For a joint that courts rock royalty, the Capitol Theatre, for the longest time, was about as posh as a smoke-and-poker VFW hall. As for those seats, which seemingly hadn't been refurbished since it opened in 1921? They'd goose you good, and not in a fun way.
A couple of winters back, however, Zev Buffman, president and CEO of Ruth Eckerd Hall and the Capitol Theatre, decided his smaller venue, not to mention his adopted city, needed a jolt, some juice, so why not roll up sleeves on the downtown corner of Cleveland and Osceola?
About $10.7 million later, the new Cap opened last December - and looked, sounded, felt almost nothing like the old Cap, from regal loge boxes to enhanced acoustics and lighting to sparkly bars that are a far, glistening cry from that ol' rinky-dink snack stand. The intimacy was retained; everything else was not.
In a word: Wow.
Turn the page for eight of the sparkliest parts of one of the prettiest showplaces in Tampa Bay: the Capitol Theatre.
1. SIZE MATTERS
Capacity of the old Capitol Theatre: 485. Capacity of the new Capitol Theatre: 737. The expansion was made in a U-shape around the sides and rear of the venue, allowing more room, more posh goodness. That's a significant boost, and the financial impact of additional patrons could prove huge. After all, it costs money to lure big, bold-faced names to a showplace.
2. THE MARSHALL AMP FRIDGE
Puckish imagination was apparent in every phase of the renovation, from architect Steve Fowler's use of pre-existing history to winky in-house signs on the restroom doors to this little detail: The refrigerator in the "star suite" sports the facade of a classic amplifier. Most of you reading this will never spy it - unless you happen to be, say, Randy Newman, who plays here Nov. 11. You won't see the deluxe restroom and shower, either. But rest assured, the Marshall fridge will eventually pay off for you, too. For the longest time, celebs would be greeted with an apology of sorts, as the backstage area had all the charm of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Details like this will woo even bigger names to the Clearwater venue.
3. BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE
I remember watching an unforgettable, emotionally moving Glen Campbell show at the Capitol Theatre - as a serpentine seat coil jabbed at my hindquarters for the good part of two hours. Chairs sloping forward were also a reality, with patrons constantly in danger of face-planting the back of the dude in front of them. But now those cruddy old seats are gone. The fresh ones, shipped over from Theater Solutions in India, have been installed in the orchestra and mezzanine. Up top is where general manager Jeff Hartzog likes to hang. "Seat AA 14, front-row center," he says. "That's my favorite seat in the building." So there you go.
4. HIGH TIMES
Expanding the theater on its east, west and south sides (about 12 feet) allowed for perhaps the most crucial new seating aspect: six loge boxes, four seats per, an opera-style touch that didn't exist before. Members get first crack at the luxury seats, including Loge Box A, which basically hovers over stage left.
5. HIGHER TIMES
A second-floor wraparound balcony and veranda is definitely a bragging point, complete with 25 public-art shadow boxes and accessible to both VIP and regular guests. (Stars get their own private portion of the veranda, too.)
6. HERE COMES THE SUN
Built in 1914, the building housed the Clearwater Sun newspaper, which ceased publication in 1990. As a testament to sturdy early 20th century craftsmanship, the original brick is still in tremendous shape, so interior west walls of the Cap incorporate original exterior walls of the Sun, which were preserved as a nod to the past. Even more jaw-dropping, paint and inscriptions on the brick are still very much visible, and that has been infused into the Cap, too. Search the lobby for remnants of "Clearwater's Wall of Honor," a list of those who served in World War I.
7. HIGHEST TIMES
The Frenchy's Rooftop Terrace, with a partial, albeit spectacular, view of Clearwater Harbor Marina, is lightly catered by the iconic beach joint, offering a full bar and the restaurant's specialty items, including she-crab soup and smoked fish spread.
8. OH! DE TOILETTES!
There were four restrooms in the old Cap. Now there are 18 men's rooms, 18 women's rooms and two unisex relief stations. In keeping with sweating over every detail, the restroom signs now feature men and women wearing tragedy and comedy masks - tragedy no doubt representing the previous situation.