In the spring of last year many students were dismayed by the closure of Sarasota News and Books (SNAB), but in this brave new world students don’t have to spoon with their Mr. Coffee in utter isolation. Just a few blocks from SNAB’s final resting place in Sarasota’s perpetually up and coming Rosemary district is The Venue. Since the location became a coffee shop in early 2008 it has been through several changes in name and ownership.
Long-term Sarasota residents might remember when it was called Sarasota Olive Oil Company. In the Olive era one could buy a reasonably priced sandwich and look longingly at their designer sponges that maybe cost upwards of sixty dollars. In the spring of last year Sarasota Olive Oil Company went under new ownership and became Felice’s Café, only to go under new ownership over the summer and reopen this August as the Venue.
The Venue’s attitude is really summed in their tagline: “coffee, spirits, food, music”. It is a standard coffee shop by day and a music -lounge that stocks a respectable range of craft beers by night.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the Venue is the structure itself. According to long time employee Andrew Ensign the building, along with many other buildings on the block was built pre-World War II. Ensign informed me that right down the street I could find what used to be a speak-easy in the prohibition era; the building that is now the Venue long housed a dance company. The café has maintained the openness of a dance studio: there are few dividing walls and a vaulted, exposed ceiling. The openness makes it as great performance space.
As one would expect from their name The Venue hosts a variety of live music events. Passerine, a local folk rock act featuring our very own Professor David Brain, recently played a show there. Brain praised the space, saying, “We played a lot there when it was the Olive Oil Company.” For the brief time it was Felices café Passerine stopped playing there. But Professor Brain made it clear they were happy to be using the space again. “We like to play there because it allows for a diverse audience. Some of our fans can bring their kids and its okay.” Brain put particular emphasis on the Venue as a place for new music.
“There is a lot live music in Sarasota but most of it is covers,” he says. “The Venue supports original music.”
The age diversity Professor Brain spoke of is readily apparent in the Venue’s recent schedule. At the beginning of the year Ringling’s Joint Collective put on a noise and new media art show at The Venue. Over the summer the Joint Collective stopped using an empty downtown house as a performance space and gallery but lost little of their old, subversive sensibility in the transition to the Venue. Many New College and Ringling students were in attendance.
The café’s usual demographic of older Sarasota locals was shaken up a little, and no one seemed to miss the Olive Oil Company’s designer sponges. The Venue is a new, great place to go if you’re looking for a relaxing place to get some work done on a Saturday morning, or a fun place to hang out that coming night.