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

ST. PETERSBURG – A kaleidoscopic rainbow chandelier and disco balls hang over the entrance of COCKtail St. Pete.

Under pulsating lights and bumps, guests order drinks called “swing robber”, “banana hammock” and “hey, get up”.

The bar’s motto, glued to the glass doors, promises “Stiff Drinks. strong alcohol. Raging good times. ”

“If you know my business, there’s always a kitschy, cheeky side,” said owner David Fisher. “I have a sick sense of humor.”

Fischer is just starting in the Grand Central District. After opening a number of businesses, including the hugely popular COCKtail, he is preparing to expand his entertainment empire to serve the local LGBTQ + community, including a pool bar and a gay men’s hotel.

Visitors enjoy COCKtail drinks on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 in St. Petersburg. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

After 25 years at Darden Restaurants, Fischer retired as vice president of education. Then St. Petersburg attracted him.

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

In the nine years since, he has been delivering funky gifts and decorations while consulting with clients for properties around St. Petersburg. After Fischer designed the Avalon Art Deco Hotel and remodeled the Hollander Hotel, the owner of these businesses purchased a building at 2355 Central Ave. He asked Fischer about using the space to start a new business.

“I said, ‘Well, I’ve always wanted to own a bar,'” Fisher said. “Why so? I do not know. I am retired. I have to be on the beach. ”

First came the Saint, a red-lit speech hall discreetly hidden at 49 24th Street N. Instead of sharing a login password, guests confessed their sin (posted weekly on the website) to an employee dressed as a nun. They then sneak into a gloomy bar, where the drinks are named after the seven deadly sins, the tarot reading takes place on Tuesday, and each customer is invited to write a naughty transgression on a card. The most shocking statements are posted on the wall next to the bathrooms.

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

“It was not intended to be anti-church at all,” he continued. “I grew up as a very Catholic, I still have a very Catholic family. The saint was created to explore and demonstrate the juxtaposition between what we say we do in church and what we really do in life.

Cocktail followed in the same building in May 2021. Fisher wanted something that would feel great. He chose luxury leather sofas and carved a dance floor. Instead of a hidden entrance, as the Saint had, he wanted large windows that allowed passers-by to watch the party from the street. He accentuates them with rainbow cocks.

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“Most gay bars are hidden behind dark glass or a wall for some reason,” he said. “I wanted to be open and people to be proud to call this place the gay bar they want to come to, which competes with gay bars.”

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

For fun, he hired drag queen Adriana Sparkle, who has years of experience planning cabaret and drag brunches at Iberian Rooster. She booked public events at COCKtail: Queer line dancing in Hoedown on Mondays, open evenings on Wednesdays and leather parties twice a month. On New Year’s Eve, Sparkle descended from the side of the building (next year it will descend on a giant rooster corresponding to the bar’s logo).

“They’re just trying to kill me,” she said. “They like to hang me from the building for some reason.”

Sparkle grew up in Panhandle, where he had to drive at least an hour to visit a gay bar. She moved to Tampa to study graphic design and continued dating Fischer after establishing herself as a drag artist. The two worked together to design the look of the bar.

“I learned a lot from David. It’s good to work with someone who is such an industry professional, “Sparkle said. “It simply came to our notice then [working at Darden], he was in the closet and wasn’t really able to be himself all the time. So it was a way for him to use all the experience and knowledge and bring it back to the community and give us something that is very difficult to design, very aesthetic, but also a safe space and a refuge for strange people. ”

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

It was a busy summer for Fisher and Sparkle. In addition to the month of pride and moving ZaZoo’d to a new location, three new businesses are being prepared. Fisher will soon open a Vegas-style pool bar called The Wet Spot and a revamped version of the historic Mari Jean Hotel in the same building as the COCKtail. A few weeks ago, he opened a gift shop there called The Back Room.

“At the back is what will be the lobby of the hotel on the first floor and there are underwear, swimwear, suntan lotion, oil, all sorts of great things that gay men need when they’re on vacation,” Fischer said.

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

Currently, the outdoor area is still under construction, but there will soon be VIP booths and a long bar. Meanwhile, the artist and Cover Baes star Melanie Posner painted a colorful mural of two men kissing in the pool on the side of the building. Sparkle is already planning a party.

“Let’s just say you can spot a real mermaid when the pool is open,” she said.

Upstairs will be Mari Jean, which first opened as a hotel in the 1920s. Since then, it has been a home for people suffering from mental illness, a life support facility and again a hotel run by Miami investors. Fisher is ready to do things differently. Guests will receive free pool tickets and access to bicycles. The 54 renovated rooms will be accented with neon green colors and photos of naked men.

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

Depictions of Wet Spot, a pool bar that will open soon in the Grand Central District.  It will be located in the same building as COCKtail St.  Pete and Hotel Mari Jean.
Depictions of Wet Spot, a pool bar that will soon open in the Grand Central District. It will be located in the same building as COCKtail St. Pete and Hotel Mari Jean. [ Courtesy of David Fischer ]

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

“You know, every day is an adventure,” Fisher said. “I never thought that in one working day I would design a wine bar and choose lingerie and straps for a shop, choose a sophisticated home decor and talk to the drag queens about reservations.”

He knows that not everyone is a fan – the many complaints about the zoning of the COCKTAIL plaster on the side of the building have taught him that. But there is reason to insist.

“We have had people outside of these outspoken words that I prefer not to say to our clients and to me,” he said. “It’s a cool city. This is a very acceptable city. However, there is still a need for a safe space for LGBTQ + people, and people cannot lose sight of that. ”

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