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It's tears in the beers time as fabled Chatterbox falls

Tampa's longtime watering hole is gone, and at least one patron sadly ponders, what now? The only answer at the site is the growl of heavy equipment moving dirt.

By JENNIFER L. STEVENSON
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 31, 2002


David Alfonso has witnessed many historic events in the city. On his list of big moments: the opening of Tampa International Airport, Super Bowl XVIII, the first game in Tampa Stadium.

Add one more: the day the Chatterbox Lounge was torn down.

"It's part of history, don't you think?" Alfonso asked Tuesday, as he surveyed the rubble of his favorite bar, his home away from home for the last 15 years.

When he saw the heap of bricks, boards and beer signs at Swann and Howard avenues -- where proud bar stools once stood -- Alfonso couldn't help himself.

He stopped his car immediately. He pulled out his camera to record the moment.

"I feel compelled," he said.

Alone amid the wreckage, he snapped picture after picture.

"I had my name on the marquee," Alfonso said, referring to the famous Chatterbox sign which honored its many patrons.

"It was my birthday. I not sure which one. Forty-something," said Alfonso, 53, a schoolteacher who lives in Palma Ceia. A self-described "frequent," Alfonso said he visited the popular bar two to three times a week.

When he learned in December the Chatterbox was closing, he admitted he went into denial.

SoHo Pointe, a new retail center, will be built on the 11/2 acre lot. The developers could not be reached for comment.

The new development will feature Panera Bread, an ice cream store and a coffee shop.

The newcomers might be tempting, but nothing rivals the Chatterbox, Alfonso said.

"This was a comforting, welcome spot in South Tampa," he said. Something else drew him to the lounge, a feeling he could not quite define. As he stood staring at the ruin he was at a loss for words.

"I'm not sure exactly what I will miss," he said. "I'll get over it."

He will, but like many patrons, Alfonso no longer has a place to frequent.

"Where do you go now?" he asked. "I don't think there is one place. The fraternity has been fragmented."

Then, he attempted a joke.

"I have a table and four stools sitting in my garage," he said. "I can have a reunion once a month."

-- Jennifer L. Stevenson can be reached at 226-3405 or at stevenson@sptimes.com.

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