Dog Days

A slow afternoon at the bar leads to memory lane.

My memory of the Red Dog is a room thick with cigarette smoke, laughter and lots of 20-somethings getting loaded while playing board games like Connect Four.

That's what ran through my mind as I pulled into the bar on Bay to Bay Boulevard in South Tampa's Palma Ceia neighborhood last Sunday. The marquee read "Red Dog Sports Bar: Pub Fusion at its Finest." (I'd love to know what the term "pub fusion" means.)

I walked in around 1:30 p.m. and realized the place had either been completely renovated or my memory is seriously fucked.

Instead of a loose, communal atmosphere created by the board games that forced people to interact, the Red Dog had been wallpapered with flat-screen TVs. There was one at every booth, and above the bar there was practically one for every stool.

My friends sat there sipping their beers, each gazing blankly at one of the four screens. Other than the six of us, Red Dog was pretty empty. A guy who looked to be college-aged sat in a booth with one eye on the TV screen and another on his laptop, checking his fantasy-football stats.

A gal his age did the same two booths away. The two could've made a nice couple. But nope, they didn't even interact. Too busy keeping tabs on their imaginary teams to speak to another lonely stranger of the opposite sex.

It was quite obvious why everyone seated at the bar happened to be a dude. The bartender looked to be in her mid-20s. She had long blonde hair and a big, friendly smile. And then there was the blouse: one of those form-fitting, Miller Lite referee shirts that are cut about as low as the law allows.

She told my friend Pat that she "worked for the government."

"Really," Pat responded politely.

The bartender went on to explain that she was a government contractor.

Justin chowed down on his burger and didn't even look up. Ryan and O kept their eyes on the Steelers-Browns game.

Bored and still hung over from the night before, I decided to try something different and ordered a Miller Chill, a light brew made with lime and salt. A bit too sweet for my taste, I asked the bartender for a glass and a saltshaker. The added sodium hit the spot.

Sunday was so gorgeous that I felt guilty being holed up in a smoky bar. Decker agreed to join me on the patio that faces Bay to Bay Boulevard. We've been friends since high school, so whenever we're bored or down we talk about the good old days.

Our last real wild blowout happened about four years ago at my parents' old house in Northdale. If memory serves, it was a Memorial Day weekend. Mom and Dad were out of town. I was living in Sarasota or Bradenton at the time. Hadn't seen my friends in a while. Came up to party.

"Remember it started with a pool party at Mo and Po's place," Decker reminded me.

Mo and Po are Lauren G.'s parents. They've been throwing killer pool parties at their house in Northdale for years.

After Lauren's bash wrapped in the evening, I invited her, Decker, Mad Dog, Mike B. and a few other girls back to my parents' house, which also had a pool. My brother Joel had recently turned 18 and was already partying there with his friends.

The festivities kept going strong the rest of the weekend, with random friends showing up at odd hours throughout the night and next day. At one point in the evening, Mike B. decided he needed to be naked. He encouraged the gals to do the same, but when they refused, he went ahead anyway. Lauren G., who grew up around the corner from Mike, decided he needed a trim. In full view of everyone, Lauren had Mike place a red plastic cup over his twig and berries, and with an electric razor gave him a haircut below the belt.

The bartender interrupted our nostalgia session. "How you guys doing out here?" she asked after opening the door to the patio. She didn't have to try too hard to convince Decker and I to head back inside. Just something about that, er, smile, that kept us all parked at the bar, talking shit about the good old days, for the next couple hours.

Red Dog Sports Bar, 3311 Bay to Bay Boulevard, Tampa, 813-835-4347.

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