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Could Wilson’s Sports Lounge really close soon? It’s complicated.

The beloved 4th Street North dive bar isn’t getting evicted yet, though rumors have made locals uneasy.
The exterior of Wilson's Sports Lounge, a beloved 4th Street dive bar, is seen Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The exterior of Wilson's Sports Lounge, a beloved 4th Street dive bar, is seen Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in St. Petersburg, Fla. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published Mar. 29

ST. PETERSBURG – Classic rock pumped over the loudspeakers, punctuated by the crackle of ice clattering out of a plastic bucket. Across the bar, Dr. Phil mouthed soundlessly on a flatscreen alongside glowing neon beer signs and tables yellowed by age and years of smoke. The rhythm of a Friday afternoon at Wilson’s Sports Lounge was familiar, but as a dozen regulars trickled in, some joked this might be “last call.”

The daytime hours at the bar are populated by loyal older patrons, many who used to close out the bar. They’ve attended decades worth of barbecues, Christmas parties and Fourth of July potlucks. Many were here when Wilson’s briefly closed 10 years ago to transform into “Club Xquisite” for Channing Tatum’s stripper film Magic Mike. (”I’ve never seen so many women at Wilson’s,” said a customer who goes by Hutch.) Some remember when the room off to the side, now home to dart boards and a claw machine, was a drive-thru liquor store. Or before that, when the building was a restaurant called the Round Table, flanked by palm trees and a dirt road.

So when an article published by another news outlet last week claimed Wilson’s was facing eviction, many longtime regulars worried. What would happen to their beloved bar?

To be clear, Wilson’s Sports Lounge is not going anywhere yet. In October, the underlying property was sold to BDG 3850, LLC, which owns multiple 4th Street North properties, including Wawa, Verizon, Visionworks, Mattress Firm, and Alcove Assisted Living (soon to be razed to build a Wild Fork). Wilson’s become one of their tenants, and the business continued to be run by its longtime owner, John E. Turaniczo.

The lease agreement required Turaniczo to obtain $1,000,000 in liability insurance coverage. According to public records, Turaniczo did get $1,000,000 in general liability coverage in November, with $300,000 per occurrence in liquor liability and assault and battery coverage. BDG provided written notice that the lease required $1,000,000 for liquor liability and assault and battery coverage and demanded that he increase the amount. A complaint said that Turaniczo did not take corrective action, despite being in default of the lease, and his policy was canceled by the insurance carrier in January due to code violations.

On Feb. 16, BDG sued John E. Turaniczo, Inc. and requested a court order that would require the owner to obtain sufficient insurance coverage within 30 days or risk being evicted.

Carlos Yepes, the owner of BDG, told the Tampa Bay Times that he wants Wilson’s to remain in business. The complaint was inspired by a history of fights at the bar.

“We just can’t take this risk,” he said. “We’re asking him to comply with the terms of the lease. We’re not trying to evict anybody.”

The court order has not yet been granted. Turaniczo did not respond to requests for comment.

After the other outlet’s story was posted last week, rumors started to circulate among patrons. Hazel Bain, the bar manager, said some of her regulars spoke of protesting.

“Everybody knows everybody,” said Bain, who has worked at Wilson’s for 32 years. “They go, ‘Hazel, we’re not just losing Wilson’s. We’re losing family.’”

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Kate Evans and Tammie Hopper, both of St. Petersburg, enjoy drinks at Wilson's Sports Lounge, a beloved 4th Street dive bar, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The friends have been coming here for 9 years. Evans is a fan of the karaoke and says she was intrigued by the fact that Magic Mike was shot here.
Kate Evans and Tammie Hopper, both of St. Petersburg, enjoy drinks at Wilson's Sports Lounge, a beloved 4th Street dive bar, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The friends have been coming here for 9 years. Evans is a fan of the karaoke and says she was intrigued by the fact that Magic Mike was shot here. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

Trey LaBrant and Melissa Lakes came by a little after 5 p.m. to grab a drink. The couple met here 21 years ago, at the pool table about 8 feet from their perch at the bar.

“I was in shock the other day,” said LaBrant. “I didn’t even know it had gotten sold.”

Wilson’s was the first bar Lakes visited when she moved to the area in 1999. Part of the draw was the Natural Light they used to have on tap for $1.10. But it was also the people. Many of the patrons knew her mother, who died in 2018, and it means a lot that Lakes can come to a place that knew her.

“I’m going to be heartbroken if it does close,” she said.

Wilson’s closed as a pandemic precaution around St. Patrick’s Day 2020. The couple came back when Turaniczo reopened the joint for the Fourth of July in 2021.

“He has so much love and compassion for people,” LaBrant said. “He just wanted everyone to be safe.”

LaBrant started drinking here at 19 (it was legal then) and kept up the tradition for 40 years. He’s known Turaniczo, who locals call John T, the whole time.

“He had some health problems, a couple strokes,” he said. “The insurance fell through the cracks when he was recovering and all of the sudden it comes to a head.”

Eva Bryce, 68, came to pay her respects.

“We were told it was closing in 9 days,” she said in between sips of Bud Light.

Bryce loved Wilson’s because she always felt safe coming as a single woman. It’s where she partied with her gay friends when there weren’t many places that welcomed them, met several ex-boyfriends, and finally decided to quit smoking after getting winded playing on the game machine. Over the years, Bryce witnessed the occasional brawl. But she’s much more keen to talk about the time she took second place for her Bonnie and Clyde couples costume at Halloween, or her favorite karaoke night selections.

“My song was These Boots are Made for Walkin’, because Nancy Sinatra couldn’t sing either,” she said.

Bryce feared that Wilson’s would get knocked down and turned into condos.

“Probably a bank,” Hutch guessed.

“Or another fancy grocery store I can’t afford,” Bryce said.

Hutch, 70, said the real story is how everyone is jumping the gun. He still called up his friends to meet at the bar — just in case. After all, Wilson’s is one of the few bars where you can still light up inside.

“As long as it’s here, I’ll come here, have a Jameson, a beer and a smoke,” he said.

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