The tinted windows framing the doors leading into the blocky blue-gray building at Ybor's Eighth Avenue and 17th Street have boasted several different place names over the years — Jelly Rolls, On The Rocks, Earthquakes and others long forgotten.
The neon beer signs visible behind them may or may not be the same ones that have hung there throughout the space's lengthy tenure as host to an ever-changing series of nightclubs. And it doesn't matter, really. Neon beer signs are pretty much the same in every bar in America. But the logo next to the building's south entrance, and the neat handle on the door itself, are inarguably new.
The logo says Crowbar; the handle is one.
Yet another hopeful soul has decided to have a go at turning the place into a nightlife success.
"To be honest, that's another reason why I wanted to do it [in this building]," says Tom DeGeorge. "When I looked at it, I kind of knew that no one had been able to make it work, and I liked that kind of challenge."
The longhaired, bearded DeGeorge knows nightclubs and the challenges that accompany running one. After getting his start at bars in his native Pennsylvania, he worked at Atlanta's Masquerade for three years before relocating to Tampa to manage the storied local version of that franchise. He ran Ybor City's Masquerade for five years, until his employers suddenly pulled the plug on the club in February.
Since then, DeGeorge has been looking for a live-music room of his own. He and partner Devin Norton, who runs the hip Seventh Avenue watering hole Reservoir Bar, eventually settled on the intimate environs of 1812 17th St.; Crowbar's official grand opening is this weekend.
"Originally, we had looked into taking [the vacant Masquerade] space back over, but it was just so — it was just too much," says DeGeorge. "So a few months ago, me and Devin, we split off and started looking on our own. We just said, 'Hey, let's just do something that's smaller.'"
The work required to realize that vision has more than convinced DeGeorge that downsizing was the right choice.
"I think if you can create a smaller room," he says, "where you can do a few hundred people and can still cater to the local and regional acts, I think that's where it's at. For us, at least, for right now."
Crowbar's 4,300-square-foot indoor space features two corner bars and a comparatively roomy stage for its size with a full PA system. (Legal capacity had not been determined at press time.) There's also a 2,100-square-foot patio/courtyard with tables and chairs and its own full bar, and DeGeorge is hoping to add an engagingly odd little touch: a putting green.
"We want it to be comfortable," he says. "We made sure we got the most comfortable chairs we could have. You sit in those chairs" — he points to the half-reclined Adirondack chairs that circle the tables — "it's just, 'ohhhhh.' You don't want to get up. When the show's over, I'm not gonna be one of those places that kicks everybody out. They can stay as long as they want, hang out here in the courtyard — it'll be open until 3 o'clock in the morning, seven nights a week."
The weeknight schedule still hasn't been nailed down. DeGeorge isn't sure what nights the bar proper will open; he's considering things like karaoke or maybe a Liter Night. What he does know is that Crowbar will be a live-music venue first and foremost — original bands will play every single Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.
All kinds of original bands.
"It's that kind of room where you could do a local in here and have 100 people show up and it'll be comfortable, or you could do a smaller national or a regional act and do 300 and people would be having a good time, a good vibe," DeGeorge says. "One of the things I wanted to do when I was [at Masquerade], that I never got a lot of support from the owners on, was not get pigeonholed into certain types of music, which is what happened there. I want to do an array. ... so I think if we start with that mentality and bring in all types of music — we want to be a music venue and we want to be a place where people can hang out when we don't have bands; they can either be in there listening to music or chill out here and relax."
Ybor City's newest club owner doesn't seem too concerned about the oft-sung refrain that Ybor City is dying. Or that original-music scenesters are notoriously critical of the majority of Ybor City's "attractions." He points out that Crowbar is on Eighth Avenue, away from Seventh's loud, tacky sprawl, and surrounded by tattoo parlors and sandwich shops and GameWorks, not dance clubs.
And he just believes in what he and his partner are doing.
"If you go in with the right game plan and you believe in being successful and you promote properly, not to be cliched about it, but if you book the bands and book the shows, the people are gonna come," DeGeorge says. "You treat your customers well and you're fair with people, they're gonna come."