The Corner Club, an old school Tampa neighborhood dive bar, is for sale

It’s been a second home for Old Seminole Heights neighbors for around 50 years.
The Corner Club Tavern that is up for sale is located in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa.
The Corner Club Tavern that is up for sale is located in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Nov. 6, 2019

TAMPA — It has never been the type of bar to inspire a trek across the bridge.

It is not even the type of bar that draws people from the other side of Tampa.

But for around 50 years, the Corner Club Tavern at 1502 E. Sligh Ave. has been the type of bar that its Old Seminole Heights neighbors call a second home.

“We’re a neighborhood bar,” owner Fred Jett said. “We always have been.”

He hopes it always will be.

Jett, 77, is retiring.

The Corner Club’s business, contents, use of name, 2,500-square-foot red brick building, and more than half-acre lot are for sale for $565,000.

There is no stipulation requiring that the new owner keeps the bar going.

Still, said Patty Denmark, Jett’s girlfriend of 40 years and bartender for 20, “It would be nice if they did. I can’t imagine this neighborhood without it. This is one of the few neighborhood bars left. Everybody knows everybody. It’s a family."

Fred Jett, left, and his partner Patty Jett own the popular The Corner Club Tavern. The Seminole Heights dive bar is up for sale.
Fred Jett, left, and his partner Patty Jett own the popular The Corner Club Tavern. The Seminole Heights dive bar is up for sale. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

Neighborhood millennials, she said, call her “mom" because she offers them an ear to chat up, a shoulder to cry on and a cold beer to drown their sorrows in.

“Usually when I work, I’ll spend more money than I make,” Denmark, 68, said. “I want them to tell me their troubles.”

Neighborhood couples have met and fallen in love at the Corner Club and then held their weddings there.

“I always tell them, don’t blame us if you get a divorce,” Denmark chuckled.

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Jett has served first beers to children of regulars and decades later served the grandchildren first beers too.

“My dad used to go there,” said Dennis Fillmon, 69. “When I was old enough, I went there too. I played for their bar league softball team. It’s a neighborhood type bar. It was the watering hole for everyone I used to run with.”

Fillmon moved from his old neighborhood decades ago, he said, but still returns to the Corner Club on St. Patrick’s Day.

“I hope it sticks around,” he said.

The secret to the Corner Club’s longevity, Denmark and Jett said, has been keeping it simple.

“We are proud to be called a dive bar,” Denmark said. “People like them.”

They sell beer and wine but no liquor.

Smoking is allowed because they give away food rather than charge for it.

“We make meatballs, chicken wings, simple things,” owner Jett said. “On St. Patrick’s Day we have free corn beef and hash.”

Entertainment includes karaoke nights, a pool table, dart board and a foosball table.

“We don’t need gimmicks,” bartender Denmark said.

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Still, the bar has long claimed to have the “coldest beer in town.”

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Jett purchased the Corner Club on a whim.

The Hillsborough High School graduate was installing and repairing air conditioners in 1972 when he spotted friends walking into the Corner Club, first listed in cities directories four years earlier.

“I figured I’d stop in,” Jett said. “I got to talking to the people who owned it and they wanted to sell it."

The Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s website states Jett purchased it for $40,500 from Paul Cilenti.

Jett laughed that his bar knowledge was limited to how to order a beer, so he took some financial hits in the early years. He hired employees who stole and allowed large customer tabs to go unpaid.

“But I figured it out,” Jett said.

Regulars back then were mostly blue-collar workers employed by TECO and American Can Company. He described the neighborhood of that era as “kind of run down, kind of blighted.”

But, it has since “come straight up." A lot of young white collar "millennials live here now. The old timers still come too.”

Keith Morelli described it as the type of place where you can sit at the bar and have “an out of work housepainter on one side, a young financial adviser on the other, and you all talk.

“I moved into the neighborhood 15 years ago,” Morelli, 64, said, “and I made the dive right into the dive. It’s a one of a kind place with a loyal customer base.”

It’s those loyal customers who bartender Denmark will miss most.

“They always make me laugh,” she said.

Denmark recalled the time a police officer accused her of selling alcohol to a minor.

“He asked me to step outside,” Denmark said. “I kept telling him I would never serve someone too young because I know everyone who comes here. Then I get outside and I see a boombox. He was a stripper. Everyone was in hysterics."

Still, they she said, it is time to leave the bar business.

Said Denmark, “We are ready to go fishing."