Here’s to Crescent Club’s diamond day

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The beloved establishment celebrates its 75th year with March 2 party; join us here for some stories, some history, and a Siesta Key toast!

By Jane Bartnett

Happy 75th birthday to the Crescent Club! Cheers to quenching the thirsts of countless visitors and residents alike.
“People that I met at the Crescent Club became my lifelong friends,” said Monica Condon, who tended bar there throughout the 1970s. It was also a place that changed her life. She met her husband, Frank, a geological engineer who was working in the area on an assignment from Canada at the Crescent Club. It was a place, Condon recalled with great nostalgia, that owner Charlie Walker, the bar’s second owner, wanted to be like the TV show Cheers.
“Charlie’s vision was for a down-to-earth place where he could bring his family and friends. The characters were the people who walked in. Charlie wanted conversation and a place where people could talk to each other. No music. Just good conversation,” Condon said.

Crescent Club manager Mary Pisano and owner Gary Kompothecras get in the celebration mood with 75th-year anniversary balloons. (photo by Jane Bartnett)

For 75 years, Siesta Key’s venerable watering hole at 6519 Midnight Pass Rd. has gained international recognition and has made the various “best bar” lists time and again. It’s impossible to know just how many people have passed through those rustic saloon doors to come to bask in the glow of this historic piece of island history.
When the Crescent Club and Package Store opened in 1949, four years after the end of World War II, life on the south end of Siesta Key was quiet. The post-war years were drastically different than today. Former owner Julie Brown, who spent 39 years there (10 as an employee and 29 as owner), said that when the Crescent Club first opened it was located on the property that now houses the 7-Eleven store. Walker moved the building to its present location after he purchased it from the original owner.
A former buyer for a women’s specialty retail store in Michigan, Brown began working for Walker as a temporary job in 1980. She stayed on, learned the business, and in 1990 purchased the Crescent Club from Walker, becoming owner No. 3.
“Charlie was the most wonderful person,” Brown said of Walker, who mounted an image of Brown on the wall alongside paintings of other former bartenders, including Condon. “The conversation just flowed. It was a true melting pot. It was always the people who were the special sauce.”

How the Crescent Club appeared for much of its existence. (submitted photo)

Much to the relief and delight of her customers, Brown maintained the Crescent Club as Walker and his predecessor had kept it for more than 40 years. She managed and ran the place herself.
“We kept it simple. I stuck with what worked. No karaoke — we didn’t jump on the gimmick bandwagon. We kept the prices reasonable,” Brown said.
Her only change to the exterior of the unpretentious little building was the addition of “Lynn’s Front Porch,” named for Brown’s late sister, in the 1980s.
Inside, loyal customers would while away the hours in the smoke-filled bar. A small parking lot sat in front of the building and, in keeping with the “package” in the name, Brown continued to offer customers a drive-up window on the side of the building where they could pick up a bottle or two and be on their way.

The original establishment. (submitted photo)

Meanwhile, Brown’s loyal customers thanked her for finding a way to stop the clock from ticking by keeping the tavern true to its roots. She made the decision to maintain the interior as it was.
“People liked walking into the old-time vibe,” she said. That meant retaining the original dark decor, the red table cloths and candles, and allowing customers to smoke — keeping things pretty much as they had been since in 1949. Even a cigarette machine remains.
“It worked for Charlie,” said Brown. “It wasn’t broken. The customers liked it, and I kept it as it was. A lot of customers enjoyed the cool dark interior after a day on the beach.”
Among those relieved to see the tavern’s interior stay the same was longtime patron John Whipple. “It’s the way the bar always was and the way a bar’s supposed to be,” said Whipple, a Siesta Key resident. “My father started taking me here when I was 14, back when you could come in with a parent. When he’d go to the bathroom, they’d put my beer back behind the bar until he’d return. The bartenders were the best and knew everyone by name. That hasn’t changed.”
How personalized an experience has Whipple enjoyed? In front of his seat in the center of the curved bar is a small, mounted plaque with his name engraved on it. And above that is the name of another customer who previously made that same spot his home away from home.

Bartender Dana Weppner works the inside portion of the establishment. (photo by Jane Bartnett)

A transition of sorts
In late 2018, Brown sold the Crescent Club to Siesta Key resident Gary Kompothecras. Many know him as the man behind the 1-800-ASK-GARY legal referral service, as well as the MTV show Siesta Key. Portions of the reality show would be filmed at the tavern.
When news of the sale broke, Brown received praise for maintaining the Crescent Club as a Siesta Key landmark. “A saint of a woman,” wrote the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “She has done a damn fine job preserving the only real dive bar left on Siesta Key and one of the greatest bars, period, in southwest Florida.”
Although many loyal customers were nervous when Kompothecras became the new owner, he made it clear that a major change was not his intent – at least not on the inside.
“I bought the Crescent Club to keep it the way it was and to enhance the outdoor experience,” he stated.
Kompothecras remained true to his word.
“Gary has done a fabulous job in keeping the old watering hole. It’s so historic,” said Hazel Goers, an employee who’s been behind the bar for more than 20 years. “Gary even re-created the old phone booth that had been taken out in the ’80s. The Crescent Club is the heartbeat of Siesta Key. It still has the red candles, the photos on the wall, and the red light outside the door.
“If only the bar could talk!”

The outdoor area begins to take shape. (submitted photo)

Out front, an open-air sports-bar concept would arrive in 2020 – built during the down time created by the pandemic — that drew an often-younger crowd. Nightly live music would be a focal point as well in the new space.
“There are two bars now,” said Condon. “Inside is a different vibe than the outside bar, and that’s OK. I like visiting both places.”
Brown agrees. “The larger outdoor space was a good idea,” she said.
And now, it’s the kind of place that seems to have at least another 75 years left in the tank. Just what is it about the Crescent Club that has made it such a treasured and enduring part of Siesta Key? According to Kompothecras, “It’s an authentic piece of America.”
Now on to the celebration: A 75-year anniversary party is set for 6 p.m. to closing on Saturday, March 2. Customers will be able to enjoy a complimentary buffet, cornhole games, and T-shirt giveaways. Free rides will be available from 1-844-Frog-Hop.
Visit crescentclubsiestakey.com for more details.

The tavern as it appears today. (photo by Jane Bartnett)
Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

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