars, the extremely friendly service at the bar made us feel welcome - as if we were regulars ourselves.
The main draws at Manilow's are the events. Every night has its own theme, some of which are quite creative. For example, Mondays feature a talent/drag show with a $100 prize. Anyone can enter (costumes are even provided), and competitors can actually gong performers off the stage - if they're willing to take over performance duties. Other events include a pool tournament (also with cash prizes), karaoke, strip shows, a retro-themed music night and a potluck buffet on Sundays.
At first glance, it seems like Manilow's is all over the place with events and promotions, but it's always fun to walk into something new, which is probably a safe bet here. I also like the enthusiasm of a bar that has seven different weekly events, especially in a challenging market like New Port Richey. One of the fliers promises "fun, singing and more, all in a 'Cheers' atmosphere," and I think that's a pretty good way to put it.
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6153 Massachusetts Ave., New Port Richey; (727) 264-8841.
The vibe: Part gay nightclub, part locals joint, with themed events 7 days of the week.
Booze: Beer, $2.50-$3.75; wine (which is always 2-for-1), $5.25; liquor, $4.75-$6.75. Happy hour is 2 to 9 p.m. daily, with 2-for-1 pricing on most drinks.
Specialty: The daily specials have enough variety to please most people, so do your wallet a favor and try some of them. The casual nightclub atmosphere is equally well-suited to a whiskey or draft beer as it is to flavored vodka cocktails and fruity shots.
Hours: Open daily, 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.