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Grand Central

Gone like a good margarita

patty ryan
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By PATTY RYAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 21, 2003

I LOVED Consuelo's.

We would gather there after work on Fridays for margaritas, so pungent that my friend Kurt Loft called them "jet fuel."

Two or three of us would straggle in, saving a table for 12.

House mariachis Joe and Bob (last names still a mystery) hovered over us with guitars. Sometimes they sang the "wonton tomato" song, our pronunciation of Guantanamera, a ballad based on a poem by Jose Marti.

CONSUELO'S was the epicenter of South Tampa.

I try explaining this to those who see only a strip of dingy, rundown storefronts, soon to be demolished in the name of progress.

Can't they look back and find us in a corner, making plans to attend the Artists and Writers Ball? Can't they smell the nachos al carbon?

Do they even realize that Michael and Patricia Rodriguez met -- and got married -- at Consuelo's?

THE RESTAURANT, current site of the Sport Shak, had been named for Michael's Great-Aunt Consuelo, now in her 90s and living in Harlingen, Texas, still taking care of a son with cerebral palsy.

Consuelo ran her namesake for just a few years, before leaving it in the care of family.

Her descendents were better known to us.

THERE WAS Michael, who now has his own busy restaurant, Miguel's on Kennedy Boulevard.

There was Lisa, his sister, who bought and operated Consuelo's for more than a decade with her (now ex) husband, Rick.

These days, she works for her father in Waco, Texas, at a Mexican restaurant franchise named Ninfa's, started by her Great-Aunt Ninfa, Consuelo's sister. (Next time you're hungry in Waco, drop by 220 S Third St.)

REMEMBER Lisa's baby Ricky, who played in a crib in the bar because Lisa couldn't bear to give him up to a babysitter? (A bartender could bottle-feed Ricky with one hand while mixing a drink with the other.)

Remember how fast Ricky grew? "All the customers knew Ricky," Lisa says. "He'd walk up and look at them and they'd give him a chip. He was like a little puppy."

Ricky, 20, is in community college now, hoping to transfer to Texas A&M.

IT IS pointed out to me that merchants don't seem too unhappy with the coming demolition of the tired commercial center that includes the old Consuelo's, Kalupa's Bakery and Bertha's Nutrition Shoppes.

Only we, the former patrons, are laden with these feelings of nostalgia.

Michael and Lisa, too, get the news and are a little sad.

"In a way, it's part of Tampa's charm," Michael says of the corner.

SOME VIEW Tampa through a filter of all the things we are not.

Maybe that's how cities grow.

But it's nice sometimes to appreciate what we are, and to remember where we have been.

-- Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Writer Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or pryan@sptimes.com .

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