BEST PLACE TO THROW A BIG PARTY THAT IS NOT YOUR HOME
The Green Room
I turned a certain milestone age in April, and instead of having a quiet dinner out with a few couples, I decided to throw a bash. But where? Turns out the Green Room, adjacent to Jannus Landing, was the ideal venue. Management cut me a very acceptable deal, and effectively turned the place over to me and a couple hundred of my closest friends for six hours on a Saturday night. Previously, I had known the place as a piss stop during Jannus concerts, but was pleasantly surprised to find The Green Room all spiffed up and ready for a party. There was even a semblance of a VIP room in one corner. The dance floor was just the right size, the sound system was solid, the bartenders were friendly and eager. A good time was had by all — certainly by me — and when I staggered through the front door of my house, it was a relief to know that it was no worse for the wear.
The Green Room, 242 First Ave. N., St. Petersburg, 727-550-0419.
BEST PIANO RECITAL
Charles Farrell at his home in Tampa
The best pianist in Tampa Bay does not like to play for people — at least not in the typical nightclub setting (he made his living that way for years, and it´s an understatement to say that he´s over it). One night in the spring, though, Charles played his 7-foot Yamaha grand for a few friends (of which I am one) in his living room, and it was a thoroughly engrossing experience. He deconstructed several standard tunes and played with verve and authority. This fellow has chops that rival Art Tatum´s and a highly sophisticated harmonic sense. Too bad you won´t be hearing him any time soon.
BEST NEW SPORTSWRITER
Dave Scheiber, St. Petersburg Times
Full disclosure: When I was the pop music critic for the Times, Scheib was my editor. Before that he was a sportswriter (handled the Bucs beat when they were absolutely awful). This spring, he opted out of his deal with the Floridian section and signed with sports as a general feature writer. Terms were not disclosed but it should be a very long-term deal. Right out of the box he hit with some gripping stuff, especially his in-depth analysis of the drastic makeover of the Tampa Bay Bucs. The story was well researched, honest and not particularly flattering. Team officials were not happy, and that´s a good thing.
BEST PLACE TO BUY A MINGUS BOX SET, EAT GREAT FOOD AND TAKE IN LIVE MUSIC
The Music Spot
Hybrid retail concepts are always risky, so Mike Martin took a very big chance when he opened The Music Spot, a combination music store, restaurant and intimate performance venue. It´s hard to tell which the joint does best. The biggest surprise is the food. Experienced chef Chad McColgin has put together a menu with gourmet flair at moderate prices. The record store stocks all the hit CDs, but also is deep in catalog stuff, especially box sets. I won´t ever need a Kitty Wells box, but as a music fiend I somehow feel better that it´s available for someone who might. The shows highlight creative locals, from Americana stalwart Ronny Elliott to quirk-pop outfit Handshake Squad to the sexy and talented singer/songwriter Anna O. The Music Spot is spanking new, and has the potential to become a terrific hangout.
The Music Spot, 1902 S. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-259-2559.
BEST CONCERT PROMOTER
Bobby Rossi, Ruth Eckerd Hall
Ruth Eckerd Hall will never be considered a bastion of hip, but it´s gotten a whole lot better since Bobby Rossi took the reins as in-house promoter. In its early days, the performing arts emporium booked ¨seasons¨ of mostly stuffy entertainment, and occasionally rented out to promoters for more contemporary fare. Rossi came to the rarified air of the performing arts center from the merciless world of rock concert promotion about a decade ago. Since that time, REH has regularly featured such vital acts as Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Todd Rundgren, Don Henley, k.d. lang, Boz Scaggs, Tori Amos, Shawn Colvin and others. The hall is still going to serve up a steady menu of Engleberts and Ankas and Vintons, but Rossi makes sure that there´s enough cool fare in between.
Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater, 727-791-7400.
BEST CHANGE-OF-PACE LUNCH
I had images of choking down pasty curds, mung, tofu and what-have-you, but man was I wrong. Nature´s Harvest has a deli (I guess you´d call it a deli) in the back, with a selection of hot foods that changes daily. It´s damn tasty stuff. The West African Groundnut stew — all sorts of veggies and other healthy stuff, with a sauce built around peanut butter and apple juice — is as hearty as they come. The Harvest has lentils and other bean-type soups, spinach-and-artichoke lasagna, tofu loaf (not my fave) and other health-conscious dishes. Health-conscious is good. Tastes good is better.
Nature´s Harvest, 1201 N. MacDill Ave. (near Cypress), Tampa, 813-873-7428.
BEST PLACE TO STOP IN FOR A SIX PACK
4th Street Liquor Mart
This is a classic Mom ´n´ Pop deal. Husband and wife John and Kris Milewski, natives of Poland, have owned this shop for 16 years. Whenever I stop in, they´re both there, and they´re never strangling each other, so things must be pretty good. They have a lively sense of humor and enjoy kibitzing with the customers. John is in his mid 50s and can still throw around beer kegs with ease. The store´s prices are in line with the chains and it´s in a great location, so John and Kris have got my business for life. Oh, by the way, free delivery.
4th Street Liquor Mart, 7208 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-522-5372.
Buddy Guy, k.d. lang, Anthony Hamilton
Guy, a blues legend known for erratic performances, was fully on when he blew up the Tampa Bay Blues Festival. Backed by the Florida Orchestra strings, lang completely seduced a Ruth Eckerd Hall Crowd. Neo-soul singer Hamilton turned Twilight into a modern version of a chitlin circuit club.