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The Big Easy, the old 'Box and 'Piano Man'


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001

The people in the office thought I was joking, but that was a look of real panic on my face when I heard yet another rumor that the Chatterbox was going to be razed.

The people in the office thought I was joking, but that was a look of real panic on my face when I heard yet another rumor that the Chatterbox was going to be razed.

Calm returned when Chatterbox proprietor Dan Lea said reports about the demise of Hillsborough's oldest bar have been greatly exaggerated.


Developers often express interest in the property, Lea said. Just a stone's throw from the new Madison at SoHo Apartments and immediately next to a new retail complex which includes Starbucks, the location is beyond desirable.

There is nothing particularly special about the 68-year-old 'Box, other than the memories of good times. The simple combination of a cold beer, a hot juke box and fun people have enlivened many a night.

If you hear Piano Man playing in the background as you read this, you know where I'm coming from.

* * *

Outback Steakhouse may end up having a riverside bistro next to the Tampa Convention Center. The convention center's cafe is being converted into meeting rooms, so a new restaurant is needed.

Aramark, the center's caterer, has partnered with Outback to propose building a smaller version of an Outback restaurant facing Seddon Channel and Davis Islands.

The City Council has to approve the deal.

* * *

The top item being auctioned at Mayor Greco's beautification program fundraiser at the A La Carte Pavilion tonight? A five-day trip to Mardi Gras 2002 in New Orleans, including tickets to the exclusive Endymion Ball and passes to ride costumed in the parade of the Orpheus Krewe, founded by Harry Connick Jr. Estimated value: $10,000.

* * *

When Barbara Von Pagel won $64,000 on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire last month, she thanked members of her Tuesday Night Trivia Club.

This week, the reservations agent for Northwest Airlines at Tampa International found a tastier way to show her appreciation. When the trivia group gathered on Tuesday for its weekly competition at Bilmar Station in Carrollwood, Von Pagel surprised them with a big cheesecake flown in from New York's Carnegie Deli.

* * *

I'm filing suit against the producers of Disney On Ice and Arthur -- A Live Adventure for mental anguish. For two children's stage shows to come to town the same week is just evil for all of us paycheck-to-paycheck parents.

Disney is at the Ice Palace through Sunday, while Arthur is at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center through Sunday.

* * *

Don't be surprised if you see people walking around the Sickles High track with lit candles tonight at 9:30. The special ceremony is part of Relay For Life, one in a series of community fundraisers this month for the American Cancer Society.

Groups pitch tents on the infield and commit to having at least one member walk on the track from 6 p.m. until noon Saturday.

* * *

Memo to the editors: If I tell my wife I'm at work, and you call the house with a question on my column, she's going to know I'm out at some place like the Chatterbox. Capice? Call the cell phone.

- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com. His column appears on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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