Best Of 2007

At the Empire club in Ybor City, you might want to be careful when ordering a shot. The hip-hop club is known for violence almost as much as the thumpin’ beats coming out the door. The latest came in May when a fight inside the club spilled out into the streets, culminating in the shooting death of a 28-year-old. Last year, another man was stabbed in the club’s parking lot following an argument inside the bar; and in 2002, two Empire bouncers were shot when they told a man to remove his hat. Of course, that’s not counting the fights that don’t make the news. To be fair, any bar with a heavy youth contingent will attract some mayhem, but at Empire it seems to be just part of the tab.

BEST CHEESY URBAN CAMOUFLAGE: That gussied-up cell-phone tower

In the past few years, Americans have been forced to come to grips with our latest landscape monstrosity: the cell phone tower. A silver cylinder bigger than a light pole but smaller than a radio antenna, the cell-phone tower is an ugly but necessary blight on the urban horizon. In the interest of city beautification, some of these sticks have been disguised to better blend into the background. Take the one behind Big Joe’s auto repair shop just off the corner of Dale Mabry and Henderson: Someone threw on a coat of brown paint, added sparse artificial “branches” at the top, and voilà, now it’s a tree! The disguise is utterly unconvincing, and, if anything, the paint job makes the tower even more of an eyesore — which makes it all the more endearing, don’t you think?

BEST CITY PLAGUE: Ducks in Kenneth City

Some cities are plagued with rats; others with flies. But tiny Kenneth City on the tip of St. Petersburg’s north side is besieged with Muscovy ducks. These non-native, dull-feathered fowls and their predilection for uprooting gardens and spreading excrement have prompted Mayor Muriel Whitman to declare the town “overrun.” But she refuses to kill them, and trapping the ducks is too expensive for the town’s small budget. So the feathered plague rages on.

So a guy comes down from Ocala with some big plans that just don’t seem to make any sense: He dumps a reported $1.7 million into Chateau Privé, a private nightclub on Howard Avenue in South Tampa. He spiffs the place up with plush furniture and original art. He jazzes up his launch party with a white Bengal tiger in a cage. The club charges around $5,000 for a membership — for which you get a $2,000 food and beverage credit, a private entrance and (WTF?) a private locker. Meanwhile, the adjacent St. Bart’s Island House restaurant and club stays open to the public, and is often busy. Other than some alleged exclusivity and posh surroundings, what exactly did the club have to offer? Not much, figured young, wealthy South Tampans, the target demographic. Chateau Privé abruptly closed on July 13, two months after the opening bash, leaving its small group of members (about 50) out in the cold and about 25 employees awaiting as much as a month’s pay. At the time, a spokeswoman for Philip Glassman, the owner, said he intended to pay the staff. We have a suggestion for Mr. Glassman for his next luxury venture: It’s called a market study.

If you’ve seen the signs surrounding the busy construction site of what will soon be the Element condo tower in downtown Tampa, you might find yourself scratching your head and wondering, “Where have I seen this before?” The answer lies right across the street. Element is the latest downtown venture of the Novare Group, and is a close facsimile of the builder’s recently completed Skypoint tower. (You know, the big blue building in downtown Tampa.) If you’re ready to take the urbanite plunge, now might be the time to buy. Of course, if you falter, Novare will probably just start another tower once Element is complete. And then another. And another.

On Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, this narrow, smoky dive just north of downtown Tampa fills up with alternately tone-deaf and seasoned singers who belt out everything from Patsy Cline to Madonna. The scene is typical of any other overlooked neighborhood bar that offers karaoke, American beer and cheap well drinks; however, there’s one very queer thing about this place: the patrons. Here at Azalea’s, heteros are the minority. The women talk about football, the men ignore them, and everyone singing and watching has a gay old time — regardless of their particular orientation.

BEST GIANT VISAGE: The giants of Skytower 13

If you regularly drive down Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa, you are no doubt familiar with the WTVT-13 “Skytower” Doppler radar obelisk. A tall thin tower with what looks like a boulder on top, the Skytower is not actually part of the Tampa skyline, but it’s a defining landmark nonetheless. In 2007, Channel 13’s marketing department began plastering giant likenesses of many of the station’s weather team on the side of the building. The first time we saw a colossal Paul Dellegatto, our instinct was to run for our lives lest we get crushed under the weatherman’s giant boot heel. Is it any wonder some TV folks have giant egos?

It began in the late ’70s as a place for likeminded folks to enjoy music, art and friendship. Now, 30 years later, the Blueberry Patch — a small hippie enclave on an acre of land in Gulfport — is still going strong with free jams, open mics, art exhibits and live music four times a month. And instead of dwindling over time, the gathering spot owned by resident Dallas Bohrer only seems to be getting more popular.

Built in 1917 for El Círculo Cubano — a recreational society of Cuban immigrants — this neoclassic clubhouse features several distinct event spaces. The 18,000-square-foot patio is marked by a mini-amphitheatre and full-service bar. The basement has been transformed into a handsome cantina with a glossy sunken dance floor, performance stage and rosewood bar. Walk up the stairs and there’s the 350-seat Roland Manteiga Theater. Head up another flight, and encounter the Grand Ballroom, the Cuban Club’s most exceptional and stunning space, located on the top floor. Its original hardwood floors have been completely restored and refinished; the original chandeliers sparkle with soft lights and hang from a 20-foot-high ceiling; and two corner terraces offer amazing views of Ybor City and downtown Tampa. Each room, or all of them combined, are rented to the public for various functions — wedding receptions, fundraisers, corporate luncheons — but the Cuban Club is best known as the setting for Tropical Heatwave, WMNF’s annual music festival.


Very few business announcements in Tampa Bay have generated the media frenzy that occurred when The Donald agreed to put his name on a downtown Tampa condo high-rise. After the initial blush of excitement and a groundbreaking in March 2006, it’s been pretty much downhill. We don’t have space for the gory details, but suffice to say that cost overruns, soil problems at the site, unpaid contractors and other bugaboos have plagued the project. In late May, Trump demanded his name be removed. He sued developers for unpaid license fees to the tune of $1 million. A note that appeared earlier this month on the project’s website,, added to the uncertainty: “Should we be denied financing, our efforts will immediately shift towards returning buyer deposits.” But we’ve got a suggestion: Call the building Creative Loafing Tower. We can’t put up the money, but we thought the name had a nice ring to it, now that we’re becoming a media empire and all.