It's hard to put into words what New World Brewery has meant to the Tampa music scene over the past 22 years.
The intimate Ybor City patio may have hosted more local bands than any other venue since 2000, from genres ranging from indie rock to punk to hip-hop to reggae. It's a real musicians' bar, the sort of spot artists migrated to before and after shows. It was a place that hosted both up-and-coming and established national acts, yet found a way to give stage time to countless local bands.
As New World prepares to close its Ybor location with an all-star concert on Saturday (click here for details), we reached out to a number of members of the Tampa Bay music scene for their thoughts on the passing of a legendary club. Here's what 11 of them had to say.
Steve Bird, owner, New World Brewery: "I didn't know what it was going to be like starting out. I imagined my sailing buddies hanging out here, and they don't hang out in bars. They're down here once a year or something. So I didn't really know what I was getting into. It just developed and people embraced it. ... We were accepted by the people that were here before us, which I thought was really cool. They thought Ybor was getting wrecked nad the artists were getting chased out and the rents were going up — at that time, everybody just thought it was going to be through the roof. And then hundreds of places have come and gone in 20 years."
Keith Ulrey, musician, promoter, owner of Microgroove and New Granada Records: "You're basically playing on somebody's patio. I think the main thing with New World is, while being in Ybor City, it feels very much like an oasis. When you're there, you're in between these tall buildings lined by trees, and you're in this garden, and you don't feel like you're in the middle of Tampa's entertainment district. That's probably the main attraction to New World: You can go there and, despite its location, you can feel like you're being transported to another world."
Scott Imrich, host, WMNF 88.5-FM's Saturday Asylum: "There was a real living room feel to it. The beer was always great, the employees were always great, it was always very welcoming. Everyone who ever worked there was always incredibly polite and fun. And everybody knew everybody anyway, so it was just such a hangout. More than just going to a bar and getting a drink, it was hanging out with your friends — you're going to see your friends band play, or your friends's band is going to open for this national band. ... I parked there no matter where I was going. I would either have a beer and go on to whatever I was doing, or I would have a beer on my way back to see what was going on. I think it was like that for a whole generation of people."
Lee "Flee" Courtney, music director, WMNF: "They had good beer before it was popular. In the last five years, with all the craft breweries, McDonald's has craft beer. But they always had good beer on tap."
Roxanne Gallo, promoter, the Bolt: "It's like Cheers: Everybody knows your name. I walk in there and I hug everyone I see, and it's not just the people who work there. It's the people who are there. You're made to feel really welcome. It's run by great people; there's great people who work there. I've had my friend's baby show there; there have been weddings there; there have been memorial services there. It's a community, and a community that has been established for a long time, but also grew over time."
Alexander Charos, singer-guitarist, Alexander and the Grapes: "It was one of the more accessible venues for a lot of local bands to get a start at. ... Now the only place left we have left is Crowbar, but that venue is harder for some local bands to get onto. Orpheum's pretty much impossible to get local bands on. And St. Pete doesn't really have a venue left anymore either, just bigger venues like the State or Jannus, which are impossible for local bands to get onto. New World was a spot that was a little more accessible."
Matt Burke, singer-guitarist, Have Gun, Will Travel: "There's no difference between the stage and the audience. You're right up face to face with the audience members. It feels like a very inclusive musical experience. When we're playing and the crowd is right there, and we're just inches away, everybody's part of this thing that's going on. People come up and grab the mic. Obviously that's not the only venue that has that aesthetic to it, but for us, it helped us form what kind of a band we wanted to be, just feeling that crowd participation. Playing shows at New World early on gave me a feeling of wanting to have songs that people sing along to. ... Having a show where everybody is that into it, in that kind of a setting, where there is no separation, I'm getting chills just thinking about it. You can't orchestrate that kind of thing. It's something that just happens. It's a pretty magical experience when it does."
Susan Dickson, drummer, Permanent Makeup and Piss Ghost: "They did a good job of having good touring bands come through there. The environment's small enough that it always felt like a comfortable crowd, so they could be more adventurous in their booking than maybe Crowbar or the State Theatre. So that was cool. And also, it wasn't just a venue. It was a place where people would come just to hang out, even if there wasn't a show. ... Getting to play New World felt like a treat. It was a space for things to happen that couldn't happen anywhere else. ... It was a way for DIY stuff to get out to a broader audience, but it was still friendly and cool and close with the audience."
Jack Spatafora, promoter, Aestheticized Presents: "TV on the Radio, My Morning Jacket, the Decemberists — they were still kind of small bands at the time (they played New World Brewery). I don't really remember anyone ever having too big of an issue with it. No soundcheck, this crappy little PA — the only thing that we miked when I started was vocals. I didn't see the point of amplifying anything else, because you're right there on top of the musician. So there's no need. It was like a house show or a practice space or a totally DIY spot. Most of the bands didn't care at all. I honestly can't remember a single band that was like, 'Oh, we need a stage.' I know that attendees have always complained about that, and my rote answer has always been, 'C'mon, this is punk rock. You don't need a stage. It makes it special.'"
Jeremy Gloff, musician: "I held so many release parties at New World, and the albums were all so different, and they all worked there. No matter what you do at New World, it works there, because people just want to have fun and hear good music. ... I've played s----y shows through the years, but it's hard for me to think of any shows I've played at new World that weren't good. Even if there were five people there, that's five people that loved music, so it made it worthwhile. You play some other bars, there's five people there, they're talking, they're drinking, they're loud. But at New World, even if it was five people, they were there to hear what you had to say. That's what made it so special."
— Jeremy Gloff, musician
Will Quinlan, musician, organized New World Brewery's first proper concert: "I'm sure the new place, Steve's going to do an amazing job, and they're got a huge property there, and they're going to have multiple stages out there, but it'll be different. It's been literally my home away from home. I feel like it's a part of me and I'm a part of it. ... Thinking about the impending end, I've kind of been holding it at bay. It's like this shadow at the edge of my mind that I can't push back any more. Now it's here."
-- Jay Cridlin