MANATEE -- Bradenton can add another live music hangout to its list.
Flying Dog Café will have its grand opening weekend of live music starting Thursday and running through Saturday when Shotgun Justice performs during the grand opening party. The rocking bar called Tallevast home for 10 years. The Flying Dog was just north of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, tucked away in an office park.
The smoke-free café now calls the Orange Blossom Plaza home at 419 Cortez Road West, in the space of the former Cici's Pizza. Flying Dog is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays and closed Sundays.
"I'm excited about the location because if you didn't know about the Flying Dog in the years gone by, you will now because of the location, because of the quality of bands we're going to get," owner Bruce Famiglio said.
The move allows the café to be closer to its customers and in a more accessible spot to lure acts to come south of the Sunshine Skyway to perform, he said.
"I really want to be a destination for live music -- for live local music, not only local, but regional music," Famiglio said.
Tom MacKnight, co-owner and music director at Flying Dog, said he is working to book a national blues act passing through the area soon, and a former member of Hall and Oates' band. Popular Sarasota-area act Steve Arvey will come with his band Jan. 31 to perform, MacKnight said, after Arvey returns from the competitive International Blues Challenges in Memphis.
A lot of thought went into the stage, MacKnight said, like providing touches of conveniences that make bands happy like cup holders by their mic stands and off-stage storage for gear, and for the audience, a better production.
"We build the stage trying to do the right thing and hear a live band playing, and the sound in this room is crystal clear -- no reverberation," MacKnight said.
The stage also opens up the possibility for other entertainment like spoken word poetry or one-act plays, he said, to help provide a place for people to take a load off.
"Companionship and friendship doesn't cost anything. It's free. A pat on the back, a smile, 'I'll meet you at the Dog for a beer,' next thing you know it, they forget their troubles," Famiglio said. "My goal at the new place is to touch a lot more people."
When he could find time, he would work on building the new restaurant while the old Flying Dog was open, but finally pulled the cord to shut down the old venue to spend about a month working on opening up the new Flying Dog.
"When we got in here, it was pretty bad, not taking anything away from Cici's, but it was vacant for a year and a half," Famiglio said.
Flying Dog has been open for six days now and serves lunch and dinner, expanding the menu to include pizza after buying the ovens from Cici's.
"Now we're doing all kinds of pizza," which can be ordered to-go, Familigio said, "and a whole line of flatbread pizza, which is selling very well."
Inside diners and music fans will see a lot of the familiar decorations on the walls from the old location, but will also see a new marble-top bar, and of course, a stage with built-in light and sound system so bands can plug and play without having to worry about bringing a sound board.
When Famiglio reopened the new Flying Dog, he was overwhelmed at the support the first night and is glad his regulars are following him to Bradenton.
"Last Thursday we broke it in, it was our first jam. I was almost brought to tears by the amount of people that came out. Not only musicians, but the people to hear the musicians," he said.
The Thursday jam night will continue this week, led by The Blues Hounds from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Karen Klarich & The Big Bad Wolves take the stage Friday from 8 to 11 p.m. and Shotgun Justice performs Saturday from 8 to 11 p.m.
As the bar aims to bring in higher quality acts, it will start to charge a $5 cover to help pay for the bands on Friday and Saturday nights, Famiglio said, but with a bit of a twist. Customers will be given a wooden nickel they can cash in for a free drink or a food discount when they pay the cover.
If all goes well, the Dog could expand into the neighboring vacant space to expand its dance floor, MacKnight said.
"We want to be beacon for local music," Famiglio said.
For more information, call the Flying Dog at 941-727-WOOF.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.