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Two old favorites revived on SoHo

Remember MacDinton's and New City Diner? Look for them in a new incarnation.

By MICHAEL CANNING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 26, 2002


RESTAURANTS BACK FROM THE DEAD: Lazarus hearts beat once again for old Tampa favorites MacDinton's and New City Diner.

MacDinton's. Reminds you of when SoHo was called South Howard. When the neighborhood was a little edgier and not packed in with shiny new businesses and traffic-calming landscaping.

In the mid-'80s MacDinton's was Tampa's hottest live music venue. Rock circuit king Johnny G. Lyon Band specialized in four-hour marathon jams there at post-Gasparilla tent parties.

MacDinton's closed in 1994. A litany of bar/restaurants followed at 405 S Howard Ave., including the Penalty Box sports bar.

Now the 1936 Tudor revival house is getting a big makeover, particularly its dark and formerly dingy interior. And the old moniker will be cleverly revived, despite new ownership and theme.

MacDinton's Irish Pub and Restaurant is tentatively scheduled to open Wednesday. Inside, the building's various wings have been converted into Irish-themed dioramas: an Irish country restaurant and shop, a Dublin Victorian pub and a curragh (Gaelic for "row boat") room.

An elaborate antique oak desk has been converted into a grand bar back. A faux barrel loft for Guinness stout hangs over an Irish country road sign that tells us Breaffy is only 3 miles. A painted scroll in the entrance foyer declares: "What Guinness and Irish whiskey will not cure, there's no cure for."

Outside, a brick patio with bar and classic Georgian door will beckon Howard traffic. The menu will feature Irish and continental cuisine, according to interior designer Clive Keogh.

No word on whether Johnny G. Lyon Band -- now JGLB -- will plug in on the stage inside.

From 1936 Tudor to 1950 American diner, another blow for historic restaurant preservation will be struck, also tentatively by Wednesday..

The New City Diner, a short-lived but fervently patronized New American outpost at Cypress Street and Himes Avenue, will re-open as Mendel's New City Diner.

Gone is the original's nouvelle-leaning menu. Classic American comfort food will hark back to the building's long diner history, first as Ayer's nearby on Dale Mabry Highway, then relatively briefly in the '90s as T.J.'s Galaxy Diner and N.C.D. at it's current 1002 N Himes Ave.

New owners Kelly and Paul Mendel have largely preserved the diner's decor. That's what hooked the recent Albany, N.Y., transplants.

"It's nostalgia," said Kelly. "In New York, there's so many diners, and here there aren't."

The diner will be open for breakfast and lunch at first. Dinner hours may be added later. Catering will also be offered.

HAO WAH DEMOLISHED, BUT RETURNING: One of South Tampa's favorite stand-bys for Chinese buffet is now an empty lot. The recent demolition of Hao Wah even left minor scars on neighboring World of Lighting.

But owner Ben Quach says a new Hao Wah will rise from the rubble at 1713 S Dale Mabry Blvd. sometime in August. He says the decades-old building was outdated and needed to be replaced.

It's going around. Steak 'n Shake, another S Dale Mabry landmark two blocks south, is also being rebuilt.

Hao Wah's decor will be more contemporary but its size won't change.

The menu, and the popular Chinese buffet, will return, along with a few new Vietnamese and Japanese dishes.

STILL HUNGRY? Thai cuisine is coming to Channelside. Saala Thai will open this summer in Suite 204, directly across from the movie theaters.

Entrepreneur Somdej Khunduang, who also owns Sawatdee Thai Cuisine and Pour House Caribbean restaurant, hopes to open by early July.

The 5,000-square-foot restaurant will add to the shopping and entertainment complex's belated-but-building momentum. Expect an upscale vibe, with liquor and sushi bars and elaborate, King Rama the Fifth-era decor. Live entertainment, too.

-- Do you know something that should be everybody's business? Call 226-3382.

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