Hula Bay lures by surf, turf

By Amy Scherzer, Times Staff Writer

Published Wednesday, February 18, 2009

GANDY/SUN BAY SOUTH — Fans of RattleFish Raw Bar & Grill were not happy when the property was sold and turned into a private club. They missed the fish tacos and seafood margaritas, sunsets and music on the dock at the lively waterfront restaurant off West Shore Boulevard a few blocks south of Gandy Boulevard.

But two Green Iguana owners, Rick Caldaroni and Amir Mahdieh, along with advertising executive Loren Rhoads, have come together to remake the former hangout into the Hula Bay Club. It was scheduled to open Thursday.

They think their mix of drinks, docks and diversions will draw diners.

"We were able to take advantage of a great opportunity due to someone's unfortunate circumstances,'' said Rhoads, describing Hula Bay Club as "flip-flop and Tommy Bahama burgers, sandwiches and sushi."

Lunch is served Thursday to Sunday, dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

Guests can choose inside seating or kick back outside at Duke's Retired Surfers Bar, named for the original Hawaiian beach boy. A 380-foot ledge with dozens of bar stools offers views of Tampa Bay. Seven cabanas hold canvas lounges surrounding a swimming pool.

What makes these guys think they can revive the RattleFish vibe amid a grim economy?

"Tampa has so few restaurants where boaters can tie up,'' Rhoads said. "We can take 100 boats. This will be a destination, instead of going to the beach.''

As a RattleFish regular, Rhoads frequently arrived by boat.

Fort Myers developer Steeven Knight bought the former Tampa Bayside Marina and the adjacent RattleFish in summer 2006 as part of the exclusive Yacht Club of America network.

Renamed the Tampa Harbour Yacht Club, the dry-dock facility was renovated to hold 650 dry berths (rackominiums) and 40 wet slips (dockomininums) starting at $100,000. RattleFish closed to become a members-only clubhouse.

But the concept of selling waterfront access and the complex's amenities sank with the economy, said Lou Henry, general manager of Tampa Harbour Yacht Club.

A few months ago, "the decision was made to go strictly rental. Deposits were refunded and the restaurant was leased," Henry said.

"They can bring it right back to where it was," he said.