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A bastion for the blues

Since moving to Southwest Florida nearly three years ago, I’ve been looking for an unpretentious place where you can kick back a bit and maybe take in some live music that doesn’t invoke Lionel Ritchie. It’s a lot easier said than done.

So, I’ve been on a mission and it’s been a hard one. Trying to track down a place that’s got an honest, non-hipster vibe – a place without playahs decked out in Tommy B and no martinis within a mile — and damn if recently I didn’t find just the shot of backwater blues house I was looking for.

I found it in a little hole-in-the-wall called JR’s Old Packinghouse Café, also known as “OPC,” located just off I-75 and Fruitville Road, in the one-time celery fields off Cattleman Road in Sarasota. In fact, the café operates in a building that used to literally be a packing house for celery dating back to the 1920s.

Definitely off the beaten path (which is a strong plus in my mind), OPC is a casual café with the tiniest sliver of a bar, and plenty of tables and chairs. The dance floor is the kind where the crowd probably has to push back the furniture when things start really heating up. The place has got a killer front porch – huge — where you can cool off between sets of dirty dancing or enjoy the evening air under a string of Chinese lanterns.

With the exception of the too-bright overhead lighting inside, the whole place is a ringer for retro hip — think “Pulp Fiction” or “Swingers” with a dash of “Dukes of Hazzard” thrown in.

The bartenders are efficient and no-nonsense. Your beer’s in front of you in less than 20 seconds and they don’t bother you with small talk. There’s no television set anywhere in the vicinity, and that’s a plus in my mind.

The night I visit OPC, the blues are already rippin’ – three local boys are breakin’ it down for the crowd, laying down some righteous blues to an attentive, after-dinner audience that obviously is sticking around for the sound.

“JR” — the owner of OPC, has done a kickin’ job of creating a classic juke joint variant – it’s got the food, the drink, and the relaxed down-home feel, but instead of an actual juke box, he infuses his place six nights a week with live music and get this – no cover. The beers are cheap, the wait staff is perfect, and the vibe is oh-so-real.

If you’re in the mood for a place so on the outskirts it’s in, then rock on out to the Old Packinghouse Café. It can be tricky to find but it’s definitely worth the effort.

The Old Packinghouse Café is located at 967 S. Packinghouse Drive, Sarasota; 371-9358.

Posted on May 8th, 2007Comments RSS Feed

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