This First Friday won't be the last

It’s that time again:
Cops are roaming the streets.
Roads are blocked off.
Crowds of pedestrians are shuffling through the cross-walks.

It’s October 2nd.

On the first Friday of each month, Downtown St. Petersburg encourages citizens of the legal drinking age to celebrate. Spreading out from Central Avenue, surrounding streets provide several bars, eateries and street performers that attract and provide a late-night party scene for any First Friday participant.

The downtown area provides several blocks of entertainment to spark a lively nightlife. Popular bars like The Tamiami, Mastry’s Bar and The Bishop Tavern attract many college-age customers. These bars are usually packed wall-to-wall on First Fridays. A bar-top itself can be difficult to spot through a sea of human limbs moving to trendy hip-hop songs to their own unbalanced rhythm. In these bars, the music is just loud enough to shadow the room full of mixed conversations floating through the air, between good friends or friendly strangers.

Chris Wilson, a bar-goer at Mastry’s, enjoys the First Friday atmosphere: “It’s all about the social life, the people, the scene,” he screams over his plastic cup of beer with a smile on his face. “I love seeing new faces.”

At the back end of Mastry’s, drinkers are provided with a brick patio area covered by a wooden overhang, so they can socialize in a designated part of the back alley. Surrounding the brick area, puddles of liquid gather inside the dips in the street while the stench of vomit lingers in the air.

Inside the Tamiami, mirrors cover the walls across from the bar-top, creating a sense that the bar has reached its full capacity for the evening. Drinkers carefully hold cups of cocktails above their heads to prevent a pricey spill.

Perched on a bar stool, 28-year-old Jeff Smith slurs his opinion about First Friday in St. Pete: “Actually, I don’t like anything at all,” he said. “I’d rather be at home reading to be honest with you.” Smith explains how the First Friday scene is nothing more than an awkward dating game that gets old fast. “The next step for me is marriage at this point,” he said. “I’m done messing around.”

After last call, citizens pour onto the streets and sidewalks like a glass Captain and Coke spilling off of a barstool. Even though it is past 2 a.m., Friday does not end here.

Angie’s CafĂ©, located next to Jannus Landing on 1st Avenue N., stays open after bar-hoppers pay their final tab. People can line up down the sidewalk to place their order at the convenient to-go window. Fortunato’s Italian Market is also open later on First Friday, providing partiers with a past-midnight snack.

Some independent musicians and artists even stay up late to entertain or make a couple bucks from downtown passerby. In front of Fortunato’s, a man wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt strums his 6-string acoustic while people whiz past him on the sidewalk. At a street corner, a middle-aged man bashes his red drum set in front of a white building. At another corner, a man in white make-up is sprawled out on the sidewalk, tapping his bongo with a basket full of dollar bills. His outfit is complete with a festive headdress, animal print bra and straw skirt.

First Friday appears to be the ultimate once-a-month party scene. The event attracts so many people that roads like 2nd Ave N. are barricaded to keep vehicles out of pedestrian traffic. Cops line the streets to monitor the safety of citizens and keep potential troublemakers in check. “A lot of people plus a lot of booze equals potentials for problems,” said one St. Petersburg police officer. He says that First Friday is a night of many calls for the St. Pete police station. “A person just got shot on the west side of town,” he said.