If you’ve ever tripped drunk in downtown St. Petersburg on the first Friday or hopped into a bar after a concert at Jannus Live, chances are you’ve danced at the Ringside Cafe. But the days of serving stiff drinks at 16 2nd St. N will soon be a thing of the past, as the popular bar and venue hosts the final show at its current location on January 29.
Last month, Ringside staff discovered that the lease was not likely to be renewed and that another business was soon to move out of its current space. “We are doing our best to find another home for Ringside, if anyone has access to a suitable location please feel free to message us,” he wrote on Facebook.
Laura Wood, a seasoned Ringside bartender, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that she had to do some research to confirm their lease was not going to be renewed because it was not directly communicated to anyone from Ringside staff, including including its owner Greg Pugh. Wood officially found out that Ringside was moved the day before Thanksgiving and mentioned seeing men getting out of limos to spot Ringside before word became official.
For nearly nine years, Ringside has leased from Jeff Knight of Knight Enterprises, the company behind several downtown St. Pete businesses, including Jannus Live, Pelican Pub, MacDinton’s Irish Pub and Detroit Liquors. Ringside also uses Knight Enterprises’ liquor license, as do the other Knight businesses on this block.
Wood said Jeff Knight showed the new owners around the space.
“At our eight-year-old birthday party a few weeks ago, the new owners were there with measuring tapes — it was so awkward,” she laughed. Eventually, she and other staff began to see surveyors interested in the property, and soon after it was clear that Ringside would soon have to leave.
“From what we’re hearing, there’s supposed to be a ’70s-style nightclub where Ringside is,” Mitch Gray, Ringside’s longtime manager, told CL. “Then apparently the same group also takes over the location of St. Pete’s MacDinton, and it’s supposedly going to become a western bar – we hear.”
None of the rumors can be confirmed, but the juiciest one involved Florida-born pop-country singer Chase Rice, who is one of the names locals have thrown around when it comes to upcoming business at 16 2nd St. N Rice is best known for co-writing the hit “Cruise” and this year’s single “Drinkin’ Beer.” God speaks. Amen. —both performed by Florida Georgia Line. Representatives for Rice responded to a CL inquiry, but have not yet confirmed or denied that he is involved with a new concert venue or bar in downtown St. Pete.
“I don’t know if he’s the only player, or if there are others,” Mitch says of the popular country music singer.
Mitch told CL that by the time Ringside’s doors close at the end of January, there will hopefully be a new location lined up. “We already have the formula for success, it’s just a matter of finding a new spot,” Wood added.
Most Ringside staff will hopefully follow the venue to its undetermined new location elsewhere in St. Petersburg. Wood points out that technically, she and the other Ringside staff are employees of Knight Enterprises, so they have the option of being employed at one of his other companies, whether it’s at Ringside’s big brother, Jannus. , or in another of his many companies.
Gray drew similarities between Ringside’s current search for a new home and when he was evicted from his previous location on N 4th Avenue in 2013.
“It was the same kind of thing at our last location,” he said. “We heard rumors that Trader Joes was coming, but we didn’t know until residential neighbors received notices of the new parking lot and we started seeing survey flags everywhere.”
For more than two decades, Ringside operated from its location at 2742 4th St. N (which is now St. Pete’s only Trader Joe’s) before moving to its current downtown St. Pete space, which once housed Club Detroit. Longtime patrons of the venue can only hope that the 2022 transition will be as smooth as it was almost 10 years ago.
Both Wood and Gray worked at the original 4th Street location for decades before moving to its current location, and they will continue to follow wherever the business goes next, along with Ringside’s loyal customers.
Sadly, Ringside Cafe is one of many live music venues in St. Petersburg that has announced its closure and/or relocation over the past year – and surviving multiple COVID lockdowns and restrictions hasn’t been easy. In their chat with CL, Wood and Gray joked about teaming up with John Kelly, owner of the soon-to-close Hideaway, to find a new place together. Tampa Bay music lovers can dream.
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