Reverse the curse

SoHo Tavern has what it takes to make it.

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Who put a spell on the corner of Howard and Platt? Except for the imposing TC Choy's, nothing thrives at that intersection despite it being smack dab in the middle of SoHo. You would think a small bar or eatery could survive solely on the overflow from places like MacDinton's, The Dubliner, Mangroves, The Rack and Hyde Park Café. But in the past few years, it's been a litany of losses.

Hardworking SoHo honcho Tommy Ortiz has been extremely successful with Hyde Park Café. He also owns or has a piece of Cheap, The Kennedy and Taqueria, where he can often be spotted lending a hand early on a Saturday. But Ortiz's old Strings N' Rings joint — at the northwest corner of Howard and Platt — has remained vacant for many months now.

The southeast plot had been occupied by Po' Boys, but the New Orleans-themed restaurant couldn't hack it, either. Now it's The Corner Bar. But that place, which I dig, is scheduled for demolition to accommodate the construction of a 6-story "retail/office space" building.

Across the street, where there used to be a coin laundry, Bernardo's Ristorante and Lounge opened in January. I never recall seeing more than a couple cars in the tiny parking lot. The pricey Italian café went under around the six-month mark.

Enter SoHo Tavern. It's been in business for about two months. Last Thursday evening, around 6:30, my pal Lily picked me up, and we decided to duck in for a few. The single-story building with the metal roof is painted paper-shamrock green, suggesting that although it bills itself as a tavern, as opposed to a pub, the inside ambience will have an Emerald Isle flair. Not the case. SoHo Tavern is a small room festooned with flat-screen TVs of various sizes, giving it a distinctly sports-bar feel. The menu has the typical pub grub — as well as a bunch of Italian dishes. Why? Bernardo still mans the kitchen, I learned.

In the center of the former laundry locale, there are several dining tables and two small bars, one in the back and another to the left. We chose the latter. At Lily's insistence.

"See, over there is the cute girl bartender," Lily whispered to me. "Notice how I chose the one with the cute boy bartender."

"Yeah, I noticed."

His name is Ben. He's 23. And he proved to be a cool barkeep, even though he wasn't my first choice. Lily ordered a house white, and I went with a bottle of domestic beer. The place was dead, and SportsCenter blared on the set behind the bar. We stepped outside on the nicely cooled patio that faces Howard to have a smoke and hear Lily's story from the past weekend. Turned out to be quite the doozy.

"Yeah, I went camping at a nudist resort for the first time," she said. "I thought it would be blah but it really was pretty cool."

"Did you get naked?"

"Yeah. Everybody at the pool was naked. We got in to play volleyball and all these guys were telling me to take my top off. I figured they were just dirty old men. But then my friend told me it was a rule at the resort: You had to be nude in the pool. So I took it off."

"Top and bottom?"

Lily grinned, "Yep. Both."

"Nice," I replied.

The SoHo Tavern servers politely checked on us every few minutes to see if we needed a refill and even to clean the ashtray. They were attentive and friendly. Not quite sure if they had the pleasure of overhearing Lily's tale, which became more sordid and candid as her wine intake increased.

"So then this guy offers me some acid," Lily continued.

She took a drag from her smoke and another gulp of wine. "So, yeah, it was my first time doing acid and my first time at a nudist resort."

"Impressive," I concluded. About an hour had passed, and Lily left to go play some beach volleyball. Most people don't prep for sports by downing wine, but Lily's special. I returned to the inside bar and chatted with Ben. A couple of cute girls dropped in and then a few more guys. My pal Sal met me. We both had a smoke or three with our drinks and returned to the patio. Our conversation did not include nudity or illicit drug use, so it really doesn't warrant mention here. What does warrant mention, though, is that when we walked back inside, there wasn't a seat to be found. A laid-back, mixed-gender crowd of mostly 20-somethings was noshing sandwiches made with Italian bread, enjoying the Budweiser special — five bottles for 10 bucks — and watching the Red Sox battle their sworn enemies, the Yankees. "I think this place will make it," Sal said. I agreed.

Here's to hoping the curse has been broken. The Sox won a couple of World Series, so a business might just be able to thrive at 2221 West Platt St.

SoHo Tavern is open Wed. through Sunday. For more information call 813-253-5900 or go to myspace.com/sohotavern.

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