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New hot spot, the sound of kindness

Ernest Hooper
Published September 17, 2004

For the past several years, the top nighttime destinations have been on the south end of Tampa.

For the young at heart in New Tampa, Carrollwood and other parts north of the city, dance clubs and upscale bars have been few and far between, forcing most folks to drift south to International Plaza, South Howard Avenue or Channelside.

And I guess there's still Ybor City.

But now there appears to be some places north of the city that are poised to make a splash.

Faze 2 Lounge, 2807 E Busch Blvd., has been up and running since February and appears to be thriving, especially on Saturday nights. One of the most impressive aspects is the management structure.

Yes, it has a management structure. It includes an owner, chief financial officer, director of security and director of public relations.

These guys are serious.

Owner Ken Shobola says he and investors dropped more than $1-million into renovating the old Don Pablo's restaurant. Changes included adding an upstairs VIP section, a dance floor and five bars. It also has a full menu with fresh sushi, a rarity in the club scene.

The club recently announced two new promotions linked to the Bucs: a party after each home game; and Monday night appearances by safety Dwight Smith.

Faze 2 has developed a distinct following among African-American business professionals, but CFO Akin Ashekun says the goal is to draw diverse crowds like the clubs in larger cities, such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

The club's not there yet, but it's a cut above what has been typical for north of Tampa.

"We've had a lot of people come all the way from South Tampa," Ashekun said. "Every part of the crowd is starting to fit in well. It's a great atmosphere, a nice networking opportunity rather than just drinking. Adults rather than kids.

"You're around people with integrity."

Matching the panache of a big-city club is a lofty goal, to say the least, but it certainly appears a business plan is in place. Ashekun and Shobola both say they are in this for the long run.

Meanwhile, the Margarita Mama's/Banana Joe's concept that originally blossomed at Channelside appears to be doing well in its second location at University Mall. Stephan Massarella said Thursday his place has been slammed since opening in May. Another possibility is Whiskey Park, which plans to expand to a second location north of Tampa. Owners of the popular SoHo bar have acquired the old Club Joy at 11921 N Dale Mabry Highway.

Managing partner Chris Scott wasn't giving too many details on Thursday but said he's excited about the opportunity. He did say that Whiskey Park North would be quite different from the SoHo spot.

The plan is to open in late October.

For the next three days, you can pick up books and music at Borders' five Tampa Bay area locations and help out the Florida Orchestra's HeartStrings program.

Through Sunday, customers can request that 15 percent of their total purchases go to the program, which puts free concert tickets in the hands of local social service agencies that distribute them to the less fortunate.

It's nice the orchestra is trying to help out, despite their own recent misfortunes.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com

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