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Old diner needs new lease on life

The New City Diner, once again vacant, has seen many lives, but it's owner thinks there are still more meals to be served.

By MICHAEL CANNING and AMY SCHERZER
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 13, 2002


THE LITTLE DINER THAT COULD? WON'T? CAN'T? Once again the New City Diner sits dormant, waiting for yet another lease on its long life.

The stainless steel, 1952-vintage diner doled out blue plate specials as Ayres Diner from a spot on Dale Mabry Highway near Kennedy Boulevard until 1993. Then it moved, as diners were originally designed to do, to the northwest corner of Himes Avenue and Cypress Boulevard.

There it has changed hands and names several times. In recent years it even enjoyed a short but popular run as a purveyor of New American cuisine. It closed again two months ago after another change of hands and return to traditional diner fare.

And now the signs looming on adjacent lots could worry the diner's faithful. Coming soon: Tampa Bay 1. Office, hotel, retail mega development.

It would cast a shadow over the little diner as well as nearby Interstate 275.

But for now, the landlord wants the diner to stay. Josephine Vitale, executive vice president of Bromley Companies, which owns the diner and Tampa Bay 1's land, is looking for someone to lease the New City and revive it yet again. "It was successful," Vitale said. "I'm sure it could be successful again."

Those who think they can bring Happy Days Again to Cypress and Himes can call Vitale at (813) 871-3434.

IMPRESSIONS OF KENNEDY BOULEVARD: We're not asking for yours.

It's just that Impressions furniture store of Pinellas Park is opening its second location at 3710 W Kennedy Blvd., site of the former Duron paint store.

The 5,000-square-foot showroom will be strewn with contemporary furniture, including Italian leather lines and neon accent lighting. The opening is tentatively set for Sunday.

Okay, go ahead and give us your impressions of Kennedy. But try to be fair.

STILL NOODLING WITH THE NOODLE LOUNGE: Chalk it up to a newborn, the post-9/11 economy and good old fashioned artistic temperament.

Things have to be just right for B.T. Nguyen. Fans of her and husband Norman Batley's restaurants Yellow Door and Cafe B.T. -- stylish eateries with engaging Asian fusion menus -- don't have to be told.

So the couple's third restaurant, the Noodle Lounge, is still under wraps despite their original intent to open right after Labor Day. "I just don't want to do something until it's ready," said Nguyen. It's getting there, she insists.

Concealed by brown wrapping paper in the windows, the Noodle Lounge is taking shape next door to Cafe B.T. at 3324 W Gandy Blvd.

Nguyen's promise of decor based on Zen notions of balance, plus cool colors and natural textures, have appeared. A bamboo wall conceals the kitchen. Egg wash yellow covers another wall, and there's burlap on still another.

Hanging lamps are fitted with shades fashioned from non las, the familiar conical straw hats of rural Vietnam. Quotes from Confucius will grace the wait staff's shirts. Art photography by Batley is also planned.

The food concept was inspired by the chic big city noodle houses that combine Asian noodle bowl recipes with modern presentation.

After citing the hard times restaurants have endured in the recent economy and the birth of her son five months ago, Nguyen remains reluctant to give an opening date. Not long after the holidays is all she offers.

Confucius say: "It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop."

MOUTH WAS BIG, NOW LOUD: And is there a meaningful difference when it's time to grab a cheeseburger with all the trimmings and shove it home?

Probably not to you or to LTP Management, the restaurant group that owns Centro Ybor's Big Mouth, soon to be renamed Loud Mouth. General manager Joe Vigurello says LTP is merely tweaking the burger joint's concept out a little more. He said he doesn't know when the name change will be implemented, but that imprinting of the new name has already begun.

Store supervisor Landon McCool and waiter Brian Ray entered the company's re-naming contest held before LTP settled on Loud Mouth. They could practically feel the Disney World tickets prize in their hands when the brass indicated they liked their submissions -- Lockjaw and Yappers. But corporate settled on Loud Mouth.

NEW STORES AT CHANNELSIDE: The shopping/entertainment complex at downtown's port has two new stores in its lower level.

Paintings of the World is a 1,900-square-foot gallery featuring oil paintings by artists from all over the world. Modern, contemporary, abstracts, landscapes, traditional, aquatic and themes are offered, along with a wide selection of frames.

Ciara's specializes in women's accessories and gifts. The 800-square-foot boutique carries shoes, handbags, jewelry and more.

MORE SHOES ON SNOW: But no snow shoes. Women's clothing store Georgette's in Old Hyde Park Village is expanding with a new 1,000-square-foot shoe salon, opening Saturday.

Tucked away for 15 years on the village's Snow Circle, Georgette's expansion amounts to a show of support for the shopping center, which has recently lost key retailers.

Opening day festivities will include drawings for a free pair of shoes every hour, drawings for Brighton accessories and door prizes from other village retailers. Mia's Restaurant will provide hors d'oeuvres.

-- Do you know something that should be everybody's business? Call 226-3382, or e-mail citytimes@sptimes.com.

SoHo's new soap

Just Peachy, Princess and Stained Glass are three of more than 50 designs of vegetable-based glycerin soap made daily at the newly opened Milagros, 701 S Howard Ave. The Sister Agnes soap, named for the patron saint of girls, is a bubbly blend of essential oils and fragrances poured into a loaf and sold by the slice. Even the creative designs within each loaf are made of soap. It's $7.50 per half-pound, or $4 for mini-bars. Call for hours, 251-1255.

-- AMY SCHERZER

City Times: The rest of the stories

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  • Lighting up the night
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  • Thanks to him, many seniors are bowling
  • Politician paved way for Latins to come
  • The musical that roared
  • Old diner needs new lease on life
  • Restaurant at Knight airport shuts doors
  • Shadow warrior
  • Neighborhood notebook
  • Market, restaurant to liven up MacDill
  • Nocturnal 'Pizza Man' gets a taste of closure
  • A home designed for cooking
  • Thriving city life is the goal
  • Home accessories serve up pictures of Zimbabwe
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