St. Pete Surprise

Shuffleboard? You bet. A new generation makes it fun again--and it’s just one reason we love this city by the bay.
Annette Thompson

Dateline: 8 p.m. Friday, St. Petersburg, Florida

As the wind stirs the nearby palm trees, laughter rises off the long green courts. Young couples, cadres of friends, families with school-age kids, and a handful of oldsters line up on either end. They take turns pushing red and yellow discs across the courts with long, aluminum sticks.

Abrupt clicking sounds erupt every minute or so followed by good-natured bantering. The crowd focuses on the game more associated with retirees than trendy urban types. Shuffleboard is hot again.

Inside the old, peeling-paint, Spanish-style clubhouse next to the courts, black-and-white photos illustrate the heyday of the sport--the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s--when players wore long dresses and suits and ties at this historic club. These days, locals congregate in jeans and T-shirts for a fun, free evening (the club suggests a $1 donation). Sure, tournaments still take place here, but it’s the nighttime that brings out a new generation of players.

“You can learn to play in an hour, but strategy takes years,” says Mary Eldridge, former president of the club. Mary, a boisterous seventysomething with raven hair and twinkling black eyes, asks “Is this your first time?” Then she launches into tips.

“Do not step on the courts,” Mary admonishes as she walks between players. “They have finely ground glass on top of them. Let’s get some shuffle going!”

Someone turns on a boom box, and Sheryl Crow’s “Everyday Is a Winding Road” wafts into the playing area. After an hour or so, a few couples peel off across the street for a stroll around the scenic Mirror Lake, while other groups take their places on the courts. The cool winter air urges participants to pull on sweatshirts.

Before too long, Mary will turn out the lights, but as sure as the sun shines here, she’ll be back to clack the discs in another round of the game anyone can play.

St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club: 559 Mirror Lake Drive North, St. Petersburg, FL 33701; www.stpeteshuffle.com or (727) 822-2083.

Five More of My St. Pete Picks

  • Central Avenue shopping. Eclectic. Best bet: Designers’ Consigner (Resale of Prada, Chanel, Escada, and more).
  • Saturday morning outdoor market. Ginormous. Gourmet dishes, baked goods, music, organics, and flowers.
  • Beach Drive. Where the models stroll. Boutiques, eateries, fabulous architecture.
  • Big pink hotel. Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club. Have a drink at the round bar in the 1925 Mediterranean Revival building.
  • Hot spot. The Flamenco bar at Ceviche Tapas Restaurant and Bar. Spanish-infused music from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Meals upstairs.