Meet the man who is building the LGBTQ + entertainment empire in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG – A kaleidoscopic chandelier with rainbow slinkies and a disco ball COCKtail St. It hangs over Pete’s entrance.

With a light and throbbing light, the guests demand drinks called “cradle thief,” “banana hammock,” and “hey, up you up”.

Bar slogans, pasted on glass doors, “Stiff Drinks. Hard liquor. Enrolling good times. ”

“If you know my business, there’s always a quirky, shameless side to it,” said owner David Fischer. “I’m in a bad mood.”

Fischer is just starting out in the Grand Central District. After opening many businesses, including the popular cocktail, she is preparing to expand her entertainment empire to serve the local LGBTQ + community, including a pool bar and a hotel for gay men.

Sponsors drink on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, at COCKtail in St. Petersburg. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

After working at Darden Restaurants for 25 years, Fischer retired as vice president of training. Then St. Petersburg took over.

Fischer already had a home in Sunset Beach. The retreat was appealing, but he first decided to open ZaZoo’d, a home decor store and interior design company on Central Avenue.

Since then, for the past nine years, he has been selling funky gifts and decorations to clients while consulting with properties in the St. Petersburg area. After Fischer designed the Avalon Art Deco-style hotel and redesigned the Hollander Hotel, the business owner bought a building on Central Ave 2355. He asked Fischer about using the space to start a new business.

“I said,‘ Well, I’ve always wanted to own a bar, ’” Fischer said. “Why would that be? I do not know. I am retired. I should be on the beach. ‘

The first Saint came, a speakeasy of saturated red light, stored at 49. 24th Street N. Instead of sharing an access password, guests confess a sin (published weekly on the website) to an employee dressed as a nun. The drinks will then enter a moody bar that bears the names of the seven deadly sins, tarot readings will be held on Tuesday, and each customer will be invited to write a naughty transgression on a card. The most amazing posts are placed on a wall next to the toilet.

“We spend about 10,000 of them every three months,” Fischer said.

“It wasn’t designed to be against the church at all,” he continued. “I grew up very Catholic, I still have a very Catholic family. It was designed to explore and show the combination of what we say we do in church and what we actually do in life.

In May 2021 the cocktail was in the same building. Fischer wanted something higher. She chose luxury leather sofas and made a dance floor. Instead of a hidden entrance to the saint, he wanted large windows that allowed passers-by to see the party from the street. He accentuated them with rainbow roosters.

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“Most gay bars, for some reason, hide behind dark glass or a wall,” he said. “I wanted to be open-minded and proud to call it a gay bar that wants to come to this place, which goes against straight bars.”

David Fischer is seen going to the Back Room store inside the COCKtail on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 in St. Petersburg.
David Fischer is seen going to the Back Room store inside the COCKtail on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 in St. Petersburg. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

For entertainment, he hired drag queen Adriana Sparkle, who had years of experience organizing cabaret shows and drag brunch at Iberian Rooster. Book community events at COCKtail: Hoedown Mondays, open night nights and leather parties twice a month. On New Year’s Eve, Sparkle made a rappel by the side of the building (next year he will descend on a giant rooster that matches the bar’s logo).

“They’re trying to kill me,” he said. “They like to hang out of the building for some reason.”

He grew up in the Sparkle Panhandle, where he had to drive for at least an hour to visit a gay bar. He went to Tampa to study graphic design and met Fischer after establishing himself as a drag performer. The two worked together to design the look of the bar.

“I learned a lot from David. It’s nice to work with someone who’s an industry professional, ”Sparkle said. “While he was there [working at Darden], was in the closet and couldn’t be completely the same all the time. So this has been a way to use all the experience and knowledge and return it to the community, and to give it something that is very heavy in design, very aesthetically pleasing, but also a safe space and a shelter for queers. people. ‘

Various novelties and adult clothing for sale inside the Back Room at the COCKtail on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, in St. Petersburg.
Various novelties and adult clothing for sale inside the Back Room at the COCKtail on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, in St. Petersburg. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

It’s been a busy summer for Fischer and Sparkle. In addition to Pride Month and moving ZaZoo’d to a new location, three new businesses are being prepared. Soon Fischer will open a Vegas-style pool bar called The Wet Spot and a remodeled version of the historic Mari Jean Hotel in the same COCKtail building. A few weeks ago, he opened a gift shop there, called the “Back Room.”

“It’s in the back area, which will be the lobby of the first-floor hotel, and has all the underwear, swimwear, sunscreen, oil, all the things gay men need when they’re on vacation.” said Fischer.

Various novelties and adult clothing for sale inside the Back Room at the COCKtail on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, in St. Petersburg.
Various novelties and adult clothing for sale inside the Back Room at the COCKtail on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, in St. Petersburg. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

An outdoor area is under construction right now, but soon there will be VIP cabins and a long bar. Meanwhile, the artist and Tampa Baes Star Melanie Posner painted a colorful mural of two men kissing in the pool next to the building. Sparkle is already planning entertainment.

“Let’s assume you can spot a real-life mermaid when the pool is open,” he said.

Upstairs will be Mari Jean, which first opened as a hotel in the 1920s. Since then, it has once again been a residence for people with mental illness, a facility for residents and a hotel run by Miami investors. Fischer is ready to do things differently. Guests will have additional pool passes and bicycle access. The refurbished 54 rooms will feature neon green and photographs of naked men.

“If you’re going to stay in a historic hotel, you have to be a little more intense,” Fischer said.

Wet Spot, a soon-to-be-opened pool bar in the Grand Central district.  COCKtail will be located in the same building as the San Pete and Mari Jean Hotel.
Wet Spot, a soon-to-be-opened pool bar in the Grand Central district. COCKtail will be located in the same building as the San Pete and Mari Jean Hotel. [ Courtesy of David Fischer ]

Fischer works seven days a week, spending hours a day at ZaZoo’d or working on new projects before going to the bar.

“You know, it’s an adventure every day,” Fischer said. “I never thought I’d design a wine bar for a day’s work and choose underwear and dresses for a store and choose beautiful home decorations and talk about reservations with drag queens.”

He knows that not everyone is a fan – he was taught a lot of zoning complaints about plastering “COCKTAIL” next to the building. But there is a reason to encourage it.

“We’ve had people outside of those screaming words that I would rather say to our customers and me,” he said. “It’s a nice town. It is a very acceptable town. However, there is still a need for a safe space for LGBTQ + people, and people cannot lose sight of that. ”

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