This is the life

SoHo's no Manhattan, but that's a good thing.

We're seated on the Chateau SoHo patio on South Howard Avenue, and the conversation veers into strange territory. Turns out Nick and I have different opinions about the world's most famous homemaking advocate/ex-con — at least with regard to her appearance.

"Martha Stewart is a very attractive woman in person," Nick says.

"Where'd you meet her?" asks his buddy Shawn.

"We sat next to her at a restaurant in the Hamptons," Nick says. "I couldn't believe how good she looked."

"Don't think so," I say.

"You have to put it in context," Nick argues. "The woman is 65 years old and, for her age, highly attractive."

"Just never thought of her that way," I reply.

Nick shrugs his shoulders and takes a sip of beer. I've known him almost my entire life and decide to drop it. In many ways, he and his younger sibling Rich are like older brothers to me. They attended the Milton Hershey School, a boarding school for underprivileged students, near my childhood home in Hershey, Penn. My dad, who is also out with us on this Saturday night, met them through church. Pops took Nick and Rich, who were teens at the time, under his wing. Nick's about a decade older than I am. He's one of the most successful self-made men I know.

Nick put himself through college and now does big finance in the Big Apple — or at his company's offices in Zurich, London and Dublin. He shares an apartment with his wife near Central Park. They also have a home in the Hamptons that's a short walk from the water. Nick comes down to visit and takes my dad golfing at the best courses around and picks up the tab when we go out drinking. I've always thought of him as having it all.

"You have the life here," Nick says to me as he surveys the young, beautiful people strolling down South Howard. "If I was single and lived here ..."

"If I had your money and lived in New York," I shoot back, "now, that would be the life."

Or would it? Nick's responsible for multimillion-dollar accounts. That's a lot more stressful than my column deadlines. Every morning he has to cram into a New York City subway car. Rapid transit systems make me claustrophobic. He regularly makes transatlantic business flights. I hate flying.

"I'm tired of drinking beer," Nick says. "Let's get out of here."

My dad, who thinks like I do when it comes to wasting, can't fathom walking away from the two unopened bottles still left in our bucket of six, which the Chateau is peddling for a priced-to-move $10.

"Just give them back to the bartender," Nick offers. "It's not like they're going to be wasted."

Despite a great beer deal advertised with a large banner visible to the throngs of party people walking down Howard, Chateau SoHo is dead at 9:30 on a Saturday. There's a couple or two inside being serenaded by a keyboardist playing "Kokomo." We're the only ones on the patio.

"Let's go check out that place," Shawn says, pointing to MacDinton's, which is slammed.

"It's a young, rowdy crowd," I say, "with a lot of nice scenery."

"Sounds good," Nick says.

There must be 1,000 people here who've paid the $10 cover to drink at MacDinton's on the weekend before St. Paddy's. Most of the revelers are younger than I am. My dad steps back outside to take a call before we get our first drink. He learns that my parents' St. Pete neighbors and good friends, Terry and Jeff, are entertaining out-of-town relatives at The Rack, the nearby bar where we started the night. My dad and Nick go to meet them, but Shawn wants to stick around MacDinton's a little longer. He's throwing back vodka-and-cranberries, and since he's buying, I do the same. We manage to down three rounds in about 30 minutes.

"Is this place always like this?" Shawn asks while looking at a gorgeous coed in a tiny denim skirt.

"Yeah, pretty much, Thursday through Saturday," I say.

We finally pull away from the shapely sights at MacDinton's and stumble down Platt to The Rack. The next thing I know, there's a pint glass full of vodka with a splash of cranberry and a few ice cubes in my hand. My dad, who's driving and stopped drinking hours ago, laughs. Nick, who sips his beers and never gets drunk, appears tired. Shawn and I are drunk.

The four of us walk back to my apartment. The young, attractive girl who lives across the hall from me is having a get-together with her two young, attractive girl friends. We open up both our front doors and the drinking continues.

"This is like Melrose Place," Shawn announces.

My dad and Nick sit cross-legged on my neighbor's sofa, smile and shake their heads. "We gotta go," my dad says.

The next day, Nick will take Pops, Shawn and my sister's hubby Chris to the PGA Tour-hosting Bardmoor Golf and Tennis Club in Largo. Sure, it'd be nice to be able to pick up outrageous bar tabs and $90-per-person green fees — or hobnob with celebrities in the Hamptons.

But Nick's right: My life is good.

Chateau SoHo, 516 S. Howard Ave., Tampa, 813-253-0042.

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