Emerald Bar celebrates five decades at its current locale with a [email protected] anniversary party

Twenty bands — including Holiday and Pretty Voices — perform at the St. Pete staple this weekend

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click to enlarge St. Pete's Holiday at the Em earlier this year; he also closes the live music festivities on Saturday. - Brian Mahar
Brian Mahar
St. Pete's Holiday at the Em earlier this year; he also closes the live music festivities on Saturday.

It’s a good place for brooding over a stiff drink, the Emerald. I’ve done my fair share of nursing away my blues while perched at its slick wood bar, engaged in deep conversations about anything from career aspirations and disappointments to love, loyalty and the futility of marriage to whether there’s a god or if this whole existence is just one big hologram. I’ve met friends to play terrible darts and tag-team songs on the jukebox; joined in a full-bar belt-along to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”; rocked out to countless bands while standing amid thick, sweaty, fist-pumping crowds pushed up against the iron railings that partially enclose the space in Emerald’s back corner; had impromptu dance parties in that same space on nights when the Em was virtually empty of people. I’ve seen break-ups, hook-ups, blooming friendships, heated arguments. I’ve done enough people-watching to fill a novel with characters and I can’t help coming back for more, time and time again.

The Marano family originally opened Emerald Bar in 1950, operating at 841 Central Avenue for 14 years before the bank bought up the block and made plans to knock down the building and put in a parking lot. Luckily, the Maranos found a suitable space right down the street, claimed ownership of it, and after gutting and rehabbing the inside, re-opened the Emerald at 550 Central Avenue in 1964.

George Marano has been running his family’s bar since the early ’80s and said the Em catered to a more mature clientele until about 15 years ago. “We used to close at 10 o’clock at night,” he laughed. That changed in 1999, when Star Booty owner Mimi Reilly hosted the salon’s Christmas party at the Emerald and brought in bands to play the bar for the first time ever, prompting more bookings and eventually cementing the Em’s status as a live-music haven. That year also marked the entrance of Monique Gerow, a bartender Marano met through Reilly and whom he credits with Emerald’s transformation from a crusty local watering hole to a more bustling scenester enclave. “When she began working nights,” he said, “the clientele shifted from an older crowd to a younger crowd. She brought in a ton of people. Business just started to boom after I hired Mo.” These days, Gerow is still a favorite Emerald mainstay, slinging drinks on Saturday nights and some Sundays, and responsible for bringing a few other favorite Emerald drink-slingers into the fold, including twin sister Crissy.

Though show offerings have slowed down over the years and now bands only play there once or twice a month, the Emerald continues to serve the local music scene and remains a favored local venue. “People still call me about wanting to play here,” Marano said.

“Back in the day, it was one of the few places to play on Central — you played at the State Theatre or you played at the Emerald,” remarked Roger Peterson, bassist for Pretty Voices and Crippled Masters and organizer behind the [email protected] anniversary party. Peterson said that within two days of putting out a call for acts to play the party, he had more than 20 confirmed.

click to enlarge Florida Night Heat playing a set at the Emerald as part of the (late) Antiwarpt - Drunkcameraguy
Florida Night Heat playing a set at the Emerald as part of the (late) Antiwarpt

Emerald Bar has transcended the role of a typical dive by evolving with the times even as its dark, hazy, mildly Irish-themed confines have remained firmly rooted in the past. A TouchTunes jukebox with an Internet database and flat screen TVs are crammed in with kitschy relics from the last several decades. Artworks by local talent hang on the faux wood-paneled walls along with neon-lit signs and posters with snarky commentary (“Don’t worry, our staff is accustomed to dumb questions”). Shelves crammed with bizarre tchotchkes ranging from pirate and leprechaun figurines to some truly freakish vintage dolls surround the bottles of alcohol and taps behind the bar. And every bare surface is plastered with band stickers, vintage photos, bar witticisms and handwritten notes asserting the bar’s dos and don’ts.

The Em’s worn tables are matched by equally battered wood chairs, many with their cushions cut open and spilling yellowed foam or bare of cushioning at all. The stained drop-tile ceiling probably should’ve been replaced in 2001. The clock runs about 18 minutes fast to get the last call crowd out quicker, and you’re guaranteed to leave reeking of smoke.

Nonetheless, the Emerald remains a beloved meeting place, a backdrop for untold nights of carousing, and a home away from home for the folks who consider themselves regulars and possess a shared sense of entitlement about it along with an abundance of warm feelings.

If you plan to come out to celebrate this weekend, make sure to show up early. With happy hour drink prices all night long and upwards of 20 bands playing over two days, it’s bound to get jammed up good.

click to enlarge National act Ken South Rock - Brian Mahar
Brian Mahar
National act Ken South Rock

DETAILS: Emerald Bar 50th @ 550, Oct. 10-11, 550 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, $5 each night. 

Friday: Fowler’s Bluff (7:15 p.m.), The Wrenchers (8 p.m.), Pretty Voices (8:45 p.m.), Car Bomb Driver (9:30 p.m.), Ricky Wilcox & The Moonsnakes (10:15 p.m.), Barely Pink (11 p.mm.), Dead Fender Twin (11:45 p.m.), Chris Barrows (12:30 a.m.)

Saturday: Liz N’ Mark (4 p.m.), Article 47 (5:15 p.m.), Los Diablos Blancos (6 p.m.), Crash Mitchell (6:45 p.m.), Crippled Masters (7:30 p.m.), Boney Fiend (8:15 p.m.), James McFarland (9 p.m.), Florida Kilos (9:45 p.m.), Gino & The Goons (10:30 p.m.), Switchblade Villain (11:15 p.m.), Zanesville (midnight), and Holiday (12:45 a.m.)

Check out some fond memories of Emerald Bar from locals who’ve frequented the place over the years below, and leave some of your own recollections in the comments....

[A quote from George I wasn't able to fit into my story...]

“The old jukebox played 45 records; you got 11 songs for $1 … it got so much play, it couldn’t handle it, it would get hot and it would quit, we had so many problems with it that we decided to take it out.” He put in a new jukebox at the suggestion of a regular patron and man who’d brought in the darts and bowling machine. “I really don’t think the jukebox will go. Boy was I wrong; people play the jukebox a lot.”

And some memories ...

One Friday or Saturday night, I was playing a set at Emerald with my band and we had one song left because the bar was about to close. I laid down my guitar because I just sing when we play our traditional, set-ending cheesy 80's cover song. On this night, we chose A Flock Of Seagulls "I Ran". After laying down the guitar and grabbing the mic off of the stand, a fan pulled my pants down, and I went with it and joyfully sang 'I Ran' while doing a provocative little dance with the recently and dearly departed LeRoi Duvall! Everyone up front was laughing and dancing and an amazingly wonderful time was had by all! Jah bless The Emerald and Jah bless LeRoi Duvall!!!

Walking into the Em after getting shut out of the TV on The Radio show just to dance. DJ Sugar Bear spinning soul/funk and me getting lost in the tunes dancing. I open my eyes and look around to see Kip Malone and other TVOTR members dancing, too, on that small, hot and smokey dance floor; so good.

Years ago (2003), Barely Pink played a show at the Emerald on Halloween. I arrived hours before the rest of the band to set up the PA. Our drummer Stan Arthur, an avowed horror film buff, created a truly outstanding zombie costume and upon his arrival, parked his van containing band gear (including a very nice custom Yamaha drumkit, singer Brian Merrill’s Rickenbacker 360, my Fender amp, and assorted doodads) in the alley behind the Emerald. Stan brought in gear and proudly showed off his fantastic outfit. Problem was, Stan had left his keys in the ignition, with the engine running…and an opportunistic human-shaped piece of shit jumped in the driver’s seat and took off. The side door of the van was open so we were able to follow the thief’s route for a few blocks by tracing the trail of gear littering the streets; the sight of Stan, in full zombie regalia, running down the road is one I shan’t soon forget. The van was located about a week later with an empty tank in Haines City. IIRC the thief was never found nor was any of the gear recovered. We were able to borrow a drum kit for the night and to Stan’s credit, he kicked ass like nothing was amiss. Photos from the evening...

But I’ve had plenty of great gigs at the ol’ Emerald, including a Barely Pink gig on my birthday where we played three-plus hours non-stop, performing every song we knew which, at the time, was a fuckovalotta songs. Vodkanauts have always had a great time there. Just have to remember to bring a fresh can of Febreze to hose down my gear before loading it into my car at the end of the night….

As a "non-berger" Ive always loved the Emerald. Its my go-to when Im in downtown St Pete. One of favorite memories of the place was kinda recently during one of the Antiwarped festivals. We ended up at a table in the Emerald. Place was packed, and I forget what band was playing. Ended up seeing so many old friends that I hadnt seen in years. It was like a reunion, and it was so great catching up with all my old friends. Long live the Emerald!!!!

DJ Sugar Bear dance parties

Filth The Party

Dancing my ass off on a beer soaked dance floor to DJ Sugar Bear

It was the first bar I went to after moving to St. Petersburg in 2008. Have Gun, Will Travel was playing and cold beer was flowing. I thought to myself,"This town is nuts, my kinda place. I don't wanna leave...I never, ever wanna leave."

I saw Neil Hamburger there years ago and my friend Lauren's boyfriend at the time was at our table. He starts yelling things at him out half way through Neil's set which is just the worst thing you can do to a stand up comedian. Neil was a good sport about it at first but as the heckling continued I could see something inside of Mr. Hamburger snap and he unleashed a hail storm of "kill yourself" banter so devastating it made my stomach feel queezy just watching it. Somehow, the boyfriend managed to laugh it off but it was so uncomfortable and I felt this weird mix of joy and pity- because the dude deserved his verbal bashing but it was so heinous of a tongue lashing I could help to feel empathy for the heckler. He sat silently the rest of the show.

They did a noise night once. They cut it short. They weren't fans lol.

I've been drinking there for over 15 years, but the two things that I remember most are Filth the Party and the time I saw a ghost in the bathroom.

Any and every time that I have been their over the years. You are always welcomed, and feel welcome. Its a great place to just hang out. Its just one 1/4 step above a dive bar. The Hub in Tampa is a dive bar. When a Bar has music and a stage area, it leaves the realm of Dive Bar in my opinion. I'm gonna give em a visit this weekend me thinks.

More than anything specific, just sitting at a table with friends, listening to music and doing the crossword. For some reason we always did it as a group, and we only did it there. Always the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Emerald.

Before playing shows or waiting for shows at The State we'd run down to The Em for a stiff drink. Also love The Em because it reminds me of Club Deuce in Miami (another great dive with a great jukebox). Here's to another 50 years of fuzzy memories.

Used to get Mo (I think that was her name) to blow fireballs for last call. Always a blast.

Used to get my mail there.
Well just a couple letters.
From my dad.
Fell in love a couple times
Drowned some sorrows
Won some fights
Lost some arguments
Smashed some records.
Swept up the pieces
Mopped the floors
Rang up a cumulative tab that would stretch to the fucking sun.
Paid it. . . Eventually.
A fine establishment.
A real jewel.
Here's to 50 more!

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