Gina Vivinetto is like the Chuck Klosterman of Tampa Bay. A former music critic and pop culture writer for the Tampa Bay Times
, Vivinetto is a zingy, tongue-in-cheek commentator with a keen eye for absurd details and a soft spot for punk music and celebrity kitsch. She grew up in St. Petersburg and graduated from Gibbs High School back when the only thing to do downtown was poke around thrift stores with the city’s elderly denizens.
In the early 2000s, Vivinetto co-hosted one of the first 25 podcasts offered on iTunes (Stuck in the 80s
) and authored a blog that earned a 2004 shout-out in Ms. Magazine
. A longtime LGBT activist and champion of St. Pete’s early hipster art scene, she owned the short-lived arts and music venue Bombshell Gallery in the Grand Central District.
She left the city in 2007 to pursue her M.A. in writing from Johns Hopkins University and returned five years later to teach writing at the University of Tampa. Now a freelance writer and assistant professor of English at UT, Vivinetto, a Crescent Lake resident, spends her time hanging at dog parks, watching friends’ bands play, scoping out vegan eats and spearheading cool events.
“It’s a real testament to St. Pete, that we can have these all indie events,” Vivinetto says. “The people who own these spaces are open to it. It fills me with pride to ride my bike up Central Avenue and see all these amazing places that are owned by actual people and not corporate entities.”
Best place to hunker down with a laptop: Community Café in St. Pete.
“It’s an adorable coffee house in the Grand Central District with a great terrazzo floor and really cozy décor. They have vegan-friendly stuff, which is a big deal. You can get coffee with soy.”
Best fallback restaurant: 9 Bangkok.
“There’s something about the lighting and the booths. It’s all very woody. I know all the waiters and they know my order. They make the best vegetarian sushi I’ve had anywhere and they’re always playing the Bee Gees’ greatest hits. The last five times I was there the Bee Gees was on. “
Best place to dine with West Coast foodies: Leafy Greens Cafe.
“My friends from San Francisco and L.A. agree that it can go head to head with some of the nationally known raw places.”
Best place to dine with vegans: Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant.
“It’s a vegan Asian restaurant in Pinellas Park in what was clearly once a Pizza Hut. They’ve got a crazy popular vegan buffet. It’s busy and chaotic so I don’t make it there as often I’d like.”
Best place to score books and music: Mirror Lake Library.
“As a music critic I was used to getting music for free. When that ended I was like, ‘Oh my god this stuff costs so much money!’ You can request anything and they’ll find it for you at any library in the county. I just returned the new St. Vincent CD and a great Pharrell coffeetable book. The library has saved me thousands of dollars on books and CDs.”
Best place to belt out a love song: Wilson’s Sports Lounge.
“I love it. It’s a total smoky dive bar. It’s one thing to scream out a punk song with your favorite band. It’s quite another to sing Whitney Houston’s ‘Greatest Love of All’ at Wilson’s.”
Best place to run into likeminded people: Rollin’ Oats.
“Everyone I know in the whole city goes to Rollin’ Oats. I’m usually there longer than I intend because I bump into friends and we start talking in the bulk aisle.”
Best local trio: Chris Nadeau, Susan Dickson and James Bess of Permanent Makeup.
“They remind me of a really energetic post-punk band that would’ve played in the early ’80s in Manhattan. They have this herky-jerky crazy fresh sound. The songs are melodic and just weird enough for me.”
Best seats in the house: The bleachers at St. Pete Shuffle.
“The shuffleboard court on a breezy spring night is so much fun. Listening to great bands play, sitting in those bleachers … I love that our city loves its shuffleboard court.”
Best way to keep it classy: Grooving to Gershwin at the Palladium.
“The Palladium’s Side Door Cabaret series makes me think of the Rat Pack and these great cozy lounges where people used to drink and listen to Cole Porter. It has a throwback feel to it.”
Best grassroots event: The Tweed Ride.
“There’s something to be said for getting hundreds of people to dress in kooky vintage clothes and ride through downtown St. Pete. Everyone was laughing. It was a great feeling to be an adult doing something so whimsical.”
Best place to commune with nature: Crescent Lake.
“I do a daily walk around the lake. It’s where I go to collect my thoughts. Anytime I need to write, I have to walk first. I bring my dog [Loopy Loo] to the dog park. Sometimes I bump into friends. Sometimes I’m the only one there.”
Best place to de-stress: Classical Medicine of St. Petersburg.
“I get Qi Gong from Martin Keane. My friends and I refer to it as hocus-pocus, but it really does work. I’ve been going every two weeks for the last year. It helps me with everything from insomnia to general anxiety. If I go too long without it I get buggy.”
Best place to primp: Lucky Star Salon.
“I go to my friend Susan Riggs, who is in the band Doll Parts. I’ve known her since I was 18. She’s one of the few people who can work with my very thick, very wavy red hair. We’re into the same weird music and fashion. She’s done all sorts of cuts and colors in my hair.”
Best place to shop for home goods: Metro Thrift Store.
“They’ve caught on since I furnished my first apartment in the ’90s. I once bought a beautiful Heywood-Wakefield bedframe for $100. They’re on to us hipsters going in and buying these mid-century pieces for cheap.”
Best underground art movement: Free Art Friday.
“Artists leave all these tiny pieces around downtown St. Pete for people to find. It reminds me of how Keith Haring would leave stuff around just for the sake of it. I love that people do weird artsy stuff around here, not because they’re trying to brand the city, but because they’re like, why not?”
Best place to buy an eco-friendly gift: Funktionhouse Urban Lumber & Furnishings.
“I discovered this husband-and-wife duo at a craft fair. They make the coolest pieces out of salvaged trees. They repurpose the wood into beautiful cutting boards and tables. I bought coasters for my friends. Their prices are unbelievably affordable.”