Hard Candy – Baring it All

You can tell when someone moved to Gulfport by what they call certain buildings. For example, you may call it the Dive Bar, but to me it will always be Casa Cortez. And although I call it Kanes (even though it’s now Neptune), you may call it Mansfields, or the Sand Castle.

I was all of three when the Sand Castle existed in all its girlie glory, but I am sorry to have missed what sounds just a whole lot of city government fun. The Adams family covered the windows and offered topless dancing every evening. Well, mostly topless. Reportedly, a dancer named TeegerTiger and one named Supersonic Sue didn’t disrobe.
As you may imagine, topless dancing in downtown Gulfport caused quite an uproar. The daily paper quoted then-councilman (and current grits gourmet for the Gulfport Lions) Les McEwen calling it an emergency “second only to a hurricane.” He also went on record saying he didn’t violate the Government in the Sunshine Laws, he just called other councilmembers to get them together to vote down the club. The council created an ordinance that – you’re going to love this – defined a woman’s breast and made it illegal to display it in public. Now, I’ve seen council spend hours working on language defining outdoor furniture. I can only imagine what the town meeting where they defined a breast must have sounded like.
I digress, of course. My point is this: some people – most likely TeegerTiger and Supersonic Sue and the Adams Family (y’all, I couldn’t make this up if I tried) – think of that building as the Sand Castle, just like I will always think of the empty building across Beach Boulevard as Casa Cortez, no matter what goes inside the building.
And it looks like that building may have a new owner soon. Tony Amico, the mastermind behind the notorious beach bar, Caddy’s, and the new and improved Jannus Landing, has turned his shrewd business eye to our white elephant, Casa Cortez/Aquabella’s/Dive Bar. I spoke with him briefly at the April Council workshop, and although he indicated to others he’d like to put in a liquor store alongside a restaurant, he told me he’d like to do something in line with council’s vision for downtown.
In my circles, as I’m sure it does in yours, Mr. Amico, respect matters, so no disrespect intended, but you’re not from around here, are you? Our council doesn’t make those kinds of decisions about downtown. They do what they deem best and then weigh public reaction before making a decision. Councils have precious little to say about what happens with businesses, other than planning and zoning issues. I’ve seen development deals go straight into the toilet based on a group of outraged residents – not, mind you, that there’s anything wrong with that, although some local Realtors may beg to differ.
Speaking of planning and zoning, it looks like you’re going to need a special dispensation to open a liquor store as part of your proposed venture in our little downtown. I love the idea and believe we’ve evolved sufficiently to handle being able to buy a bottle of rum downtown. I eagerly await liquor store nearby not frequented by crackheads and pill pushers. You, uh, don’t intend to cater to crackheads and pill poppers, do you? I mean, it’s not like they buy the good stuff. I’ve yet to see a crack addict walking down the street, sipping not-so-surreptitiously from a bottle of Bombay Sapphire wrapped in a brown paper bag.
Of course, the liquor would only be part of your master plan. I understand you want to open a restaurant as well. And I’d like to bring something to your attention: we have a thriving coconut telegraph, and right now our air is so thick with speculation you could cut it with a broken whiskey bottle. We have vivid imaginations in this little town, and left to our own devices… well, let’s just say we’re an artsy town. Yours shall be a magnificent effigy, at least before the bonfire.
Look, we’re no St. Petersburg, but we’re not exactly a sleepy town, either. I can’t imagine anyone would try and stop you just because 20 years ago we had problems we thought we could solve by banning liquor stores downtown. But if people think you’ve got something up your sleeve? Look, we know that you know restaurants, and we know you know business. What we don’t know is how you plan to turn a profit. I didn’t call it a white elephant because of the paint job: since its 2004 renovation, that building is the least-logically laid out restaurant I’ve ever seen.
So tell us – how on earth are you planning to turn a profit there when no one else has? How many bottles of Grey Goose and burgers do you have to sell to make that place go? If it were me, I’d want something more to help me make that massive mortgage payment. I can only assume you don’t expect to subsist on the drinking and burger habits of Gulfportians alone. So what’s your plan, sir? Whatever it is, you can tell us. We’re a pretty accepting bunch.
Unless it’s boobs. Then, apparently, only a national disaster can terrify us more.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com. Cathy would especially welcome speaking to Mr. Amico, TeegerTiger, or Supersonic Sue.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.