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St. Petersburg speakeasy lounge to open in former Chief’s Creole Café

The Catalyst hopes to spark more activity in the historic Deuces neighborhood that is undergoing a revival.
 
Chief's Creole Cafe on 901 22nd Street South in St. Petersburg on June 9, 2020 in the 22nd Street business corridor known as the Deuces. The former restaurant will transform into a speakeasy and lounge called The Catalyst.
Chief's Creole Cafe on 901 22nd Street South in St. Petersburg on June 9, 2020 in the 22nd Street business corridor known as the Deuces. The former restaurant will transform into a speakeasy and lounge called The Catalyst. [ DIRK SHADD | Dirk Shadd ]
Published May 26, 2023

A new business is coming to one of the most notable buildings in St. Petersburg’s historic neighborhood The Deuces.

The Catalyst, a lounge and speakeasy bar, is set to open in what was once the Chief’s Creole Café. It’ll have a soft opening on June 1, with a grand opening set later this year, said co-owner Jason Bryant.

The new bar aims to kickstart the ”renaissance” in the historic Black business corridor that has struggled from community displacement due to the construction of Interstate 275 and Tropicana Field.

It’ll be located on the corner of 22nd Street and Ninth Avenue South.

“We call it The Catalyst because the Deuces at one point it was a very lively spot and we want to basically be a catalyst to get it back going again,” Bryant said. “And that includes not just people coming to our establishment, but all of the surrounding restaurants and businesses.”

Bryant said his business partner Jeffrey Copeland asked him to consider opening something in the former Chief’s Creole Cafe when it announced last April it was closing. The restaurant was a neighborhood staple for nearly a decade.

Bryant, who is part of the local investor group Urban Collective that owns the historic Manhattan Casino and 22 South food hall, said he wasn’t ready to start another business venture at the time, but the opportunity spoke to his passion for investing in the Deuces community — and keeping it local.

Carolyn and Elihu Brayboy, owners of Chief's Creole Cafe on 22nd Street S in St. Petersburg, announced in April they were closing permanently. Now a new lounge called The Catalyst will take its place.
Carolyn and Elihu Brayboy, owners of Chief's Creole Cafe on 22nd Street S in St. Petersburg, announced in April they were closing permanently. Now a new lounge called The Catalyst will take its place.

“I admittedly have mixed feelings about progress when it comes to business and St. Pete, because as a native, I understand what’s going on,” Bryant said. “I grew up on the south side and I can clearly see the neglect. And it’s so weird, because less than a mile away where everything is happening, you can clearly see where the money is going.”

Chief’s Creole Cafe, known for its Louisiana-style gumbo, po-boys and crawfish, permanently closed after owners Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy retired. Before that, the building now featuring a large mural of jazz artist Louis Armstrong used to house the Sidney Harden Grocery Store, the only grocery store catering to St. Petersburg’s Black community for decades.

“I really thought about what it is and what it could stand for,” Bryant said.

The Catalyst will have cocktails, cigars and hookah. In a partnership with Sid’s Caribbean Grill, it’ll serve Jamaican cuisine as well. Some nights will have speakeasy features where visitors will need a code to get in.

“The renaissance is being picked up again and the Deuces are back,” Bryant said. “We want to really make sure people know that this is another place where you can come hang out.”