Skipping along for 25 years

Tampa is embellished with a plethora of neon lights and upscale lounges. But where do those who enjoy live music and an at-home atmosphere go for a true Floridian dinner and a late-night beverage? Skipper’s Smokehouse.

Marking its establishment in 1980, Skipper’s celebrates its 25th anniversary with a weekend-long event, a “Happy Oyster Hour,” today through Sunday, including free cover from noon to midnight tomorrow.

Skipper’s is the perfect mix of a washed-up, beach atmosphere and “Florida cuisine with tastes of the Caribbean and Louisiana,” as cited on Skipper’s official Web site, The outdoor venue, decorated with “over-turned boats, wooden walkways, large murals and rusted walls,” captures an “islandy-Key West style” that transports patrons to a world of fine cuisine and great tunes that would make Jimmy Buffett feel like a “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” The menu boasts titles such as Best Grouper Sandwich, Best Alligator, Hottest Wings in Tampa and the Best Key Lime Pie. Fresh fish and a variety of conch dishes are other favorites.

Food is not the only reason for attending the celebration. Sixteen of the venue’s favorite performers from a pool of over 300, as listed on the Web site, will add to the party mood. According to talent agent Larry Lisk, musical diversity is an intricate part of the bar, especially at this festivity.

“We cover the full breadth of the kind of music that has been played for the past 25 years,” Lisk said. “From rock, to reggae, to Florida kind of stuff — rockabilly, blue grass, Grateful Dead, blues — it’s a real smattering of the full spectrum of the entertainment that is here at Skipper’s.”

There is something in the music range that is bound to please most patrons.

Skipper’s Smokehouse began from a joint effort among three friends, none of whom had any restaurant experience. Each was well traveled from their experience in the Air Force together. As co-founder Vince McGilvra said, “We wanted someplace to go, someplace to hangout and listen to music.”

McGilvra, along with Tom White and Anders Bastman, chose a modest building located on Skipper Road off Nebraska Avenue.

“It’s unique and cheaper than driving to Key West or flying anywhere in the Caribbean,” McGilvra said.

By maintaining a personal objection instead of opting for a corporate approach, Skipper’s has evolved from a take-out joint with a Sunday Jam to a full-service restaurant with a popular concert venue. The “Skipperdome” holds a capacity of 800 to accommodate the “laid-back kind of crowd” Skipper’s appeals to.

“There are no 300-pound bouncers. In fact, there are no bouncers. (The audience) are individuals; they don’t have a herd mentality,” McGilvra said.

Boasting the appeal to every type, “Some nights there are West Indians, other nights, hippies. We have a lot of lawyers, bikers, professors, students, grandparents who have been coming since the beginning and now bring their grandchildren,” he said. “It’s a different, unique place enjoyed by everyone.”