Monday, October 12, 2009

The "Crescent Club" Siesta Key Fl A Good Place To Hang For Private Investigator Travis McGee.

The "Crescent Club" Siesta Key Fl A Good Place To Hang For Private Investigator Travis McGee.

When asked to name the quintessential Sarasota bar, my mind first goes toward some fun, informal place like the Salty Dog on City Island, which overlooks New Pass and has great cheeseburgers and -- yes -- allows dogs. Or the Azures Tides Beach Bar on Lido (now taken over by the Ritz Beach club), which is right on the sand and is perfect for a drink at sunset. But then someone says, "What about the Crescent Club?" and I know right away we have the winner, hands down.

Which is strange, because as bars go, the Crescent Club has virtually no amenities (other than cold beer and pretty bar maids). It's out toward the south end of Siesta Key, right near the Stickney Point Bridge, and though it's across the street from the beach, you'd never know it inside. It's windowless and they don't serve food, not even happy-hour snacks. There is no entertainment, not even on weekends. Yes, there is a jukebox and a lone video game (something to do with golf and new flat screen TV's for sports), but it is clear that two activities are uppermost here -- drinking and talking.

The Crescent Club is the prototype of those bars so crucial to Florida crime fiction, both written and cinematic. It's the place the lovers meet to plot the rich husband's murder. It's the place where the tourist from Michigan meets the handsome stranger who offers to take him or her out on his boat. It's the spot where two real estate developers plan the sort of deal that can only be put together in a bar like this. Now, not for a second am I implying that anything like this actually happens in the Crescent Club. I'm just saying it looks like it might.

Nobody understood a place like the Crescent Club better than famed mystery writer John D. MacDonald; and, indeed, he used some version of it over and over again. It appears most prominently in his great Sarasota novel "Condominium".

(John D. MacDonald American fiction writer, graduated from Syracuse (New York) University (B.S.,) and Harvard (M.B.A.), he served in World War II in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) his mystery and science-fiction works were published in more than 70 books. He is best remembered for his series of 21 crime novels featuring private investigator Travis McGee.)

Here's his description of the Crescent Club: "Inside the ceiling was hung with nets, with glass and cork floats. Harpoons were chained to the walls. The low-power wall sconces held orange bulbs with orange shades. Overhead prisms shone puddles of white light down on the black Formica bar. The front edge of the bar and the barstools were upholstered in red Naugahyde, spotted with cigarette burns and old stains."

With just a few minor changes, MacDonald's description still fits. The nets have been replaced with banners from various colleges, but they still hang from the ceiling. During the day two shafts of lights stream in from the open doors -- to me that's always been the mark of a real, old Florida place: doors open with the air-conditioning on -- and there's a drive-up window to purchase liquor, another old-timely touch. Even the waitress is right out of MacDonald -- an aging beach bunny still tanned and golden and with a smile that would melt Travis McGee's heart, (nowadays we have Kendra and Bethany).

Like every bar, the Crescent Club has its regulars, some of whom are waiting there every morning when it opens at 10. Many are seasonal regulars, for the CC is located in that part of Siesta Key where all the little motels are. You may be a little disappointed with the regulars, for they are nothing showy.

You won't see colorful Key West-style barflies or bikers playing pool. The people are pretty ordinary-looking. But then, isn't that Sarasota for you -- mild-mannered on the outside, seething with passion on the inside?

The Crescent Club is the place where everyone in town meets sooner or later. Some are on an important errand. Some are in the throes of a new and reckless love affair. And some are entering into a scheme that promises to turn into an adventure. Or not.

My favorite at the Crescent Club are the single, middle-aged men sitting at the bar alone, nursing their drinks and lost in thought. What are they grappling with? What are they thinking about? Are they plotting revenge? Fighting off despair? Trying to make a decision? Nobody understood better than MacDonald the power of this black cube set on blinding white sand. I suppose there are bars like the Crescent Club the world over. But thanks to MacDonald, we have the archetype only in Sarasota.

The Crescent Club

6519 Midnight Pass Rd

Sarasota, FL 34242-2506

(941) 349-1311