Happy Birthday to Brew

Scene cornerstone New World Brewery turns 10

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click to enlarge PROUD PAPA: New World owner Steve Bird tends bar. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
PROUD PAPA: New World owner Steve Bird tends bar.

Ten years ago, Steve Bird and his now former business partner were sitting in the Oak Barrel Tavern, a long-gone watering hole once located near the western end of Ybor City's Eighth Avenue. The pair had been scouring Tampa, searching for potential locations for a new bar, and hadn't had much luck.

Apparently, they hadn't been searching in the right place.

"Ybor was just heating up, but we weren't looking for a place here," remembers Bird. "We wanted a place where we could have a beer garden. We were sitting in the Oak Barrel, and we looked outside and saw the sign across the street."

The building for rent on Eighth had formerly been used for some sort of industrial operation - there was a truck bay with a roll-up door - and had obviously been vacant for some time. But it had a (potential) patio and a (possible) courtyard, so the pair took it and went to work. They cleared most of the gravel, and planted tropical foliage. They got rid of the roll-up door, and turned the truck bay into a covered terrace.

Then, they brought in a shitload of fancy beer, and the New World Brewery opened for business.

The bar flirted with the usual entertainment for a few months, hiring quieter groups to play inside, drawing a combination of the usual walk-in business and diehard beer snobs. But the New World really found its niche when one of those beer snobs, former Pagan Saints and current Diviners bandleader Will Quinlan, asked Bird if he could put a full-volume slate of local original acts on the patio.

"We really didn't know what we were getting into," says Bird with a laugh, sitting at one of his outdoor tables just after opening on an impeccable spring afternoon.

"They'd had acoustic stuff and smooth jazz inside," Quinlan recalls. "I approached [Bird] one night about playing on the deck … it went really well. I started doing a string of shows there, other bands started asking him about doing stuff, and that was it."

It's been a decade now - an eternity in the nightlife business. And while countless Tampa clubs and bars have either gone under trying to support local music, or supported local music briefly only to find it unprofitable, the New World has become a sort of unofficial clubhouse for a large, eclectic array of Bay area music-makers and fans. From punk to folk to reggae, from new local talent to culty, lauded independent touring groups, the patio hosts original music every weekend, and often during the work week as well.

"It's given us this certain crowd, musicians and their friends, the people who like original music," Bird says. "It's so much a part of our personality. They drink the beers, they respect the place, and it's the same group. It gives the place a feel, when they're all here and there's a good band up there … it's just so cool."

"New World is way fun to play for bands," writes veteran Tampa band-guy Mike O'Neill, who currently fronts The Unrequited Loves, via e-mail. "The 'stage' area outdoors means it's not terribly hard to get it to sound good out there … and the staff is always super-nice, as well as actually being into the music, which is rarer than you'd think."

Longtime bartenders Joe Ragukas and Joanne Rivera have memorized a lot of names and favorite beverages over the years; comparative newcomer Jeff Diamond is quickly catching up. Whether a sparsely attended weeknight or packed Saturday, anyone who's hit the New World more than once will see familiar faces while Elvis Costello or some obscure local act plays on the jukebox and a fluid mix of hipsters, DJs, political activists, beer connoisseurs and suited businessmen samples the pub's 28 drafts and 100 or so bottled potables. The New World isn't solely a music-community hangout, but that's undeniably the subculture with which it's become most readily identified.

The tightness of that consistent patron base has served not only to lend the New World both a character and sense of community, but also to guard against the sort of random violence that so many outsiders associate with bar culture. While there have been incidents - most tragically the death of well-known musician and scenester Dave "Rat" Anderson, who was stabbed by a drug-addled stranger during a fight last October - there haven't been many, largely because most of the New World's regulars know and look after each other.

"It's very rare that we have trouble," says Bird. "If somebody sees something, they walk over and stop it before it starts. That's one of the good things about serving only beer and wine versus liquor - we don't really get the people who go on benders and cause trouble.

"If I thought what happened to Rat might happen again," he continues, "I'd get out. I wouldn't be able to come to work."

The enactment of a noise ordinance throughout Ybor's party zone hasn't been too much of a problem, either, though you might want to find some wood to knock on in that regard. New World's location off the strip and directly across from the huge, mostly empty Ybor Square office building have shielded it from complaints thus far, but authorities are thinking of lowering the maximum sound level from 85 decibels to 75 - a volume that's exceeded by the trolley, or traffic, or animated conversation, for that matter.

It hasn't come to pass yet, though, and in the meantime, the New World has an anniversary to celebrate. It's doing so with a five days' worth of live-music revelry that feature both old friends and new talent, marking what everyone involved - New World staff, bands and regulars - hopes will be not only the end of 10 years, but the beginning of another 10.

"It's kind of unconsciously become our home," says Quinlan. A lot of bands that are established now got their start at the New World … it's become a cornerstone for that kind of thing, I think."

"People go there sometimes not knowing what kind of music is gonna be happening, but they figure it will probably be pretty good," writes O'Neill. "And if not, then there's always another band up in an hour."

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