ST. PETERSBURG — The walls of the Ringside cafe are lined with autographed posters of bluesmen like Delbert McClinton and Pinetop Perkins, who have played the venue at least once during its 26 years. These relics, along with framed sports memorabilia and an oriental rug on the small stage, won’t remain much longer, though.
Owner Greg Pugh said he plans to move the bar to a different, yet-to-be-determined space after hearing the current landowner, who owns the 2700 block of Fourth Street North, is likely selling the land beneath it. This comes as another key nightspot in St. Petersburg, the downtown Garden Restaurant and Lobby Bar, recently announced it is on the verge of shutting its doors.
The relocation of the former and the closure of the latter, both of which have been mainstays since well before the latest downtown renaissance, mark big changes for St. Petersburg’s evolving nightlife scene.
Pugh, who has owned the Ringside for 20 years, stressed he is not closing for good. He said he plans to reopen elsewhere because there aren’t many other venues in the area with daily live music from local as well as national acts.
“It’s not like we make a ton of money on this,” he said. “That’s why most people don’t do it seven nights a week, because it’s really hard to keep it going. But we believe in it, and we believe in the musicians.”
The Ringside’s current home is a former boxing arena — the announcer’s box still is on the second floor — that originally was built in 1918 as a boarding house, Pugh said. It shares a block with a barbershop that is nearly 50 years old, a consignment shop and a Mexican restaurant.
Moving the Ringside will be bittersweet for Pugh.
“We are what we are,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean we stay the same. Am I going to be able to find another building (built in) 1918? I don’t know.”
He said he is not sure when the venue will move, but it should be by the beginning of next year.
The Lobby and Garden, meanwhile, are part of the old Detroit Hotel building that houses Jannus Live, the Kitchen and MacDinton’s. The Garden for years hosted trombone player Buster Cooper, who played in Duke Ellington’s band, while the Lobby has had more of a nightclub atmosphere targeting people in their 20s.
The venue announced on its Facebook page that it is closing Tuesday.
Observers say the restaurants and bars that have grown up around it along Central Avenue might be challenging for the 20-year-old spot.
“Many will see the namesake as a loss, as it is considered one of St. Pete’s oldest restaurants,” said Brian Bailey, who maintains the blog “I Love the Burg.” “Yet it has had a hard time maintaining its place among the growing competition, outside of very busy weekends. ... I suspect we’ll see many more similar changes along Central in the coming months.”
Whatever happens, said Olga Bof of Keep St. Pete Local, she hopes to see the emphasis on live local music, which has been carried out at venues like The Ale and the Witch and the Hideaway, continue in St. Petersburg.
“The wonderful thing about St. Pete has been its unique spirit,” she said. “There is something to be said for places that foster the ability for local musicians, local artists to flourish.”