1. Life & Culture

A music haven, hidden in plain sight

This is a place where people come for the music first and the drinks second.
This is a place where people come for the music first and the drinks second.
Published Nov. 15, 2012

Even looking at the name, I could tell the Hideaway Cafe and Recording Studio was going to be different.

I had never noticed the inconspicuous corner space in St Pete's Grand Central district, but a handful of people evidently had, based on the crowd that had amassed inside, occupying various candlelit tables or sidled up at a small bar near the entrance, having fun, listening to music.

Online, the Hideaway is referred to as a "best-kept secret" in the city, along with uncommonly glowing reviews of the place from both regulars and temporary visitors. I decided to let myself in on the secret.

The Hideaway isn't an average bar — you can't just show up any night, grab a bar stool and order a beer. This is a place where people come for the music first and the drinks second, so it's only open on show nights, when singer-songwriters perform a variety of original numbers in an atmosphere akin to a gathering at a friend's house.

By that I mean that it's very, well, cozy. The interior of the Hideaway is divided into four parts. Immediately inside the main entrance is the bar. It's a small one, with five taps, a row of wine bottles and glassware in the back, and two coolers full of various bottled beers — about 20 in all. A large table separates this room from the adjacent one, filled with low tables and dim lighting, primarily sourced from candles and a small chandelier on one end. The tiled floors are covered with patterned area rugs.

Next to this is another seating area, this more like a living room, with a small stage sitting in front of plush sofas and a few more small tables. The stage is backed by a thick, red curtain decorated with paper cranes hanging from strings and surrounded by table lamps on bar stools. It's an intimate environment that seems particularly well-suited for the kind of music you're most likely to find here: one or two musicians with an acoustic guitar and a microphone; nothing flashy.

A sign at the door implores visitors to respect the artists by not talking during performances, and text on a wall inside proclaims the Hideaway as "St Pete's original listening room." The distinction is important — this is a place where people are serious about hearing and discovering original music. A series of concert posters covering the walls from the Hideaway's three-year history — best-kept secret, indeed — confirms this, with a who's who of local singer-songwriters such as Rebekah Pulley and Damon Fowler among the names of headliners past. Some of these artists even record original music here; a small recording studio makes up the fourth section of the Hideaway.

Several notable national acts have performed here, from prolific folk artist Dan Bern (who will return to the Hideaway in early December) to a solo set by Glen Phillips, frontman of seminal '90s alt-rock band Toad the Wet Sprocket. Last weekend, L.A. singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked stopped in for a set. Names like these make it even more surprising that the Hideaway is able to maintain such a low profile.

Although the Hideaway is very much a music-centric venue, it's also a fine place to enjoy a craft beer or wine, perhaps alongside a light dinner. The wine list has just over a dozen options, and the craft beer list is small but varied. In keeping with the community feel of the space, several local and Florida beers are available, such as cans of Cigar City Jai Alai and Florida Beer Company's Swamp Ape IPA and Key West Southernmost Wheat.

Although the Hideaway is regularly open on show nights only, it will be open Tuesday through Saturday come January, when open-mic nights and other events will be incorporated into the weekly schedule. In the meantime, it will remain a listening room where guests can enjoy local and national acts performing original music in a unique setting; I can't think of anywhere else quite like it in St. Pete.

When I visited, a young singer-songwriter named Franci Holland was opening for the harmonizing trio of Mindy Simmons and the Hot Pockets. Two very different sounds and demographics; something that probably wouldn't work at just any venue. Somehow, it seemed to make perfect sense at the Hideaway, a place where music truly takes center stage.