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Mermaid Tavern: Swingin' For A Cause, Tampa

The Mermaid Tavern. - Julie Busch Branaman
The Mermaid Tavern. - Julie Busch Branaman
Last October, when the Mermaid Tavern opened in Seminole Heights, bartender Ryan Iacovacci faced a dilemma. Working nights at the bar meant that his two-year-old swing dancing habit -- "my release from the struggles of life,'' Iacovacci explains -- would need to take a backseat to his job. Unless, that is, he could convince the Mermaid's owners to host a swing dancing night in Seminole Heights.
 
Iacovacci got his wish and after launching a monthly swing night at the Mermaid in January, he set about combining it with another of his passions: nonprofit world-changing. On Tuesday, July 31st, the Mermaid hosts the next installment of his summertime series of "Swingin' for a Cause'' dance nights. Donations collected at the door ($5 suggested) will benefit the local nonprofit Bluebird Books, a mobile bookstore-art space housed in a converted school bus. In exchange for donations, customers receive happy hour prices on drinks all night and free dance lessons at 7 p.m. A live swing band, 6 Volt Rodeo, starts at 9 p.m.
 
Fusing the three elements -- drinks, dancing and a good cause -- seemed like a no-brainer to Iacovacci and his collaborators, Mermaid Tavern owners Becky Flanders and Lux DeVoid and Bluebird Books founder Mitzi Gordon.
   
"People like to go to events, and people really like to go to events that have charitable spins on them,'' Iacovacci says.
   
The series began in June and benefitted local poetry publisher Yellow Jacket Press that month. An August event, scheduled for the 28th, will support the nonprofit Birdhouse Buying Club, a burgeoning local and organic food co-op organized by Iacovacci. By purchasing locally grown produce in bulk, the club aims to make organic farming a more sustainable enterprise within the region and to make organic vegetables and fruits more readily available to Tampa Bay residents who cannot ordinarily afford them.  
   
Gordon, whose book-stocked blue bus promotes reading, writing and visual arts, plans to put proceeds from Tuesday's event toward making improvements to the Bluebird like adding electrical and air conditioning systems.
   
After the summer's fundraising, swing nights will continue at the Mermaid but may only benefit local nonprofits several times a year in an effort not to create donor fatigue. The June event generated the nine-month-old business's best ever gross for a Tuesday night.

Iacovacci credits that success to the Mermaid's openness and appeal to different crowds and the diversity of its themed nights, which run the gamut from bring-your-own-vinyl (Wednesdays) to a recent celebration of "yacht rock'' apropos to the bar's retro-nautical interior. 
   
"The Mermaid has a unique ability to help organize these kinds of events. It perceives itself as a community space,'' Iacovacci says.

Megan Voeller of Tampa is a contributing writer to 83 Degrees Media and the visual art critic for Creative Loafing. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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