After laughing until it hurt at the live taping of The Daily Show at the Straz, my crew headed over to the Hub. The night was young and the beloved watering hole, infamous for the heaviest of pours, was buzzing with locals, activists, and even a few convention attendees.
A young man, smelling like days of body odor ripened in the Florida sun, stumbled around with a large banner that read, “Freedom is not free.”
“Remember this when you see my obituary!” he screamed as he shuffled out the front door.
“Have you been busy all week?” I asked our bartender.
“Not really. Tonight is the first night we’ve had this kind of crowd,” she answered.
Elsewhere around Tampa, the answers weren’t that different. Greg and Michelle Baker own and operate The Refinery on Florida Avenue. Michelle said they had planned on bringing in extra staff and extending their hours until just a few weeks before the convention.
“We decided not to do it and keep it just our crew,” Michelle Baker said. “Which is good because business was nothing special that week.”
Baker said she had spoken with restaurant owners who had worked during conventions, and sought their advice.
“The only problem was the people I talked to had gone through the Democratic National Convention, not the RNC, and they are very different conventions,” she said.
Restaurants and bar owners had to decide whether to over-prepare or try and make do.
“The people at the DNC want to explore the city, and want to have a good time. Most restaurants in DNC cities that we spoke to were slammed two weeks ahead of the convention. It wasn’t like that here,” Baker said.
The Refinery did get some visits from national media, including New York Times’ Frank Bruni, who tweeted, “On the subject of food and Florida, The Refinery in Tampa is a REALLY good resto. That and, um, Clint were the #RNC highlights.”
Baker said the visiting media combined with local customers kept business going as usual.
“We prepared for Armageddon but also were okay if that wasn’t the case,” she said. “I feel lucky that we have a hardcore customer base. I feel bad for businesses downtown and in Ybor.”
For Lynn Pham, owner of Bamboozle Cafe, being a downtown restaurant during the convention was no picnic.
“We didn’t fare very well,” Pham said. “We do everything fresh and had planned for at least our regular lunch rush and everything had to be thrown away. Most of the week we didn’t even break even.”
Pham said she had to decide to stay open and risk losing money or close and risk losing money.
“Closing isn’t good for business or Tampa,” Pham said. “We won’t feel the hit for a week or two.”
Nearby in Ybor City, many businesses didn’t do much better. Tom DeGeorge, owner of the Crowbar, said he didn’t even open the last two nights of the convention.
“Sales were way down,” DeGeorge said. “It didn’t cripple me as much as some other people because I entered into it thinking it was going to suck so I didn’t order much.”
DeGeorge said the convention kept his normal crowd at home, and the police and protesters didn’t bring any new business in.
“I am thrilled it’s over. For a small business owner it was a complete waste of time,” DeGeorge said. “The real kick in the balls was on the night I finally just shut it down and said screw it.”
Inside the Republican National Convention, delegates gorged on over-priced pretzels, hot dogs and other Forum fare instead of venturing outside the perimeter for a meal. (I spent far too much time watching Republicans hurriedly deep throating hot dogs.) And while I can make a case that the visitors were the ones missing out on the many food patches that dot the local landscape, it’s the underused businesses that are bearing the brunt. So grab your next drink or meal at one of our myriad eateries and drinking holes that took a big hit so the city could host the RNC.
Check out daily food news and reviews at cltampa.com/food.
This is a great article! Gary Mormino does a great job of illustrating the politics…
I will be honest, I've been keeping this place a secrect. So very happy for…
Best Thai food I have tasted, very accurate review, check this place out!
Unfortunately, Ha Long Bay is just plain inconsistent and has been for years. Great one…