The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories

The veteran Ybor bartender and artist's show opens this weekend at Silver Meteor Gallery.

click to enlarge The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories - todd bates
todd bates
The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories


Little Bar Stories
Sat., Dec 5, - Sun., Dec 27. Opening reception is Sat., Dec 5th, 5-10 p.m. 
Silver Meteor Gallery, 2213 E. Sixth Ave, Ybor City. Free. 
Other hours are available by appointment. cdoan.com.


“You do three things if you’re a monk: You shave your head, make whiskey or you make beer. Benedictine monks did all three,” bartender Charlie Doan explains while pouring B&B, a popular blend of brandy and Benedictine, into a snifter. He promises that the centuries-old liqueur “relieves the density in the olfactories,” and warns that you shouldn’t sip at first; you sniff. He’s right. The sinus pain almost completely dissipates after a few whiffs of herbal and piquant notes.

The B&B cure is among many nuggets of wisdom, yarns and feisty one-liners that have endeared Doan to Ybor bar dwellers over the past three decades. The artist, photographer, historian, gardener, bookworm and bartender is Ybor’s Renaissance Man — an almost literal designation, as he’s been manning the bars of Ybor’s popular watering holes since the historic district’s revival in the 1980s.

Doan has served drinks at a handful of Ybor’s most popular watering holes. Before working at Fuma Bella — Ybor’s tiniest cocktail bar, located across from New World Brewery — he served drinks at the Oak Barrel and Gyland’s, which were both located in the same corner spot inside Ybor Square. He has also worked at the Irish Pub, The Castle and The Dirty Shame.

click to enlarge The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories - courtesy charlie doan
courtesy charlie doan
The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories

Regulars at Fuma, where Doan has worked for 17 years, know that he paints expressionistic vignettes of the Fuma bar scene because they've seen them there: A large-scale painting sits on the left side of the bar and some abstract works on the right. Now Doan has curated pieces from the last 10 years of Ybor City’s West End in a new solo exhibition, Little Bar Stories. During the opening reception, national voice-over artist and local raconteur David A. Waterman will tell the stories of “longtime Ybor habitues and bon-vivants” while a soundscape of ambient bar recordings plays in the background.

“Charlie is a nuanced storyteller,” Waterman says of his longtime friend. “His 20-plus years spent behind bars has served to load him with thousands of hours of observation of nighttime shenanigans. He is also a meticulous observer of color, light, and volume. The paintings in Little Bar Stories combine the three into tableaux of the human condition.”
Doan describes one 2006 work in the show as “very dated.” It depicts a young woman engrossed with her flip phone, and a male counterpart seated by her. The two are oblivious to one another.

click to enlarge The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories - courtesy charlie doan
courtesy charlie doan
The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories

“It isn’t so much about media changing things,” Doan says. “That’s very obvious. …I painted the objects in the foreground in a rhythm, where they have more of a narrative together than the people. ...The tins are talking to each other, and so are the bottles below. Even the fruit — they have a dance and a rhythm with each other. They’re just objects but they have a relationship that these two people don’t, even if they’re just a moment away from each other.”

Doan admits that he’s a little nervous about the art show’s reception. Little Bar Stories isn’t his first solo show, but he's not one to schmooze when he isn’t behind a bar.

click to enlarge The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories - courtesy charlie doan
courtesy charlie doan
The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories

“I don’t like being the focal point,” he says. “It’s uncomfortable, which is odd in the context of what I’ve been doing for almost 30 years in bartending because you appear like you’re the party. ‘Invite Charlie to the party afterward. He’s going to be a blast!’ Charlie, outside the bar, is not a blast. He’s horrible! Behind the bar, I have something to do. I have a role to play. ...My nature is to be insular. One of the reasons I got into bartending is to shove myself out there. I do a lot of things to push myself into an uncomfortable place.”

Another of Doan’s exercises in extroversion involves a semi-annual event called The Love Doctors, an eclectic open mic for the broken-hearted that Doan has been co-hosting at New World with Waterman on Valentine’s and Labor Day. His other and favorite outlet for social interaction is the Ybor City Ghost Tour, which he leads Monday-Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m.

click to enlarge The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories - courtesy charlie doan
courtesy charlie doan
The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories

Doan’s personal history is as embedded in Ybor as its trolley tracks. Born and raised in Tampa, Doan grew up visiting Ybor with his great-grandfather, whose parents owned a store in Ybor. The surly son of German immigrants had a stoic demeanor that warded off Doan’s cousins, but he and Doan had a special bond.

When he attended a sixth-grade science fair at Ybor Square, Doan says he felt a little jolt of familiarity. He flashed back to his grandfather’s stories of Vicente Martinez de Ybor’s cigar factory, Ybor Square's original function before it become a restaurant and shopping complex. (It's now home to the Tampa HQ of the Church of Scientology, as well as Spaghetti Warehouse and the offices of Creative Loafing.)

Doan’s first job was at a defunct pizza parlor in Ybor Square, and he later served beers at the beloved Ybor Pizza and Subs, which fed college kids and broke bohemians in the late 1980s and ’90s. He took art classes at Hillsborough Community College and credits professors Jerry Meatyard, Suzanne Camp Crosby and others as having a profound influence on him. Doan later attended USF, but the experiences there didn’t offer the same spark; disenchantment added to financial pressures, so he dropped out.

Since then, Doan has been married twice, divorced, and has a son. He met both of his wives and a few other women in that same western block of Ybor that seems to have a magnetic pull on him.

click to enlarge The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories - courtesy charlie doan
courtesy charlie doan
The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories

From streaking regulars scaring off prospective girlfriends to countless observations of break-ups, make-ups, proposals and bands forming over beers, Doan has experienced many of life’s most tender and embarrassing moments while working.

“In almost 30 years of bartending, I’m a good judge of character,” he says. “I have the Occam’s Razor of people. By and large, I can look and listen to them for a period of time and figure out where they’re at and what they’re going to do. I wouldn’t have had that without interacting with people in the context that I have.”

With his love of plants and herbs, he’s come up with ingenious alcoholic concoctions over the years, long before the the term mixologist entered our vernacular. “In my opinion, a mixologist mixes drinks,” he says. “A bartender mixes people.”

Doan, who turns 51 this Friday, is protective of the comfortable atmosphere he creates at his bar, whether at Fuma or elsewhere, and has been known to eject a belligerent drunk or two on a busy Saturday night.

click to enlarge The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories - courtesy charlie doan
courtesy charlie doan
The view from the bar: Charlie Doan's Little Bar Stories

“I’ve shown my ass enough to know when you show your ass, don’t do that — I know what it looks like,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t care if the customers are married, single or looking, if they don’t want to be fucked with, they’re not going to be fucked with. …If somebody tells you, ‘No, I’m not interested,’ don’t get offended and don’t be a pissant. And if you do something fucked up, I’ll take a photograph and make a painting.”