Down on the Corner

Another SoHo bar leaves nothing but memories.

Things change, I know, and sometimes that's too bad.

SoHo has been my home for a little over a year. I prefer it to any place I've lived. But past and future developments trouble me. Former South Tampa landmarks like the Chatterbox Lounge and Hydeaway, which first lured me to SoHo for nights of unbridled excess a decade ago, are long gone. Hydeaway's popular replacement, Whiskey SoHo, closed its doors recently to make room for a planned multi-story building that will house pricey condos or apartments, with the ground floor devoted to retail shops — at least that's the latest I've heard. I didn't frequent Whiskey SoHo often but liked knowing the nightspot was there, nearby, full of young people looking for a good time. Whiskey SoHo's future substitute smacks of the soaring mausoleums I saw overtake Sarasota during my tenure there. That city's former funkiness has been flushed out almost entirely, in the name of progress. If SoHo ever goes that route, it's time for me to move.

I sound like a curmudgeon, I know. Sometimes I get a few glasses of wine in me and start complaining, and it's as if I were one of the retired South Tampa natives who spend their afternoons shuffling between the VFW Post and Tiny Tap, telling tales about the good old days while watching Jeopardy! and Bonanza reruns. I've felt old for almost as long as I can remember, a feeling that's made me think from a young age that I'll probably never live to actually be old, but I guess that's OK. I've never understood the appeal of the so-called Golden Years and definitely don't want to stick around long enough for my body to outlive my mind.

Bummer thoughts, I know, but that's what slow-waltzed through my mind like Leonard Cohen lyrics as I strolled down South Howard Saturday night. Maybe I was just still shot-out from my recent New Orleans excursion. Exhaustion will pull the best of us over to the dark side. But even at my giddiest, the sign outside the Corner Bar would've have still rankled me.

The Corner Bar, located at South Howard and Platt, is the latest drinking establishment within walking distance of my apartment earmarked for demolition. Right next to the sign advertising live music, "Thursday through Saturday," is another one showing an artist's rendering of a shiny, 6-story structure offering "retail/office space for lease."

"This place has about six months," says Chris, the Corner Bar's manager.

It's around 10:30 Saturday night, and the place isn't exactly hopping. A few minutes later, though, the Corner Bar has filled up. A large group of mid-20somethings — loud but more festive than obnoxious — tripled the number of patrons. Chris and fellow bartender Amanda sling the shots, cocktails and beers. SoHo haters might diss Amanda at first sight on account of her form-fitting black slacks and matching top that exposed both her well-endowed chest and tight, tan tummy — but she struck me as down-to-earth and, more importantly, friendly and quick with my drinks, which largely consisted of $2 bottles of Bud, the best weekend deal in SoHo this side of the Tiny Tap.

The Apollo beach-based acoustic duo Billy McKnight and Dewey Buxton hit the stage around 11 p.m., serenading the rowdy crowd with bar staples like Tom Petty's "Breakdown," Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and Oasis' "Wonderwall," which they played twice — once with an audience member singing lead (somewhat on key). In between the obligatory covers, McKnight-Buxton worked in several originals that impressed me. Titles like "There She Was" and "She's Ready for Love" recalled the earnest, soothing country-rock of the early-'70s and could probably be hits today if recorded by the likes of George Strait or Alan Jackson.

More to the point, I liked the group, liked the atmosphere, ambiance, etc. of the Corner Bar. It was a good night — even when the college-age-looking girl in the billowy yellow dress spilled a drink on my white shirt. At least she was drinking a vodka and tonic — instead of, say, a vodka and cranberry — and at least she apologized, rather sweetly.

For all the Corner Bar's charm — stucco building with wooden patio covered by metal roof; intimate, dark room inside; jukebox, pool table, great service — I can understand why the owner would trade up for a retail/office space deal. The Corner Bar doesn't appear to be pulling in profits to match its real estate value, even in these days of economic woe. I've never walked past Corner Bar and seen the place packed. After spending several quality hours there Saturday, though, I'm sure it'll sadden me to see it become nothing but a memory in six months.

The Corner Bar, 302 S. Howard Ave., Tampa, 813-258-8999.

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