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Soft Opening on Thursday, June 18

Hotspots Exclusive Interview

Southern Nights was an Orlando institution for 35 years, providing generations of the Central Florida LGBT community with very fond memories. The Southern Nights brand, once defunct, triumphantly returned to Orlando in 2014, and will now soon be a part of the Tampa scene. After the final party at GBar on May 30, ownership of the space at 1401 E. 7th Avenue in Ybor City will be transferred to Southern Nights. Southern Nights Tampa, which of course will have Southern Nights Orlando’s essence, tailor-made to fit a tight-knit neighborhood like Tampa’s Ybor City, will be introduced to crowds starting with their soft opening on Thursday, June 18 at 9 p.m.southern-nights_Rick

I spoke with owner Rick Kowalczyk about Southern Nights opening a new location in Tampa in this exclusive Hotspots interview.

Why did you decide to open a Southern Nights location in Tampa?

I’ve been coming to Tampa for 12 years now and I love the gay scene here. What they’re doing over here is so exciting. With all the history that the Orlando location has, Tampa just seemed like a really easy market to cross over to. I was very excited when I was approached by Stephen Moss about the opportunity to take over GBar’s space. I jumped at the opportunity. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time.

Tell us about the soft opening on June 18. What can people expect?

It’s a showcase of what we’re going to do throughout the week. Our Fridays of course are going to be different, showcasing the girls, and then on Saturdays we’re going to showcase the guys and market toward the guys, which is the opposite of what we do in Orlando. So for the soft opening, we’re going to have girl dancers and guy dancers. We’re going to have a couple of drag shows and spotlight shows too. What we really want to do is give people an idea of all the things we do at Southern Nights, as opposed to just unveiling it day by day and giving you a little piece of something now and a little piece the next day and so on.

What kinds of theme nights do you feel Tampa doesn’t have enough of, and will Southern Nights fill those voids?

There’s theme nights and then there’s demographics. Having our Friday night as the female night should be interesting because I don’t know if there’s a strong enough female presence coming out to the bars in Tampa and hopefully we can bring that demographic forward. A lot of people identify the Southern Nights brand with lesbian crowds, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We have had lesbian nights for the past 25 years. So if we can incorporate that into the Friday nights over here, that would be great for us.

When it comes to other demographics and theme nights, I know we are going to be showcasing the up-and-coming drag stars on Wednesday nights. It can be hard for some performers to break into the scene, so I want to try to make that easier. Every eight weeks we’re going to have a competition and the winner will win a cash prize and get to perform on Saturday nights with the girls there.

GBar has college nights every Tuesday and we’re going to continue that tradition at Southern Nights Tampa. I can’t reveal our Thursdays yet but I can say that we will be doing something that no other bar is doing in Tampa Bay, so I’m really excited about bringing that to the table. I just wish I could finally tell people about it!

What would you say to the Tampa community to convince them to check Southern Nights Tampa out?

I think one thing that I really want people to know is that we’re not reinventing something from scratch. We’re using a lot of people who used to work at GBar, because we know that’s a place that a lot of people loved to go to for nine years. We respect what they’ve done here. The transition between GBar and Southern Nights is going to be a smooth transition if there’s anything I can do about it because I have so much respect for what they’ve done. I am excited about what we’re going to bring over to Tampa though.

Southern Nights Tampa will be located at 1401 E. 7th Avenue in Ybor City and will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays to start out. “Like” them on Facebook by going to facebook.com/southernnightstampa.southern-nights_montage

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Mike Halterman
Mike Halterman has been the editor of Hotspots Central since its launch in July 2016. He joined the Hotspots Media Group family as editor of Hotspots' South Florida magazine in June 2013. A former "40 Under 40" honoree in The Advocate magazine, Mike lives in the Tampa Bay area.