As usual, Manager Deb Messina was behind the bar at Tiny’s of Longboat Key. Longtime customer H. Terrell “Terry” Griffin stopped by for a Diet Coke. Former owner Ray LaFlamme dropped in with his family for a drink. Longboaters settled in for an evening with old friends. And although Shirley Beachum was home sick with a cold, on a normal Wednesday night, she would have been sitting at her usual spot at Tiny’s enjoying her weekly date with friends.
The regulars gathered Wednesday, March 31, at Tiny’s, but it wasn’t just any Wednesday night at the watering hole. The music of the band, Blues Pig, which got its start at Tiny’s, blared as the crowd swelled to more than 200. After more than 25 years as a local watering hole and meeting spot, it was time for last call at Tiny’s. But after two-and-a-half decades of St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween parties and everything from birthday celebrations to celebrations of life, Tiny’s customers couldn’t say goodbye without one last hurrah.
The 6-foot-8-inch Genaro “Tiny” Menendez opened Tiny’s as a bar and liquor store about 1984. Although Menendez himself surely was anything but tiny, the description fit the bar back then. It was limited to the small bar area of the current space, and the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce operated out of the front portion.
Menendez retired in 1990, when Ray LaFlamme bought the bar. Before then, LaFlamme had never considered going into the bar and liquor business. He had owned three movie theaters and more than 30 video stores in Connecticut before moving in 1988 to Longboat after more than a decade of vacationing in the area. He said he was too young to retire, so he bought Tiny’s to stay busy.
“I needed something to keep my mind busy part of the day,” LaFlamme said. “I didn’t think it would be something so intense.”
LaFlamme spent days running the liquor store while keeping the bar open until midnight. He played the role of manager, bartender and psychologist to patrons who came in and wanted to talk. His wife, Joan, sons Randy and Gary and daughter Lori Cooper, all worked at Tiny’s.
LaFlamme has fond memories of his time as owner of Tiny’s. After he had been owner for one year, he threw a huge party catered by Michael’s On East, complete with a tent in the parking lot. He later learned that he should have pulled a permit before setting up the tent, although he never got fined. Friday nights were always popular, because LaFlamme served food, either from Isabelle’s Eatery or a local pizza place.
When LaFlamme’s daughter got married on the beach, the family went to Tiny’s afterward to celebrate.
About 1996, a drug store, which was located next door to Tiny’s, closed, and LaFlamme moved his liquor store into the space. Over the years, LaFlamme’s children moved on to other career fields, and he brought in Susan “Susie” Vaught to manage the bar. Then, in October 2003, LaFlamme sold the liquor store and bar to Andrew Hlywa, who owns Whitney Beach Plaza.
Hlywa owned the bar for five years, during which time he expanded it when the chamber moved out of the front space. In late 2008, Vaught bought the bar portion of Tiny’s, while Hlywa reopened the liquor store portion of the business in early 2009 as part of Whitney Beach Deli and Wines.
Over the years, Tiny’s became a north-Key hangout. Griffin, who has written four mystery novels and has been a regular since LaFlamme owned Tiny’s, included the bar in three of his novels.
“It’s an institution on this island,” Griffin said.
According to Messina, who managed Tiny’s alongside Vaught, many snowbirds would often stop at Tiny’s before they went to their condominium or motel when they arrived for season.
When Vaught died in January, her husband, Dave, and Messina continued to operate Tiny’s, in part because of Vaught’s love for the bar. But as Dave Vaught evaluated sales from the first three months of the year, which had fallen from the year before, he had to make a business decision and decided in mid-March to close the bar.
As hundreds of people filed out of Tiny’s in the early morning hours April 1, approximately 15 regulars lingered. They sat around in a circle and shared memories. They played “I Love This Bar” by Toby Keith, one of Vaught’s favorite songs.
“Some people had trouble walking out that door for the last time,” Messina said.
Even for the regulars who didn’t stick around until the early morning hours, leaving Tiny’s behind proved to be difficult. Several wondered where they would get their afternoon drinks.
“That was my little evening social scene,” said Graham Cox, who had been going to Tiny’s since Menendez owned it.
Griffin is finishing up his latest novel, which will be released in 2011. The unnamed book still includes Tiny’s.
“One of the questions I have to toy with now is, do I close Tiny’s in the book?” Griffin said.
But he might deal with Tiny’s closing in the same way he dealt with the death of his friend, Miles Leavitt, who died in fall 2007. Logan Hamilton, the character based on Leavitt, continues to live on in Griffin’s books.
And there’s another place Tiny’s will live on — in Longboat Key’s history books. Beachum, who was feeling better after her cold when she arrived at the Longboat Key Historical Society’s museum Monday, April 5 to volunteer, was surprised when she found a new exhibit waiting for her: a framed collage of Tiny’s regulars that had previously hung in the bar.
Dave Vaught wanted the Historical Society to keep it in remembrance of a place rich with Key history.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].