While Josh Cameron is fond of traditional bare-bones bars, he realized St. Petersburg’s nightlife scene has rapidly evolved and wanted to create a unique experience for Central Avenue revelers.
Cameron, owner of the Crafty Hospitality Group and several local establishments, transformed the former Oyster Bar building downtown into an immersive pop-up bar. Its first concept, the Halloween-themed Sleepy Hollow, debuted Friday, Oct. 13, at 249 Central Ave.
Cameron enlisted Frank Clemente, an experiential architect and design strategist, to ensure customers step into a vastly different space than typically found on the bustling block. The two will not have long to enjoy the fruit of their labor as the concept will change in less than three weeks.
“With the nightclub business, they say it dies every two years – you got to revamp it,” Cameron said. “So, we’re going to take a look at all these concepts and see which ones work.”
He said, somewhat ironically, that his favorite watering holes provided the same look, feel and smell for generations. Cameron used St. Pete’s Mastry’s and Emerald Bar as examples.
However, he noted new “mega concepts” like the disco-themed Good Night John Boy have elevated the local nightlife scene. Cameron hopes his latest venture will transport revelers nearly 1,200 miles north to Sleepy Hollow, New York, the village immortalized in Washington Irving’s 203-year-old short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Fall foliage greets customers as they walk through the door. While the atmosphere resembles the quaint village known for Headless Horseman folklore, Cameron said that by Halloween, it would “be all overgrown and f*cking craziness in the middle of it.”
Clemente said the bright, multicolored leaves would soon fall to the floor. The trees will remain.
The smell – currently a fall scent he said was “white tea and fig” – will also change with the concept. Clemente said the team designed the aroma with a North Carolina-based company founded by a former Disney Imagineer.
“We have the scent that is going in for the Thanksgiving season, and then we’ve got one that is going for the holiday season,” Clemente added. “Just wait. And it all goes with the look and feel of the décor.”
He said Random House Party, the event company behind Sleepy Hollow, made a concerted effort to bring something unique to the space occupied by the Oyster Bar for the past 25 years.
Cameron is still building out the restaurant’s new location at 2245 Central Ave., in the Grand Central District. He said it would feature the Oyster Bar’s original marble bar top and light fixtures.
Cameron said he and his team tailored Sleep Hollow’s granite bar to fit the space. He explained that they gutted the building to its 100-year-old brick walls and started from scratch.
“Every time you build a new bar, you kind of get better and better,” Cameron said. “But this is the first time I’ve been involved in a project like this, and it has been great to work with Frank and the team. I’m just excited to see how it’s going to evolve.”
Clemente said the grand opening represented the culmination of a lifelong dream. He noted that the pop-up bar’s first patrons raved about the craft cocktails and executive chef Jason Cline’s menu.
“Everything fell into place the way we thought it would – only bigger,” Clemente said. “We didn’t want to just open up another bar; we have bars everywhere. Not another restaurant; we have restaurants coming in left and right.
“We’re touching all the senses, and when you do that, you really create something people will talk about later. You’re going to remember it and create memories in here.”
Like the Headless Horseman, Sleepy Hollow will soon disappear into the night. The doors will close for 48 hours Nov. 6 as the Random House Party team completes the concept’s first transformation.
“If you want to check the place out, the clock’s ticking,” Cameron said.