Chapter One by Frank Katzenmeyer
It was typical of me to drive thru Ybor City on my way home after visiting my wife at Garden of Memories. But on this beautiful December Sunday in 1997, it was different, a day that would change the rest of my life.
Going west on 7th. Ave. I turned on 15th St. to Palm Avenue. This large two story building (circa 1929) had a bevy of people working inside and out. A large banner was hanging from the building reading - OPENING SOON.
A SWING CLUB in Ybor? I asked myself. I was invited in to look around. This building has three doors facing 15th Street. The most Northern door was open. As I stood for a few moments at the entrance I was amazed at the beauty. Directly ahead, across the wall was a bar typical of the workmanship of days gone by. To the left were tables and chairs for dining with a terrazzo floor. To the right was a one step up small stage. At the left was a lounge also with a stage and bar, then another room to the right divided by a large archway, both areas with cafe style tables and chairs. A door led directly to 15th Street. The idea at first was to have an old fashioned soda fountain in the cafe open during the day, and the larger room to be the dining room for dinner before going upstairs to dance.-Sugar Palm Card-
A large double iron gate was between the other two doors. This was the entrance to the upstairs, but was not open yet because of renovation. On the Palm Avenue side to the rear was a private entrance to the office, kitchen, dressing, and bath room.-Sugar Palm Entrance-
Over the next couple of weeks I would go back to view the progress. I was given a flyer and complimentary tickets. Without any fanfare on December 31, 1997 the street level floor was open, inviting people in. I did not go.
The next day (January 1st. 1998) I called the number on the flyer. Connie answered the phone and invited me down. As soon as I reached the door she met me and immediately introduced me to Barbara and Bob, the owners of the building and club. The conversation was flowing freely and telling me their plans, and asking me about my interest. My interest was that I am familiar with this style of night life. There were several younger people hanging out and very inquisitive about social clubs of days gone by.-Connie Greeting-
During the month of January 1998, I was at the club every night socializing and meeting new people. The upstairs was now under speedy renovation including a new dance floor.-Big Daddy-
‘BIG DADDY’ dressed in an all white suit, shoes, and hat was the official door man. Matt was the in house DJ spinning original 33 1/3 LP vinyl records. During the first few weeks in January we were during some dancing on the terrazzo first floor, but mainly just socializing and meeting new friends. We would invite people walking by to come in, but the most asked question, “WHAT IS SWING?”, would keep them heading toward 7th Avenue. As time went on they would know, with the help of the Gap TV Commercial.-DJ Matt Micas-
Barbara, Bob, and I were kicking around ideas. There was a large vertical ’BALLROOM’ sign mounted to the corner of the building. The idea at first was to call it THE SUGAR PALM BALLROOM. I suggested they drop the word BALLROOM and call it THE SUGAR PALM CLUB, or to some of us THE CLUB or THE SUGAR PALM.
The younger crowd, soon to be the staples of the club, were continuing asking about the dress, attitude, and lingo of the times. Most of this was even before me, but as a kid I was as interested then as they were now, and soon had that positive attitude. The lingo for instance was, “There’s a Gig down at the Club and the Chics and Daddy'o would meet the rest of the Gang there with their Glad Rags on”.
The focus was now on the second floor. Getting ready for opening night.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK