Saloon celebrates Cracker lifestyle

Published June 29, 2007

Except for the brass dancing poles, you wouldn't know the place had been Dreams, a bikini bar on N Nebraska Avenue.

It has undergone a character change. You can't buy a dance anymore, but you can sip from a Coon Dog, an Ornery Nelly or a Cracker Tea. Dreams has turned into the Southern Ground Saloon.

"What we're looking for is the people here in Florida that love the country, Cracker lifestyle, " said owner Roger Rigau.

Dreams closed at the end of the year, after Rigau bought the business and its liquor license instead of renewing its lease. He has owned the property, immediately south of CarMax near Bearss Avenue, for 24 years.

Southern Ground has been open since, but in a state of renovation. The lounge was expanded into a former screened porch and dance platforms were removed. The grand opening is tonight and Saturday, with music by Southern Rukus, a North Florida country rock band.

For Rigau's family, Southern Ground marks another chapter in a quarter century of bar and restaurant work. Their most popular place was Blaikie's, a steak house that thrived at the apex of Nebraska and Florida avenues until it closed in 1994 to be razed for the widening of the two roads. The Rigaus also are landlords for the L.A. Hangout on Florida.

For several years, Rigau's wife, Kathy, ran the Born to Ride Saloon at the Southern Ground property, catering to Harley riders. Then a series of tenants shuttled through, culminating with Dreams.

With Southern Ground, the Rigaus hope to revive a few memories of Blaikie's. They pledge to bring back Blaikie's secret steak seasonings and salad dressing. The menu includes a 22-ounce black Angus porterhouse for $24.50, plus fried venison and gator tail.

The menu also notes, "Florida Cracker is spoken here ... "

Bill Coats can be reached at 813 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.


Fast Facts:

A few drink specialties at Southern Ground

Coon Dog: Crown Royal, Southern Comfort, blackberry brandy.

Cracker Tea: Southern Comfort, Jack Daniels, Coke, orange juice, lime juice.

Southern Moonshine: Grain alcohol, Citron vodka, lime juice.

Romp'n Stomp'n Kick Butt Punch: Malibu rum, Myers rum, white rum, 151 floater, Blue Curacao, apple pucker, grenadine, orange and pineapple pucker.

Ornery Nelly (named for a certain old tractor): Cherry vodka, Southern Comfort, lime juice, sweet and sour, cranberry drink, apple and melon pucker, Blue Curacao, orange juice.