1. Arts & Entertainment

Local artists find a home at Tampa Bay coffee shops and bars

Work from local artists in a variety of mediums at International Boba House.
Work from local artists in a variety of mediums at International Boba House.
Published Jan. 16, 2012

There's a timeless appeal in browsing a museum or strolling through an art gallery.

But people are busy. They don't always have time to sit, to analyze, to appreciate. They're running into a shop for a quick latte, they're downing beers with friends after a hard week at work.

Wouldn't it be nice to experience art, kind of ... accidentally?

Look around. More and more restaurant, bar and coffee house owners are hosting painters, photographers and sculptors, offering the stark walls of their facilities as a commission-free gallery. Local artists get exposure and make sales. Shop owners get free decor, plus a slate of fresh customers who may be friends with the artists.

It also opens unexpected eyes.

"Some people find the gallery scene intimidating and don't go in because they feel uneducated about art or pressured to buy," said Coralette Damme, a.k.a. the Crafty Hag, an artist and printmaker who has shown work in several coffee shops around town. "Those venues may be harder for an artist to get their work into, as well."

It's not a perfect solution. Not all coffee shops and bars carry liability coverage for the art, so damage could be a problem. And while they're lauded for efforts, most coffee shops don't get official gallery status from the arts community. The St. Petersburg Downtown Arts Association, for example, says 75 percent of what's being sold has to be art in order to earn membership. The association has created a supporter level, open to everyone.

Coffee shops have power, said association president Jeff Schorr, who owns the Craftsman House restaurant and art gallery with his wife.

"Sometimes it acts like an incubator where maybe an artist isn't in a gallery yet or they don't have the quantity or quality to get their own gallery," he said. "It's a great first step to get them in and give them confidence to create more."

For most artists without a home for their work, the exposure outweighs any drawbacks.

"It doesn't work for all types of media, obviously," said Damme. "But I'm game to put my work where the eyes are."

Bricks of Ybor

What started as a hangout for skateboarders has evolved into a hub for local art and music. Skateboard artist Chad Chadoza and his wife, Susie, coordinate the art exhibits through their company Kick Start My Art. They put together a full calendar of shows, which typically draw hundreds of partygoers for opening night. Best part? A lot of the pieces sell.

The Bricks is winding down Faces of Deck, an exhibit of 50 local and national artists who created art on a skateboard that incorporates a face. Up next is the Photo Album Show + Record Sale Show opening at 8 p.m. Jan. 21. More than 30 Florida artists will recreate their favorite album cover and express it in a photograph. Local record collectors will sell albums. The Bricks doesn't believe in blank walls and uses the artwork to adorn the entire place, giving restaurant and bar guests something to look at every time.

Bricks of Ybor, 1327 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City; (813) 247-1785;

Cafe Hey

Cafe Hey opened on the edge of Tampa's downtown with the mission of providing good food, coffee and plenty of art. The owners knew several artists and brought them together for group shows with edgy art and live music. They organized the first dozen shows themselves but, as cafe business grew, handed them over to others, said co-owner Cheong Choi. What has resulted is a variety of notable art from veteran and novice artists, a few of whom have gone on exhibit at more traditional galleries. The art focus is two-pronged: It gives artists a venue for selling their work and exposes customers to art they may not see otherwise.

The small cafe has produced some fairly sophisticated shows, from GASP!arilla, a mini, more radical version of the famed Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, to Basement Sessions, an exhibit of 15 area artists influenced by jazz, blues and hip hop. The next show, All Things Awesome, opens at 8 p.m. Jan. 27 with five artists, including organizer Ryann Slauson, who works as a Cafe Hey barista.

Cafe Hey, 1540 N Franklin Ave, Tampa; (813) 221-5150;

Kahwa Cafe

On any given day, Kahwa Cafe South in St. Petersburg is jammed with people plunking laptops, City Council members chatting with residents, folks getting a post-jog coffee with their dogs plopped on the sidewalk outside.

It's why local artists clamor to get their work on the walls. The shop has featured everyone from Calan Ree to Frank Strunk III to Coralette Damme, with paintings and mixed-media works and photography, even necklaces. Most artists approach Kahwa employees first. It's usually a seasonal decision.

"I try to be a little aware of what's appropriate," said manager Lauren Kruse. "We have a guy who does great monsters, so I'm going to save him for October."

Every month, Kahwa switches out the installation and hosts an opening. Through February, the shop is featuring a photography exhibit called St. Pete From Sunrise to Moonset by Velva Lee Heraty. Kahwa Espresso Bar a few blocks away on Second Avenue North doesn't host artists due to space restraints. But the new Tampa location at 400 N Ashley Drive does. Everything's for sale, and nothing's outrageously expensive.

"It can't be," said Kruse. "It's a coffee shop."

Kahwa Cafe South, 204 Second Ave. S, St. Petersburg, (727) 821-1942; and Kahwa Tampa, 400 N Ashley Drive, Tampa, (813) 225-2040,

Cafe Bohemia

The owners of Cafe Bohemia didn't have to look far to stock the walls of the shop.

"We tend to have a lot of street art, and I think that is probably due to the people that have worked here," said owner Matt Neal.

Former employee Alex Glueck and his friends are showing their graffiti-based street art at Cafe Bohemia right now. To celebrate the opening, they painted a piece live on the patio for a crowd inside the wrought iron gate. Cafe Bohemia has also hosted hybrid art, music and life events, including a seed and plant swap for gardeners with art from Justin Runfola, Katie Wright and Lamont Russ.

The shop serves coffee, beer, sandwiches and salads, hosts bands live on the patio and offers a snuggly place for quiet types to read inside. Local art was a natural fit, meshing as a stop on St. Petersburg's monthly art walks. Neal hasn't taken commission in years, he said.

"People like this," said Neal. "It's more casual. They have a little party and invite their family and friends. It's a special thing when people who might not have shown anywhere except maybe school actually have a public space."

Cafe Bohemia, 937 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 895-4495

Kaleisia Tea

With a name that combines kaleidoscope and Asia, it should come as no surprise that Kaleisia Tea offers space to all kinds of artists. Co-owner Kim Pham says they aren't particular about the work and welcome artists who "aren't the best in the world.'' That's not to say they don't get impressive pieces. Pen and ink drawings by Robert Malcom , a Kaleisia regular, were so popular a few years ago that they are back to kick off the new year.

The tea lounge started "artist showcases'' in 2006 and switches them out every few months. Pham said customers appreciate the art and like the changing nature of the exhibits, which have ranged from blown glass to photography and ceramics. Most recently, members of Kaleisia's Thursday night knitting group hung their scarves, hats and gloves on the wall, giving the place a warm and fuzzy feeling over the holidays.

Kaleisia Tea, 1441 E Fletcher Ave., Tampa, (813) 977-8266;

Tre Amici @ the Ybor Bunker

This anti-corporate coffee shop likes to call itself "Ybor City's living room." And what's a living room without art? Tre Amici devotes nearly two full walls to local artists, many of them familiar faces around the cafe. Linda Alexander-Rosas, the current visiting artist, reads poetry on open-mic nights and has been coming to the shop for years. Several of her mixed-media pieces ($50-$300) reflect Ybor in either the title — Crooked Sky Over Ybor — or materials used, from cigar boxes and photographs. Artists must have enough pieces to fill the space, usually about 15 medium-sized works. The exhibits haven't resulted in a lot of sales but provide good exposure for the artists.

Tre Amici @ the Ybor Bunker, 1907 N 19th St., Tampa; (813) 247-6964;

The Ale and the Witch

When Brett Andress opened the Ale and the Witch in February in St. Petersburg's Tower Plaza, prime on his list of goals was infusing the area with a shot of local creativity.

"The owner is very much in support of local arts," said manager and bartender Sam Lewis. "That's why a lot of our bands are local that we bring here to play. He's not just a music lover but an art lover. He wanted to revive the local music love and art love."

The bar, which has more than 30 beers on tap, started by hosting elaborate works from a local gallery. Those items were way too expensive for the average clientele. Now they carry smaller works from about five independent artists, including Troy Youngblood and Danielle Shockley. The most expensive thing in the gallery is $300. And even if people don't buy, they come in and admire.

"It's a nice little draw," said Lewis. "We have a large room in our gallery where everyone sits and hangs out at a little fireplace. It really makes it a nice attraction."

Ale and the Witch, 111 Second Ave. NE, St. Petersburg, (727) 821-2533,

Sake Bomb

When people aren't pounding the bar and dropping sake shots into beer glasses, they might check out the walls inside Sake Bomb.

The bar on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg specializes in rice wine, "saketinis" and live DJs spinning vinyl. But it's also a mini art destination, featuring works from creative types in the revitalized 600 block, a sort of arts commune for the city. Owners Tai and Thomas Truong have made friends with their neighbors.

The most recent show was called Beast of the East, featuring Asian-themed work from John Vitale of Vitale Art Studio on the 600 block. Sake Bomb has also featured works from Frank Strunk III and Blue Lucy. The owners try to strike a balance of bar first and gallery second.

"It's about once a month" said Tai Truong said of the art shows. "We don't want to overdo it. It stays up and whatever sells goes to the artist."

Sake Bomb, 548 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 542-8893,

Absolutely Beautiful Flowers

The flowers were supposed to be the only art. But when the owners of Absolutely Beautiful Flowers opened their St. Petersburg shop in October, they noticed things were a little blank.

"We built our floral design studio and we realized, hey, we have these beautiful walls," said manager Brian Sykes. "Why not feature some art to go with them?"

Since then, the folks at Absolutely Beautiful Flowers have offered not only sculptural floral arrangements for weddings, parties and patrons of St. Petersburg's Saturday Morning Market, they've filled the walls with local art. There are Dennis Deusner prints for $75, plus one of his three-dimensional, multitextured paintings for $2,000. There are the curvy, bold figures of Christine A. Galas, whose work in the shop sells for $500 and less.

"We definitely believe that the floral arts are a craft," said Sykes. "We're not afraid to break the mold, but we also very much appreciate modern art."

The shop is still missing something, though. They'd like to book one more artist to feature, someone to balance all the colors who deals in black and white.

Absolutely Beautiful Flowers, 574 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg (727) 378-2749,

International Boba House

Because sometimes artists just want to let loose, there's International Boba House. Located near the University of South Florida, this bubble tea room offers college students and other emerging artists a venue for displaying and, hopefully, selling their work. The shop works with art groups at USF and the Tampa Institute of Art to present a new show every three months or so. Most include at least five artists and have an opening reception with live music, munchies and, of course, boba tea, considered among the best in the area.

The next show, titled 2012, opens at 7 p.m. Jan. 21 with work from 10 USF students, none of whom have gallery experience. Each will interpret the upcoming year, the Mayan doomsday prophecy and present culture in paintings, photographs and sculptures. Organizer Tyler Staggs, an art studio major, said the venue lets students experiment outside the critical eye of academia. "With school, it's hard to do exactly what you want, but with this we have the freedom to do what we want.''

International Boba House, 2764 University Square Drive, Tampa; (813) 866-8569;