Hideaway Cafe is a music lover’s dream
By Tom Chang
St. Petersburg – When you travel down Central Avenue heading toward Tropicana Field, you will see a hodgepodge of shops, bars, clubs and restaurants. If you blink on the way, you might just miss one of the best kept secrets of the Florida music scene.
The Hideaway Café sits by the overpass of I-275 near the designated Central Avenue parking zones for Tropicana Field. Singer/songwriter John Kelly owns and operates the café and music studio.
“I’ve been in on the recording side of things for a long time,” Kelly said. “I was in Nashville chasing music, going into pubs and playing in them. I got into the recording side as I was writing and touring.”
According to Kelly, there he started recording out of his home with his friends. Shortly after meeting his wife, they moved back to St. Petersburg where he opened the studio.
“I opened up a commercial studio and when we have these sessions, I would invite people to come and hear the artist who just recorded,” Kelly said. “So here we have this studio and we’re cramming people in, I’m giving away beer and wine and we’re showcasing some music. I just decided to just gamble and try this with a liquor license and a bigger venue. It really took off.”
Behind the bar and above the high definition TV is a series of guitars with a wagon wheel separating them. Aside from the adjacent studio, the bar décor is composed of a variety of artwork and signs. A bar, stools and sets of tables and chairs fills one side. The other side of the area contains the stage and a few loveseats.
“I just like it because it’s a great atmosphere,” said Gabriella Sestito, a St. Petersburg native and Hideaway Cafe bartender. “It also has local and national musicians. I’m really into the music. I’m into some of the underground. So I like artists who aren’t on a major label or on the radio … John comes around and talks to the guests so it’s a lot more personal than some of the other bars.”
The studio offers a chance for musicians of any genre to play their shows in front of a live audience.
“It’s pretty eclectic,” Kelly said. “We have jazz, singer/songwriters, rock…[etc.] Our focus began [with] singer/songwriter and acoustics and nothing too big, but I’m open to anything.”
The studio is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., the first Wednesday of the month and select Fridays and Saturdays.
“When I started playing [at the Hideaway] again, I played some songs and recorded them with John [Kelly],” said Joe Milligan, an acoustic singer/songwriter. “I have lived in Philadelphia and Washington D.C. and I wouldn’t leave here. I think St. Petersburg has a lot of amenities of a big city and doesn’t have a lot of the problems. There [are] a lot of guys who come through here with mention and notoriety. For some reason the area seems to attract people like that. There is a person who comes here from time to time who used to play with [groups like] the Turtles [and] the Grateful Dead.”
Scott Anderson, a professional musician for almost 30 years known professionally as “Twitch,” echoed a similar sentiment.
“I think St. Pete is one of the best places you can possibly live in,” said Anderson, who previously lived in Los Angeles. “I think it’s got a small town feel. People are nice and at the same time, it’s got a lot of metropolitan things going on in the last ten years.”
When finding a location, Kelly wanted to be in an area that would not draw too much attention.
“We’re not quite downtown and we’re not quite in this Central [Avenue] district area,” emphasized Kelly. “It’s kind of a barren block, but I kept thinking like I don’t want to have a big sign that says ‘Open – 2 for 1s.’ This is a music place for people who appreciate music.”
“I think it’s the coolest local venue for singer/songwriters and for people who like music who care for what the songs are saying beyond feeling a beat and moving around,” Anderson said. “I have seen some people in here that I never heard of who are local and I have been pretty impressed by what they wrote.”
The Hideaway Café also found an audience that caters to various arts beyond music. According to Kelly, the café contributes to the culture community in a big way.
“We really cater to the art. It is obviously singer/songwriter, music and so on,” explained Kelly. “I’ve had people come in who are artists and sold some art (like paintings), literally. We’ve had spoken word.”
According to Kelly, the café’s success is due to a combination traditional and new marketing.
“We’re big on the Internet and word-of-mouth, spreading it through our fans and our clientele,” said Kelly. “I think [the Hideaway Cafe] is a spot that’s small enough to manage and it’s a labor of love. I’m a writer. I’ve sang and I’ve played so I can appreciate the artists and we’re looking out for them,” said Kelly.