There's a new place in town to chill with a beer on Saturday afternoon, dance the night away for good causes, and shop for old barn doors. You really can't miss it, all big, boxy and brightly-painted on the northwest corner of Central and Fruitville: the Circus City Architectural Salvage (1001 Central Ave., Sarasota, FL 34526).
As the name would suggest, the salvage is a goldmine for circus memorabilia -- if you're looking for towering jeweled headdresses or an elephant sweeper's jumpsuit (well-laundered, let's hope), now you know where to go. Owner Greg Pemberton has been in historic preservation for 27 years, and much of the old stuff in the salvage has been lovingly restored to look brand new. On the other hand, Mark Nodeen of 390 Design supplies the salvage with repurposed furnishings that look fabulously vintage.
Make sure you have some time to kill before you go -- I can tell you firsthand that, once you step inside, it's hard to extricate yourself from the warehouse. When I went for my first visit, I wasn't even there to shop; I was there to eat, drink and be merry at a party to benefit the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.
I leaned a hip against one of nearly a dozen of the salvage's antique and up-cycled tables -- all for sale, but doubling this evening as a delicious buffet from local restaurants. Big Night Out was wrapping up a spicy set of Latin, funk and soul. While they gave their chops a break, those of us who had been absorbed in partying took time to browse.
I went over to the checkout counter to shake hands with Greg, an infectiously jovial guy who was 110 percent committed to throwing the best party of the week.
"There's no way we're running out of food or booze tonight," he said, slapping $100 in Marc's hand and sending him for takeout from the nearest Chinese restaurant. Meanwhile, he regaled me with stories from his rock and roll past -- dancing and blowing horn onstage with the B-52s, roughhousing with Anthony Kiedis on tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
I have to say, Greg was the life of his own party. He led the charge onto the dance floor, and before I could check myself, my hands were clamped on some stranger's shoulders in a conga line that wound through the shelves and tables of wares. I never, ever would have predicted that I'd un-ironically enjoy myself to the tune of "Hot Hot Hot," but Big Night Out is just that good. The highlight of the evening came when Greg pulled a tarnished trombone off the wall and jumped on top of the checkout counter. He and Big Night Out's trombonist Bruce Glasberg proceeded to blast solos over our heads while we clapped and cheered our lungs out.
The party slowly began to wind down, and I found it impossible to go home empty-handed. Two stacks of leftovers already waited for me by the door, but during the conga escapade, several sparkling treasure heaps had caught my eye. I picked out two Ruth Richmond cabinet knobs in smoky green glass and carried them to the counter.
Greg must have recognized the look of pure love as I opened my cupped hands to show him what I'd discovered.
"You need these," he almost whispered, his hand closing over mine to lay the beauties carefully into my purse. I can't promise you'll get the same deal when you find a prize at Circus City, but you'll always find a feast for the eyes and imagination.