At the end of May, Café Bohemia owner Matthew Neal announced he and his crew were stepping down, with new owner Lou
Aldano Albano taking the reins. The café has since been undergoing renovations to the building, menu, and now programming.
For the last five and a half years, St. Pete for Peace has hosted a free film series on Wednesday evenings at Café Bohemia. During the most recent movie night, Albano walked to the outdoor patio with his 9-year-old daughter during a screening of American: The Bill Hicks Story. Hicks can still shock and offend from beyond the grave. Albano was not amused.
“It was the most vulgar movie I’ve ever seen in my life,” Albano said. “I don’t think they were aware of how inappropriate it was.”
Albano left a message with St. Pete for Peace’s Chris Ernesto saying the film series was canceled.
“He was really offended by the film,” Ernesto said. “He basically said he wants it to be a family type of place that plays music and they want to stay neutral on issues.”
Under Neal’s ownership, Café Bohemia was an arena for alternative music, bike races and local activist group meetings. It was bohemian.
“As a family man, I had no choice in the matter,” Albano said. “We are not a debate forum.”
After the Globe Coffee Lounge closed last year, Café Bohemia became one of the only late-night spots to gather over a cup of coffee with friends.
St. Pete for Peace is on the prowl for a new home for the film series, preferably a spot where people can debate and not worry about offending the owner.
“We had a meeting last night and are talking to a few places today,” Ernesto said. “There has been a terrific outpouring of support.”
Ernesto estimated the movie nights brought in an average of 30 people every week, which equaled around $10,000 annually.
“I think it was shortsighted on his behalf,” Ernesto said. “We never charged for movies or anything because we wanted to provide a service to the community. … I’ve already had a number of people say they won’t go back in there.”
Albano stresses that the decision wasn’t personal.
“There is no vendetta against St. Pete for Peace. I think they are a really nice group of folks,” Albano said. “We are just taking a different path.”
Albano has hired a French pastry chef and executive chef to make new desserts, tapas plates and full entrees. He wants the new Café Bohemia to be more of a music venue.
“We’re going mainstream with easy listening music that will tie in better with what we are trying to do,” Albano said.
Downtown St. Petersburg is a certifiable college town, with a base of 20-something students and professionals. It’s home to initiatives like I am Choice, Awake Pinellas, and of course St. Pete for Peace. So where will the young huddled masses go to have heated debates? Where will they go to pour over their moleskin notebooks, writing poetry and slowly sipping one $2 cup of coffee late into the night? Café Bohemia is going family-friendly. The Globe is closed. Kahwa Coffee isn’t open late.
There is an opening for the next truly great local bohemian coffee shop in St. Petersburg. Who will fill that need? It remains to be seen.