Best of the Bay 2010: People, Places & Politics 

Best display of grace under pressure
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor
Still in her first year on the job, Castor was confronted with the kind of crisis no police chief wants to face: the murder of Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab in the line of duty. The stress — on the families, on the city, on the department, on Castor herself — was intense, but she handled this difficult time with admirable strength and composure, from the announcement of the officers’ deaths to the capture of alleged killer Dontae Morris four days later.

Best Flipflopper Lifetime Achievement Award
Charlie Crist
Awarded for his rock-solid conversions on: gay adoption, offshore drilling, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the stimulus package, easing Cuban travel, outlawing abortions, the federal health care reform bill, and of course, staying inside the Republican Party. Maybe he’ll have added a few more by the time we go to press, but one thing’s for sure: The-Guv-Who-Would-Be-Senator owns this category.

Best candidate stare
Rick Scott
At a news conference after the GOP Unity Rally in Tampa following Rick Scott’s surprise primary victory, CL asked the GOP gubernatorial candidate a question, and immediately felt the power of his intense Lex Luthor glare. Chilling, yet we didn’t dare break eye contact. Apparently that gaze makes some Republican voters weak in the knees.

Best blowing off of a major scandal
Florida GOP voters
Floridians take an odd sort of pride in the state’s off-kilter political landscape, but we’re not sure how funny it is that Rick Scott still has a chance of being the next governor. Apparently GOP voters — bored stiff by the charismatically challenged Bill McCollum and looking for an outsider — opted to support a man who led his former hospital chain, Columbia/HCA, into receiving the biggest fine for Medicaid and Medicare fraud in U.S. history. But hey, that was so 1997!

Best brush(es) with fame
Jeff Greene… and LiLo and Heidi and Mike Tyson
Lucky for him his U.S. Senate campaign ended when it did. Next thing you know, we would have found out he was driving OJ’s escape van.

Best champion of grass-roots arts & culture
Bob Devin Jones, Studio@620
The best art is often created and disseminated on a small scale. If you want to be challenged, eschew the larger venues and check out The Studio@620 in St. Pete. Artistic Directors David Ellis and Bob Devin Jones started The Studio in late 2004, and it has since hosted an eclectic variety of exhibits, performances, lectures and parties. But more than that, it has become a community hub, an essential St. Pete place where Devin Jones’ core philosophy, “The answer is always yes," has become an engine for innovation and creativity that has made the city a better place to live. Keep an eye on The Studio’s calendar; there is always something brewing.Studio @620, 620 First Ave. S., St. Petersburg, 727-895-6620,

Best party pooper

St. Pete House Rep. Darryl Rouson
Rep. Rouson had an admitted drug problem years ago, but that hasn’t stopped his zeal to stop others who can maintain. On the contrary, it’s turned him into a one-man anti-bong squad. This year the legislator sponsored a state law that makes it a crime to sell water pipes at most head shops.

Best ol’-fashioned backroom deal

U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite
Brown-Waite told only one person in advance that she would not run for re-election — her hand-picked successor, Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent. For some reason the move angered certain Republicans — maybe because they’d been waiting for years for the chance to run for an open seat. Brown-Waite dismissed them with the ultimate insult: she called them “Charlie Crist Republicans.”

Best looking of a $1.25 billion gift horse in the mouth
Orlando-area U.S. Rep. John Mica
Mica, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee, criticized the Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed rail line in Time magazine, apparently because the speed isn’t going to be high enough. “You can’t have real high-speed rail if you’re stopping all the time,” he told Time. “It’s in my district. I should be as happy as a hog eating trash. But we need a real success, and this is pretty marginal.”

Best Embarrassment for an Anti-LGBT Politician
George Rekers, his Rentboy and Bill McCollum
We’re not saying that Mr. Rekers — Bill McCollum’s trés expensive anti-gay-adoption expert — was gay or anything. After all, it’s entirely plausible that he hired a young fella to “carry his luggage” because of his, you know, bad back and had no idea that said young fella was selling other, um, services on So, not saying we’re outing him. Just that he must have had a nice outing. As in excursion. With his baggage handler. Right.

Best Florida legislation
PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) bill
We’re not sure how this happened, but somehow the Florida legislature passed HB 7179, the PACE bill, giving local governments the authority to create a mechanism for up-front financing for energy conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy and wind mitigation to actual residents’ homes, as well as commercial or industrial property. The payback is generated by energy savings over time, and paid through a non ad-valorem assessment (i.e. you’ll pay it along with your tax bill but it’s not really a tax).

Worst Florida legislation

Oh, let us count the ways
Slamming teachers, choice, environment; trying like hell to build oil rigs on our coasts; failing to pass job-creating renewable energy targets… No, it’s just too hard to choose. How does one truly assess hubris, greed, arrogance and incompetence? Maybe start with Fair Districts? Don’t forget to vote YES on Amendment 5.

Best way to appeal to Hispanic voters

“Let’s out-Arizona Arizona!”
Tampa Bay Republicans rejoiced when they were awarded the GOP convention, winning out over Salt Lake City and Phoenix. Analysts said that Arizona’s harsh illegal immigration bill paved the way for our little burg. But now that Florida’s GOP candidates for governor and attorney general are all gung-ho for law ’n order Arizona-style, is the RNC having second thoughts? Oh, sure.

Best proof that even a broken clock is right twice a day
Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman
In a fierce fight with Kevin Ambler for a state Senate seat, Norman blasted the House Republican for trying to introduce anti-illegal immigration legislation before a special session in July, calling it (gasp) a political stunt. Some critics scoffed he was just mad he hadn’t thought of it first.

Best attention to detail
Linda Saul-Sena and John Dingfelder
Former Tampa City Council members Saul-Sena and Dingfelder put their candidacies for Hillsborough County Commission in jeopardy this summer when both neglected to submit in a timely fashion their paperwork informing the supervisor of elections that they intended to resign from Council. Both were sued by Hillsborough Republicans, albeit unsuccessfully. Here’s a friendly reminder for Saul-Sena and Dingfelder so they don’t miss another important deadline: This year, Election Day is November 2. That’s a Tuesday. In 2010.

Best ‘How much does it take to fire someone around here?’
Pat Bean
Hillsborough County Administrator Bean, along with County Attorney Renee Lee, were suspended earlier this year for 90 days — at full pay. Commissioners ultimately voted Lee back onto the board, but booted Bean. During her paid time off, Bean earned $56,000. Ironic, since Bean’s troubles started when she and Lee gave themselves 1 percent raises without telling commissioners.

Best example of a political body listening to a corporation and ignoring citizens (and free speech)
St. Pete City Council
Last October, supporters of BayWalk and the majority of St. Pete City Council voted to vacate the sidewalk in front of the ailing shopping complex to stop street protests, insisting that only by squelching free speech could the mall be revived. Since that time, five tenants have moved out, and only one has moved in. So it sure looks like it was those danged protesters keeping everyone away. Or wait, maybe the protesters were keeping the place in business?

Best act of compassion for the less fortunate
Send ’em to the mall
After succumbing to angry citizens and rejecting a “Tent City” for the homeless off of Hillsborough Avenue, county commissioners a week later suggested that an old mall in Tampa would be a nice place to stash ’em. (They could pretend-shop!) After that got shot down, commissioners did… absolutely nothing on the homeless. Except in August, when Mark Sharpe proposed a ban on soliciting in the streets.

Best grass-roots activist event
Hands Across the Sand
Two months before the Deepwater Horizon volcano blew its black tide of toxic funk, the people of Florida came to the beaches, joined hands and told our state legislature how they felt about drilling our coasts. Hands Across the Sand turned out 10,000 people on 80 beaches around the state on a very cold, windy day in February. The Tampa Bay area was the big star of the day, with 3,000 people on 16 Pinellas beaches. Four days before the rig explosion, the legislature backed down and dropped its plans for drilling within the 3-12 mile coastal zone.

Best champion of Florida history
Gary Mormino, founder of Florida Studies Program, USF St. Pete
After teaching for about 30 years at USF Tampa, where he explored the rich history of Ybor City, Gary Mormino formed the interdisciplinary Florida Studies Program at USF St. Pete with his close colleague Ray Arsenault. His landmark book Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams is a must-read history of modern Florida, but his greatest achievement may be his graduate students. His teaching, like his writing, is neither preachy nor overwrought; he tackles difficult issues and invites his students to do the same. Mormino and Florida Studies embody the kind of collaboration that academia always talks about but rarely achieves. 140 Seventh Ave. S., St. Petersburg. 727-873-4USF,

Best champion of florida culture
The Florida Humanities Council
In a state where everyone seems to be from somewhere else, Florida is in dire need of a credible cultural booster. Thankfully, we have it in St. Pete in the Florida Humanities Council. Its grants and mini-grants alone have made countless projects possible. The council sends an impressive roster of speakers on the road, sponsors thought-provoking events and makes travel educational with its “gatherings.” The FHC’s award-winning magazine, Forum, is reason enough to become a member and an informed Florida resident. 599 Second St. S., St. Petersburg,

Best vindication for Mayor Iorio

Tampa Museum of Art and Curtis Hixon Park
Oh, the complaints: Iorio is too timid, too conservative, she doesn’t have the big swinging-Dick (Greco), build-it-now-and-pay-for-it-later vision. And what’s with this silly little Riverwalk thing? And how could she turn down our precious Viñoly’s preciously boring design for the Tampa Museum of Art? For an answer, just take a stroll down the Riverwalk from Cotanchobee Ft. Brooke Park past the gleaming new Florida History Center, then head around to Curtis Hixon, where you’ll see children scampering around a very cool urban playground and families playing on the lawn. Then look up at the gorgeous cube of star-chitecture that is the new TMA, and the soon-to-open Children’s Museum next door. These amenities are not the saviours of downtown, but the city would be a lot poorer without them. That’s vision, the kind that evolves not from bombast but from pragmatism and patience. And Tampa’s better for it.

Biggest blast of hagiography
The death of St. George (Steinbrenner)
Although the feelings were much more ambivalent in New York City, Tampa media organs treated the passing of George Steinbrenner with the reverence accorded to the death of Ronald Reagan. Most of the praise was deserved, as Steinbrenner was certainly a giant in his generosity to a slew of organizations and groups; the Boss made South Tampa his home shortly after purchasing the Yankees in 1975, and spread his largess liberally over the years. Too bad the Steinbrenner family doesn’t feel the same loyalty: the Yanks are reportedly considering moving their Class A minor league club, the Tampa Yankees, across the I-4 corridor to Orlando.

Best example of Urban Meyer’s post-Tebow insecurity
“If that was my son, we’d be going at it.”
The Gator coach, who kind of quit and then kinda didn’t last winter, blew up at Orlando Sentinel reporter Jeremy Fowler at a spring football practice. Why? Because Fowler had accurately quoted wide receiver Deonte Thompson discussing the differences between the sainted Tebow and new Gator quarterback John Bentley, whom Thompson called a “real quarterback.” Meyer, enraged by the criticism that descended on Thompson because of Fowler’s (and others’) reporting, accosted the reporter with a barely veiled threat: “If that [Thompson] was my son, we’d be going at it.”

Best talking out of one’s ass
WDAE sports jock Dan Sileo
Last fall, Sileo opined on the air that the owners of the Tampa Bay Bucs, the Glazers, incurred massive financial losses due to investments with fraudster Bernie Madoff. When questioned by reporters about where he got his “tip,” Sileo was silent, and after Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said his family had never invested “one penny” with Madoff, the sports jock ended up being suspended by the station.

The Toytown Landfill, St. Pete
The Rays likes to talk about how the team is a “regional” asset, yet some of the proposed stadium sites ignore the region entirely. (We’re looking at you, Fairgrounds people.) Clearly the Trop’s days are numbered, but rather than let the battle over the ballpark tear Tampa and St. Pete apart, this should be an opportunity for unity. So what’s a good compromise? We suggest the old Toytown landfill in St. Pete. The land is available, centrally located in the Gateway area (just over the Howard Frankland Bridge), and proposals are already in the works that would include residential development, office space and (best of all) a light-rail station tying into the Hillsborough line. This way, Tampa residents have easy access to a new ballpark they didn’t have to pay for, and Pinellas gets to keep a major (revenue-generating) asset while ponying up to get on the transit grid of tomorrow. Let the arguing begin…


The merge lane, I-275 South at Howard Avenue, Tampa
Who thought it was a good idea to add a mile-long lane to the left side of southbound I-275 as you pass the Howard/Armenia exit? This new lane is used primarily by assholes who can’t wait for traffic to flow and instead must cut out, speed around 100 cars and then recklessly cut back in when the lane disappears before the Lois Avenue exit. True story: An unnamed CL editorial employee has twice lost his mind and attempted to block the merge lane while giving approaching cars the finger. Once he was successful; once he almost died when the agro dude in the jeep went nuts. We would not advise this as a rational course of action.

Best local celebrity re-sighting
The Tampa Bay Mystery Monkey
Like Paris Hilton bumping her way back into the spotlight with a coke arrest after we’d hoped and prayed we’d seen the last of her, the Mystery Monkey just can’t resist the siren song of fame. Or rather, the siren song of the monkey in the mirror cube. The latest reports have the world’s most over-exposed rhesus macaque gazing longingly at his reflection on a piece of mirrored whatsit outside an artist’s home in Pinellas Point. It’s not narcissism, say the experts; the poor guy’s just lonely. If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a million times: there just aren’t a lot of places you can go to meet other monkeys around here.

Best Local Commercial Mascot
Mini Credit at
If you’ve seen the Car Credit Tampa commercials, you likely haven’t forgotten their pint-sized mascot: Mini Credit, a little-person superhero in a kelly green finance-fighting suit and banana yellow cape whose superpower is making your credit problems disappear. With the force of his trademark grunt (“Ugly credit? Uuuhhhh!”) and a half-hearted flex of his mini-muscles, you can tell the dude means business.

Best national embarrassment
The 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre
And you thought Ford Amp was bad. But there’s a bright side — we get to make up our own nicknames. The Gary’s been gaining ground; the 800 would have a nice Spartan ring to it. Or how about the Axe (in honor of the eternally “scurred and confoozed” Roz)? Then there’s the Sellout. No — too redundant.

Best way to ruin Florida tourism; best way to make enemies of an entire region; best way to torture dolphins; best way to set an entire body of water on fire; best thing not even we can make jokes about
The BP oil disaster

Best use of hated, rights-destroying, federal Nazification stimulus money
Teachers still have jobs in Florida
Last year, the abhorrent socialist federal stimulus bill saved more than 2,800 teachers’ jobs in Tampa Bay. This year, the second round of stimulus spending will bring in a reported $553 million in education money to Florida, saving approximately 9,000 school jobs. And oh, yeah, there’s some additional money coming in to help poor people who can’t afford medical care. Now you see why this stimulus is so disgusting? Teachers? Poor sick people? Who wants to help them?

Most influential journalist you don’t know about

John Hill, St. Petersburg Times
When you’re reading a Times editorial on BP, the environment, and much of Tampa and Hillsborough politics and public policy, it comes from the hand of this wordsmith. And many of Tampa’s highest officials (or those that aspire to be) have his number plugged into their cellphone.

Best Florida Political Blog (South Florida)
The Reid Report
South Florida political blogger Joy-Ann Reid has been doing her thing for years. She writes regular columns for the Miami Herald and shows up on occasion dispensing punditry on MSNBC, but her bread and butter is writing about the political scene, in Florida and the nation.

Best Florida Political Blog (Tallahassee)

Gary Fineout
Fineout is one of the top bloggers in Florida political media. The former Miami Herald and Tallahassee Democrat reporter is also extremely active on Twitter, reporting facts that he seems to get just a little bit earlier than everyone else.

Best Florida Political Blog (Tampa Bay)
The Buzz, St. Petersburg Times
There’s absolutely nothing alternative about giving praise to the biggest guys in the room. But we’re grading on information, not on attitude — and with The Buzz benefiting from cross-pollination with the Miami Herald, everybody who follows Florida politics knows it’s a must-read when you’re on your computer in the middle of the night.

Best Local Political Blog
Saint Petersblog 2.0
Executive Editor Peter Schorsch sometimes act a bit unhinged (we don’t get the whole Michael Pinson vendetta). He’s had a politically scarred career, and with so many politicians advertising on his site, we’re sometimes uncertain about how it affects him editorially. But he’s also a thorn in the side of the St. Pete Times, because on more than a few occasions he’s out-scooped the Paper of Record. “Controversial” seems incomplete as a description of Peter, but we’re glad he’s around.

Best little big men
The doormen at Durty Nelly’s, Chip Santiago and “Durty Drew”
Imagine how many times a night little people working the door at an Irish pub, dealing with drunks twice their size, would be called leprechauns. Now imagine the guys who would be up for this task night after night while remaining friendly to all, and you’ll have an idea of the type of men Chip Santiago and Durty Drew are. (And please — they’re not just in it for the motorboating.) Durty Nelly’s Irish Tavern, 149 First Ave. N., St. Petersburg,

Best economic stimulus — or some kind of stimulus, at least

3 a.m closings in Pinellas
Now that towns across Pinellas are following St. Pete’s lead and allowing their bars to change closing hours from 2 a.m. to 3, drinking establishments now get an extra hour’s worth of bar tabs. Meanwhile, patrons get an extra hour to cloud their judgment enough to make that one-night stand with the pimply paralegal at the end of the bar seem like not such a bad idea after all.

Best display of sexual desperation
Josua Basso
Basso, 29, faced a dilemma. He wanted phone sex but his cell was out of minutes. Refusing to abandon his dream, Basso called the one number his phone would connect to for free: 911. Basso called about four times, inquiring about the operator’s body, moaning rhythmically and asking if she wanted to come over for sex. The operator didn’t come, but officers did. Basso admitted this wasn’t his first time calling 911 for sex.

Best waste of swimwear indoors
The rash of bikini bars in downtown St. Pete
Four have opened or are planning to open this year. Owners hoped to capitalize on the new 3 a.m. bar ordinance and the lack of nude clubs in St. Pete due to zoning codes that restrict topless clubs. However, these owners forgot one crucial thing. If St. Pete residents wanted to drink while looking at bikini-clad women, they’d go to a beach bar. The one club that did risk baring a bit more, Bottom to Top, was raided by police.

Best imitation of Columbo
Mayor Bill Foster at the Bottom of the Top bust
St. Petersburg police busted the downtown bikini bar in June, just days after city leaders vowed to crack down on such establishments. Among those on hand to make sure everything was on the up and up was St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster, who told the press days later, “That is a nasty place inside. Nothing good happens inside those walls.”

Best imitation of Zelig
T.Hampton Dohrman
Like Woody Allen’s ubiquitous hero, Hampton Dohrman seems to be everywhere — or least anywhere something cool is happening in Tampa Bay’s cultural scene. Coordinating a walking tour of Lights on Tampa; helping organize Artists and Writers Group events like Homemade Music Symposium and Deep Carnivale; partnering with artists at [5]art Gallery in West Tampa; volunteering at Dunedin Fine Art Center’s Wearable Art show. And now it turns out he can cook, too — he’s recently joined the ranks of contributors to CL’s food site. Now that he’s branched out to launch his own nonprofit arts marketing organization, you can expect to see even more of him — he’s young enough to have staying power, smart enough to make things happen, and tall enough so that, whatever crowd he’s in, he’s easy to spot.

Best Voice for Small Businesses in Tampa Bay
Ester Venouziou&
Not only does Ester live the local mentality, she spends her days and nights helping small businesses succeed in a tough economy. On top of her full-time job at the St. Pete Times, she spends every waking moment meeting with small business owners and community organizations, planning events and laying out magazines to help give the little guy a voice. She pimps these businesses out all over her social networks, even springing for media buys and negotiating rates for her members in publications they otherwise couldn’t afford. She’s working hard to rally the spirit of shoppers to buy local and business owners to support each other, and the small businesses of the area owe her a debt of gratitude.

Best new vintage shop
Misred Outfitters
This is the sort of store that takes all the work out of creating a vintage-inspired look. Owner Sara Stonecipher has a sharp eye for pieces that become wardrobe staples and flattery magnets. The store is well-organized and hip as hell, like everything else popping up on the 600 block of St Petersburg. Outfit-of-the-day tweets and Facebook posts showcase a look Sara and her staff are particularly excited about that day (size and price listed for all items). It’s almost like having your own stylist. 615 Central Ave., St. Petersburg,

Best Hidden Treasure Boutique

The Blue Dahlia Marketplace
Tucked at the end of downtown Clearwater’s Cleveland Street is the recently opened Blue Dahlia. This adorable boutique is reminiscent of Anthropologie, complete with floral soaps and furniture for sale. But what really makes this shop a hidden treasure are the absolute steals you can find on clothes. Eco-friendly shirts, beautiful blouses and chic, comfortable dresses are sold for prices that will have you checking the price tags twice. The Blue Dahlia is definitely worth a trip to Clearwater. 409 Cleveland St., Clearwater, 727-259-7858,

Best Transformation from Gift Shop to Hot Spot
Bella Brava
For anyone familiar with Cherie’s Eklectika, the aptly named gift shop that used to be at Beach Drive and Second St., it was hard to envision how Bella Brava — the chic Italian trattoria formerly housed in a sprawling space on Central — could possibly fit into the same streetcorner. But fit it did, and then some (adjacent storefronts were part of the deal), and suddenly Beach (see “Best Buzzworthy Restaurant Row” in “Food & Drink”) got even buzzier. Packed from the first weekend with ’Burgers wishing to see and be seen, Bella Brava seems to have made a very good move. 204 Beach Dr NE, 727-895-5515,

Best Transformation from Flophouse to Fabulous

The Flamingo Resort
After the late, not-so-lamented Suncoast Resort closed down in 2007 (to be replaced by a still-not-built Home Depot), there was nothing in the LGBT community that replicated that old standby’s mix of poolside bacchanal and no-tell motel. Then, last year, the Flamingo opened in a former condemned flophouse further down 34th St. South, and the Suncoast became a dim, if tacky, memory. Though not in the most scenic part of town, the Flamingo lives up to its “resort” billing with a sleek white, bi-level bar and dance floor, video lounge, big pool and tiki bar, plus a full menu, 130 rooms, jewelry and art boutiques and nightly entertainment — including some of the best drag performers around. 4601 34th St. S., St. Petersburg, 727-321-5000,

Best Transformation from Stage to Scene
Scene Premium Night Club
Talk about the magic of theater: Anyone who ever saw a show in the former home of American Stage will be amazed by what’s happened to the space since it’s been taken over by the new Scene nightclub. From the splashy marquee to the gigantic dance floor to the centerfold models hosting “Burlesque Fridays,” it’s utterly unlike the cozy theater where audiences sat inches away from the actors. And its presence connotes a couple of positive developments for downtown St. Pete; for one thing, it’s a reminder that American Stage has its own new and larger home at 3rd St. N. And it’s also an indication that, with clubs like this one and nearby Push Ultra Lounge, downtown might actually be developing a night club Scene. 211 3rd St. S., St. Petersburg, 727-258-4813,

Garment District 813, Tampa Armature Building
When local designers Raven Reda and Ben Chmura (the latter ofProject Runwayfame) decided to hold a runway show in a venue inspired by New York’s garment and meatpacking districts, they picked the right place. Nestled on the banks of the Hillsborough River, the historic Tampa Armature Works in Tampa Heights was built in 1911 as a trolley barn for the Tampa Electric Company. In May, the 100-foot-long runway show packed the decrepit landmark with a who’s who of area fashionistas and featured Chmura’s resort collection, Lamia’s Wrath, along with Reda’s Coup d’Etat line. The building itself has since become the hub of the new Heights Waterfront development project. 1910 N. Ola Ave.


Revolve Clothing Exchange
In October 2006, Jessica Gronewald and Kevin Hecht took the thrifty expertise they acquired running Second Image thrift stores and parlayed it into a cool retail enterprise in Ybor: a store where you not only can buy new trendy fashions, accessories and vintage threads, you also can trade your secondhand clothes for store credit. With everything from that little black skirt you need for work to (we’re not making this up) a fringe-cut Barry Manilow concert T-shirt, Revolve is a boon for Ybor shoppers (and a bargain compared to some other local boutiques). The concept proved to be so successful that Gronewald and Hecht opened a second location in March 2010 in St. Pete. Both stores offer a frequent shopper rewards program and stamp card. 1620 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City, 813-242-5970; 2000 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-399-7788,

Best Asian Market
Oceanic Supermarket
Want the feeling of the East without traveling across the world? Or have a hankering to relive the experiences you recall from traveling — or living — in an Asian country? Look no further than Oceanic Supermarket in Tampa. One of the best such selections around, Oceanic offers a vast array of foods, spices, trinkets and ready-to-go meals. The aromas and people will take you back. 1609 N. Tampa St., Tampa, 813-228-8110,


Mazzaro’s Italian Market and Deli
Stroll the streets of Little Italy neighborhoods in NYC, and your senses are awakened. Pizza cooks belt out Neapolitan classics while you take in the sweet and tangy aroma of homemade sauces. Or you’re overtaken by the scent of freshly roasted espresso beans, sfoglietelle baking in the oven and the oakiness of caciocavalle cheeses loitering in windows like round white temptresses. We don’t have such a characteristic cluster of delights in any neighborhood in Tampa Bay — well, maybe a little in Ybor here and there — but at Mazzaro’s, you experience it all in one establishment. They have a bakery; a deli with ready-to-eat entrees and sandwiches; an espresso bar; artisanal cheeses and wine shop and gourmet groceries; and live entertainment on the enclosed patio. It’s a foodie’s paradise and a winsome trip down memory lane for anyone missing Italian relatives up north or on the boot. 2909 22nd Ave. N, St Petersburg, 727-321-2400,

Lounge on the beach. Stand on the little cement jetty among the fishermen and stare out at the horizon. Aimlessly wander the little side streets between unique businesses. Sit in a bar not listening to the music with a barely touched beer in front of you. Down on this gorgeous, funky little southern spit of beach community, the opportunities for inactivity are endless, inside or out. And when doing nothing gets to be a little stale, there’s also plenty of something to do as well.

Vespa Clearwater
Vespas are the most classically stylish scooters still in production, and Piaggio, their manufacturer, has been designing sexy modes of transportation for nearly 120 years. The bikes’ inviting colors and sleek designs conjure all sorts of nostalgia — the Who’s Quadrophenia, Brigitte Bardot whizzing by in a scarf and glasses or Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck ambling about in Roman Holiday. Only one authorized Vespa dealer in Tampa Bay has survived the recession: Vespa Clearwater. Owned by scooterist Matt Nichols, the shop offers personalized service and supports the local scooterist community by sponsoring Tampa Two Stroke scooter club events. It sells new and vintage bikes and cool apparel and accessories such as Modern Amusement, Penguin and Ben Sherman. Nichols also does repairs on site. 614 S. Missouri Ave., Clearwater, 727-447-7889.

Tampa Street Market
Tampa Street Market owners Amy and Charles Haynie embody the best qualities of Seminole Heights: They look to the future while respecting the past; they have an eye for cool trends without compromising warmth and rustic comfort; they give back to their ‘hood and to the planet with salvaged and refurbished furniture painted with low VOC paints or pieces built from salvaged and sustainable materials. Their furniture and gift store at Florida and Osborne specialized in eco-friendly, fair trade and local products, and was open for 3 1/2 years with a brief hiatus in 2008, and, sadly, closed at the end of last month. But examples of the Haynies’ work live on in the community, including metal tabletops and fixtures at Ella’s Folk Art Cafe and a bench featured in a 2008 exhibition at the Tampa Museum of Art. And the couple maintain a cool, artsy-community-minded blog at


Climbing at Vertical Ventures
For a challenging and rewarding workout that’s also fun, check out the indoor climbing walls at Vertical Ventures. Climbing works the entire body, builds your patience and helps relieve stress, very similar to yoga or pilates. The gym offers a variety of specials and events, including a live DJ on Friday nights. 5402 Pioneer Park Blvd., Tampa, 813-884-7625,


Jeff Navarre
These days you can get your Om on just about anywhere, from an ashram in the Himalayas to a strip mall in Kenneth City. So where to start learning your downward-facing dog? How ’bout the local Y? Jeff Navarre, a tall man with a serenity that tends to conceal his biting wit, teaches yoga classes on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at the Jim and Heather Gills YMCA in St. Petersburg. Jeff’s personal approach is deeply Eastern (he studied in an ashram for years), but if you want to skip the Om Shanti stuff and use yoga to enhance flexibility, alleviate stress and improve your overall well-being, he’s your swami as well. Jeff teaches at all different levels, and manages to offer personal instruction amid the classes. He has a studio in a small office building in Pinellas Park where he teaches small groups and one-on-one. Namaste. 10707 66th St. N., Pinellas Park, 727-412-4881, YMCA, 3200 1st Ave. S., St. Petersburg, 727-328-9622,

Mangrove Bay
Golf is inherently expensive. After throwing down for clubs, balls, tees, a glove and a six-pack (we call it “liquid talent”), you’re still on the hook for greens fees and cart rental. Budget golfers know that cheap fees usually mean a horribly maintained course, but that’s not the case at St. Pete’s Mangrove Bay. A publicly owned and maintained course, Mangrove is almost always in great shape and loaded with weekend duffers out to have a good time. With two courses — one full-sized and 18-holes (very forgiving, excellent greens), the other a 9-hole par 3 track ideal for newbies — Mangrove can handle all skill levels. Greens fees hover around $30 in the off-season, so an outing won’t break your bank. More money for on-the-course wagering! Closest to the pin, anyone? 875 62nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg, 727-893-7800, call for tee times

Best urban wildlife encounters
Crescent Lake Park
Where else can you go on a thick Florida summer morning and see squirrels fighting with gulls? Or geese chasing runners, dogs and anything else that walks by? Calling this “wildlife” may be a stretch, but for us city folks, such encounters allow us to cross that boundary between our two-legged animal selves and the four- & flappy-legged varieties. Crescent Lake Park sports an amazing variety of wild and semi-domesticated fowl: a pair of Chinese geese and their now considerable brood, along with the pair of mismatched geese that are sharing parental duties; Muskovy and Mallard ducks; and the strange band of “hybrid” ducks that have been ostracized by the others. These outcasts sport semi-green heads, black bodies, spots, blotches and all other manner of mixed breed characteristics. They’ve even been forced (or chosen?) to live on the other side of the lake. How very human, but still, a special experience. 1320 Fifth St. N., St. Petersburg

Skyway Trap And Skeet Club
Who says that liberals can’t appreciate a little gunplay? Skill is the name of the game at Pinellas Park’s Skyway Trap and Skeet, a shooting range where the only things blasted to smithereens are clay disks. Skyway’s staff is incredibly patient with the uninitiated, and they’ll get you set up with a loaner rifle, shells and someone to release the bird every time you yell pull! And remember guys; chicks dig it when you have a nice kickback bruise on your shoulder. 3200 74th Ave N., St. Petersburg, 727-526-8993,

Best place to wakeboard without a boat
McCormick’s Waterski Wakeboard & Cable Park, Seffner
CL Sports blogger Flip Satchel puts it this way: “I’m just a river rat who grew up on the Ouachita River in South Arkansas and on different lakes here and yonder. We don’t have anything like McCormick’s where I come from.” An intrepid boarder, he describes the cable park as “like a skate park complete with kickers, kinks, grind boxes, and rails, just on water.” The cable system can tow eight riders at once and challenges riders of all skill levels at the same time. All types of boarders are welcome, from experts to novices. 2020 McCormick Lakes Way, Seffner, 813-681-4441,

New overpass at 34th Street S in St. Pete
Fans of the Pinellas Trail know that the intersection with 34th Street S. has long been a death-defying obstacle along an otherwise tranquil and hassle-free route. With multiple lanes of fast-moving traffic in each direction, bikers and walkers were lucky to get across alive. Worry no more, outdoor enthusiasts: the long under-construction overpass is now complete, allowing pedestrians to travel up and over the busy road without worry of being knocked into next week by a marauding Suburban. Special bonus: the planners keep the grade down, making for an easier climb up and a safer sprint down. Happy trails.

Best Staycation Location

Caladesi Island State Park
It might be that it’s only accessible by boat. Or that it’s been named one of the best beaches in the world. Or perhaps that, unlike most beaches in the Bay area, this undeveloped hideaway is still home to throngs of native wildlife. Whatever it is, an afternoon on Caladesi Island isn’t just an escape from the bustle and crowds; it’s an escape from the city itself. And isn’t that the point of a staycation? #1 Causeway Boulevard, Dunedin. 727-469-5918,

Best Place to Swim and Eat

Ozona Blue
You got a swimming pool in my restaurant! You got a restaurant in my swimming pool! Ozona Blue is the best place to enjoy the benefits of Florida living, by eating where you swim, and swimming where you eat. Where else can you go for a dip when the waiter takes too long bringing out your order? 125 Orange St N., Palm Harbor, 727-789-4540,

Safety Harbor Resort & Spa
If you can manage to avoid splurging on luxuries like spa treatments and room service, you can enjoy an affordable overnight getaway at the historic Safety Harbor Resort, which features specials for as low as $90 a night (check Orbitz). The tastefully restored rooms trigger instant relaxation with large and elegant wood furniture, thick pillow-top mattresses with plush, bright white bedding and luxuriously soft linens and robes, rooms with views of the garden, pool and Bay, and the quaint Safety Harbor Village just footsteps away — perfect for some touristy shopping, dining and general exploration. 105 N. Bayshore Drive, Safety Harbor, 888-237-8772,

Sand Pearl Resort & Spa
If you do have the wad to spend and want the feel of a Caribbean vacation without actually leaving town, Sand Pearl Resort & Spa has luxury and class in abundance, located directly on 700 feet of pristine white Clearwater beachfront property. Normal rates start at $249, with online specials dipping as low as $200 excluding any special “resort fees.” 500 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach, 877-726-3111,

Florida Shell Shop
Family owned and operated since 1955, Florida Shell Shop fulfills all your souvenir needs, although it’s far from a run-of-the-mill souvenir shop. The space is crammed with nautical decorations, postcards, wildlife and marine tchotchkes of all sorts, housewares, chimes, t-shirts, jewelry, shells and sharks teeth by the pound, and so much more, all of it reasonably priced. 9901 Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island, 727-367-9599,


Treehouse Puppets & Treasures
This quirky storefront — located amidst the second-floor walk of shops in John’s Pass Village — is a virtual wonderland for kids. In addition to the store’s vast array of cute and colorful puppets and marionettes (offered in all shapes, sizes and breeds), Treehouse carries educational games, toys, stuffed animals, books, kites, and a huge stock of 99-cent kid-friendly goodies. 12975 Village Blvd., Madeira Beach, 727-397-2446,

Best introduction of surfer chic
Postcard Inn on the Beach
How’d a former Travelodge wind up in the pages of glossy travel mags and the New York Times? With taste, wit and a large (if slightly ironic) dose of surfer chic, including a blackboard weather report in the lobby, surfboards as decor, low-slung comfortable furnishings, and heady quotes and surfing photos in the rooms. The old Swigwam tiki bar has been renamed the PCI (the original Swigwam folks relocated to Corey Avenue) but it retains its waggish charm, license plates and all. And there’s now a snack bar with tasty fare from the inn’s adjacent Wildwood BBQ restaurant, which serves delicious ’cue in woodsy environs. A great weekend getaway even if you don’t ever plan to hang ten. 6300 Gulf Blvd, St. Pete Beach,727-367-2711,

Caddy’s vs. Sunset Beach
Let’s be frank: Caddy’s is a terrific beach bar, but the clientele can sometimes get a bit out of hand. Reports of people pissing in nearby yards or playing grab-ass between the dunes are the stuff of local legend and resident frustration. The Sunset Beachers went after Caddy’s parking set-up (according to a recent St. Pete Times report, Caddy’s maintains about 200 spots split between its property and seven nearby locations) which runs afoul of current parking codes forbidding off-site parking. The city is thinking about changing the law, but in the meantime the upset locals have sued to make the city enforce the existing laws prohibiting Caddy’s from running off-site parking for its guests. (The case is still in court, with a recent decision favoring Caddy’s and holding off on enforcement of the current, more-restrictive parking law.) A final hearing is scheduled for Sept. 16, but no matter the outcome let’s hope all involved parties can find a way to co-exist and share in the distinctive culture that makes Bay area beaches such a great place to visit. And please, stop pissing in public. 9000 W Gulf Blvd, Sunset Beach, 727-360-4993,

You’ve been there: The clock has slunk past midnight and you’re nursing your eighth cocktail while some member of the opposite sex prattles on about his/her rare collection of John Wayne Gacy lithographs and you just have to get the hell out of there now! But you’re too shit-faced to drive, and a cab would mean abandoning your precious wheels in a sketchy part of town. That’s where Zingo comes in: They dispatch a scooter-riding driver who reconnoiters with you, loads his ride (which folds and fits in a bag!) into your trunk and gives you a lift home in your own car. Prices vary depending on distance, but usually run between $20-$30, which is a small price to pay for avoiding a DUI or worse. Only downside: Zingo doesn’t cross the bridges.

Best absentee landlord
We bow to Xenu. And we promise the rent check will — haha — clear.

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