A major art deco overhaul has transformed the old State Theatre into the Floridian Social Club, and the historic venue is once again hosting concerts in downtown St. Petersburg.
The nearly century-old movie house on the 600 block of Central Avenue was dark for more than two years after a fire marshal’s crackdown led to the closing, sale and long-running refurbishment of the venue. After gutting the place and spending well over $1 million to restore it in Great Gatsby style, there is now a cocktail lounge, concert hall and special events venue. And coming this summer, it will be open in the morning for breakfast and Cuban coffee.
Owner Kevin Chadwick relaxed in the new sitting room of the building’s lobby, with its curvy velvet couches and tufted accent chairs set on top of bold black and white geometric flooring. Outside, a tour bus pulled up and a guide with a megaphone pointed to the updated marquee.
“I love that,” Chadwick said, nodding toward the tour group. The theater is where his parents had their first date, so its history is part of his own history.
“A theater is not a building that you just own. You never feel it’s yours,” Chadwick said. “You feel like it’s the community that uses it. The whole mission is to engage our entire community to be able to plug in and find some aspect of it that they love and want to be part of it.”
Two sleek new bars overlook a club floor of carefully spaced apart cafe tables. The interior recalls the Roaring ’20s style of luxurious materials in gold, brass, chrome, marble and ivory.
The black and white angular tiles on the main floor are set in a geometric pattern that replicates the look of the original flooring seen in historic photos from city archives.
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And the cocktail program, headed by Niall McCourt, formerly of the Mandarin Hide, also takes its inspiration from the era of parties where flappers danced the nights away.
“We really wanted to tell a story with our cocktail menu. This building has such a rich history. Since 1924, it’s been multiple things,” McCourt said.
The classic cocktails ($11) on the menu are “a little off the beaten path,” McCourt said, such as the Vieux Carre with rye, vermouth, flowery Benedictine liqueur and cognac, and the Naked & Famous with mezcal, Aperol, yellow Chartreuse and lime. Meanwhile, the house cocktails ($10) each nod to history.
The Alexander, named after Alexander National Bank, which was the building’s first tenant, is a boozy sipping cocktail of bourbon and coffee liqueur that McCourt imagines as a favorite of bankers. Peppertown, with mezcal, cucumber, lemon, habanero and mint, is named after one of the first African American neighborhoods in the city. It was nicknamed “Peppertown,” after the variety of peppers grown in the community near what is now 31st Street and 18th Avenue S.
And the drink made of gin, Strega liqueur, lemon and a garnish of jasmine dons St. Pete’s old nickname: God’s Waiting Room.
The beers come from local breweries such as Cigar City, 3 Daughters, Hidden Springs, Green Bench, Cycle and Motorworks.
“All our focus is local,” Chadwick said. “From local musicians to everything you see. Everything that is brand new, every aspect of this restoration was done by local contractors and architects.”
One of the most expensive upgrades, he said, is the state-of-the art sound and light system from L-Acoustics. The company’s Kara system is popular with star DJs and it was installed by local integrator ESI Production Services.
“We are a music venue and we are committed to live music every day,” Chadwick said, “and we got a system used by national touring acts in much bigger venues.”
Since there are few national artists touring right now, the club has provided a stage for local acts such as the Black Honkeys, guitarist Shaun Hopper and Robin Taylor Zander, son of Cheap Trick frontman Robin Zander. Jazz bands perform on weekends.
Uncovered in the renovation is a brick wall backstage that was signed by artists over the years, including Jon Bon Jovi and Pink. The stage redesign exposes the brick wall so the audience can see the signatures and messages. And the artists who have been playing since the club opened in February have carried on the tradition, signing a Floridian Social Club wall with paint markers.
Chadwick is co-founder of KW Commercial Tampa Bay and 10 Keller Williams real estate franchises around Tampa Bay. He paid $2.1 million for the State Theatre back in 2018 and committed to spending at least $1 million to restore it.
Chadwick will only say he spent “way more” than $1 million fixing up the venue, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The 8,600-square-foot space could fit up to 800 people in normal times, but it currently has capped attendance at 300 to give people room to spread out.
There are stylish touches all around, from a brass flapper girl image embellished on a staircase to ornate rotary phones found on marble tables. Antique-style popcorn machines churn out what they say is a special heirloom brand of popcorn served free to guests, best eaten while an aerialist performs overhead between shows on the weekends.
Taylor Roberts, who performs the aerial acrobatics and even does fire-eating between the music acts on Fridays and Saturdays, said it feels like she’s gone back in time to a party the fictional Gatsby would have thrown.
“I felt like I was in a time warp,” Roberts, 25, said, being surrounded by the art deco furnishings as she performs overhead in a 3D hanging cube or hanging from fabric. “It was like we were in the ’20s.”
Chadwick said the time warp is the vibe the Floridian Social Club is aiming for.
“It has to be authentic, and so the only way to do that is to truly pay attention to the detail of what it was when it first opened,” he said. “I want you to feel like you just stepped back in time.”
If you go
Floridian Social Club: The historic theater has been turned into a Roaring ′20s-style cocktail lounge, concert hall and special events venue at 687 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.
Hours: It is closed Mondays and open 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. with live music Tuesdays through Sundays. There is currently no cover, and concerts are free, though capacity is limited. 727-513-8981. facebook.com/floridiansocialclub.