Thursday, January 24, 2019

Sarasota


The Crescent Club wasn’t the Salty Dog Cafe, Pirahna Pete’s Oyster Pub, the Sneaky Tiki* or any other t-shirt hawking/Jimmy Buffet fantasy restaurant that might be real or something I made up. The place looked more like a nautical themed bar from the 70s, designed for a nostalgic period piece. Except it wasn’t created for a movie, it just was.


- Debbie and The Crescent Club.


My buddy Bob had recommended it to me after I had solicited Sarasota suggestions via Twitter. He thought it’d be a watering hole that I’d like, a place he described as truly local and hiding amongst the throngs of tourist traps. Fifteen years ago, this was the place where he had witnessed “The Bartman Incident” play out on live television during a family vacation.

“I sat speechless in the corner as Alou had a temper tantrum, Prior threw a wild pitch, Gonzalez botched a grounder, and the Cubs let [The] Florida [Marlins] put up 8 runs in the 8th,” he told me.

When I had asked for recommendations of things to see during an upcoming trip to Florida, Bob’s contribution hit the closest to home. I don’t eat sea food (unless you count Chinese buffet crab rangoon), but I do love interesting bars with cheap beer. As a Reds fans looking back on his way to the club's former spring training home, I had little sympathy for what Bob had experienced here, but could absolutely appreciate the way memories are tied to certain physical places. This would be worth visiting. Backing up Bob’s claims, Google described the place as a “dark watering hole for locals.”

I wondered what constituted a “local,” though. People actually from here who have lived in a vacation destination their whole life? Retirees who migrated from parts north and colder? Those with expensive condos who hung out here part time? Tourists familiar with the landscape who considered themselves part of the OG populace no matter how much sunscreen they still required?

Nevertheless, the bar lived up to the expectations and descriptions. I walked out of the bright sun into a dark room lined with white walls and a wood panel ceiling—imitation pilot wheels on the wall. I grabbed a stool, the youngest person seated at the bar.

The bartender greeted me, allowed me to pick from the draft selection of Budweiser and Bud Light, and then took my card to start a tab. She immediately turned around and I had a slight panic. I had given a travel notice to my bank and I was pretty sure there was money in the account, but how was I getting declined on charge for $2.75 and how was I going to get home if I couldn’t even afford a draft of Bud heavy? She seemed startled, maybe displeased as she looked me dead in the eye. I was worried that she thought I might be trying to pull a scam.

“Your name’s Ronny Salerno?” she asked.

“Yeah, that’s my card,” I said.

There was a slight delay before her serious expression turned to a smile and she exclaimed: “That’s my father’s exact name!”

I was struck by the coincidences that kept lining up as our conversation continued and Debbie showed me the goosebumps on her arm. She had found Florida and the Crescent Club by way of various states and cities, originally hailing from Michigan. Her father, now also a Florida resident elsewhere in the state, shared a full legal moniker with me (and I hadn't stolen his card). The expiration date on my piece of plastic (that thankfully worked and provided beer) doubled as the date of Debbie’s daughter’s birthday. We discussed coincidences and what had respectively brought us to this place. When I mentioned I was in Florida to visit family that had first met in Terre-Haute, Indiana—Debbie told me about the three patrons earlier that day who had also hailed from the Indiana city. When discussing the commonality of our last name, but the lack of obvious blood relation (a theme that had happened to both of us when finding other Salerno’s throughout the nation), Debbie and her regulars spoke of Bobby Salerno—the local Elvis actor who had passed away in 2005 (“one of Southwest Florida’s most popular Elvis impersonators” according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2002).

I meant to, but forget to, ask Debbie if she had ever been to her hometown’s double-screen drive-in, a place I had photographed in its abandoned state the year before. The coincidences weren’t as exciting to those I eventually recounted the experience to. Maybe it’s not even that interesting here on QC/D? Either way, I was struck by them while enjoying the conversation and cold beers on a good trip.


I had been to Florida once before: a family vacation to Walt Disney World/Orlando/Cape Canaveral. My car isn’t emblazoned with a “Salt Life” sticker, nor do I pine for the music or lifestyle of “parrot heads” who have found themselves contemplating life in “Margaritaville” (I also never cared for either of Cincinnati’s short-lived Jimmy Buffet inspired eateries) For me, Florida isn’t so much of a coveted destination due to its beaches, ocean access, or vacation potential. I like the place simply because it’s warm in the winter. It may sound like a cliche notion, one enjoyed by “snow birds” all over the nation and once by my own grandparents, but it’s true. It was so incredibly refreshing to escape the gray skies of the Midwest for 70 degree temperatures, grass, and blue skies for a few days. I even got dehydrated while jogging. I forgot what the heat was like despite Cincinnati’s relatively mild winter so far (although now that I get around to typing this, the ground is covered in snow, the temperature is 8 degrees and my car’s starter is being challenged).

While in Florida, I remembered how much I love summer and of how tourist towns/popular vacation spots aren’t always my thing. Still, it was great to see some family and ring in the New Year with wonderful people. Sarasota itself was an interesting city, much bigger than I expected and had read about. There was good coffee, interesting art, and plenty of shops selling sea shells that you can find on the beach for free. We partook in a parking lot carnival on the way to dinner one night, went kayaking through tunnels of mangrove trees, and I still drank warm, black coffee no matter how hot it was.

- Sarasota Bay.

- Parking lot carnival, Downtown Sarasota.

- Sarasota jogging route.

- Helicopter repurposed as an advertisement for helicopter tours.

- Art in a parking garage.

- Parking garage art continued.

- Parking garage art by the world famous Eduardo Kobra who also created "Armstrong" in Cincinnati.

- Streets of Sarasota.

- Another Eduardo Kobra piece in Sarasota.

- Condo tower construction.

- Coffee shop patio.

- Coffee shop sea shells.

- Near the beach.

- A store with a questionable statue hawking patriotic fish tank tops.


*The Salty Dog Cafe and the Sneaky Tiki are real, Pirahna Pete's Oyster Pub is not.

2 comments:

  1. The epicenter of the Amish snowbird community in Florida is the corner of Bahia Vista and Beneva rd. Grab a bite with the locals and the Amish at Yoder's (arrive with a large appetite) and shop next door at the fruit and vegi market. Visit nearby Pinecraft Park where Amish seniors play and while away the hours. Worth the trip.

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    1. I am definitely keeping this in mind for our next trip down. Thanks for the recommendation! We went to a different Amish restaurant that was wonderful, but I was curious as to how such a large community came to be down there. This all sounds awesome. Thanks, James!

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