Florida Keys News
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Game over: Stick Stein closes
New law, roadwork blamed for ending 38-year run

After 38 years, it's game over for Stick Stein Sports Rock Cafe.

The billiards and video game-laden New Town tavern in the western corner of Key Plaza Shopping Center, 2922 N. Roosevelt Blvd., that's long been a hangout for sports watchers, pool sharks and video gamers hunting for cheap beer and 10-cent chicken wings will close after Friday.

No list of Key West "dive bars" was complete without Stick Stein near the top, and that was just fine with owner Steve DeGrave and his loyal customers.

"I sold most of the pool tables last night," he said. "That was our last pool league night after 25 years of running leagues. Those local people liked the old dive bar here and they've been our bread and butter for years. It's the end of an era."

DeGrave cited a new law signed by Gov. Rick Scott in April outlawing Internet gambling cafes in Florida for forcing him to turn off dozens of machines that drew customers and money into his business.

Internet sweepstakes cafes operated under Florida promotional game statutes rather than under gambling laws. Customers at the sites like Stick & Stein -- and others like Lucky Duck in Marathon as well as veterans clubs and other lodges throughout the Keys -- used prepaid debit cards to place wagers on the virtual slot-machine computer games.

DeGrave laid off 10 workers the moment Scott signed the bill and pulled the plug.

"That was the beginning of the end," he said. "That and the (North Roosevelt) Boulevard construction."

Those two factors, along with the $13,500 monthly rent, were the death knell, he said. DeGrave has been working at the bar since 1981; he bought the place in 1988.

"Couple that with high utility costs and it just wasn't profitable anymore," DeGrave said. "It's really depressing. I had to do what I had to do and I waited as long as I could possibly wait. The business just wasn't there. My heart was there, but the business wasn't."

When DeGrave removed the online game machines, he turned that portion of the bar into a nightclub called Styx that boasts a lounge atmosphere with a DJ booth, but the change wasn't enough to keep the business open, he said.

DeGrave will still split his time between Key West and Homestead, where he continues to operate the mainland-counterpart Stick & Stein, at 28 Krome Ave., as well as his Key West-based jukebox and video game rental service.

He also installs and operates online jukeboxes for other bars and businesses in the Keys.

"The Homestead business is doing really well," DeGrave said. "I'm expanding up there. The operating costs are a fraction of what they are in Key West. And I'm still doing the jukeboxes and video game business. I'll focus more on that in Key West from here on."

A few patrons were still mingling and playing pool on the remaining tables Tuesday. Yellow Post-it notes with prices were stuck to just about everything. Chairs and bar stools were going for $5. Neon bar-light prices appeared to be negotiable.

A sign advertised that all the alcohol in the walk-up liquor store was 20 percent off.

Longtime employees Tammy Gillikin, who's been there for more than a decade, and Merilee Turner couldn't hold back tears when asked how they felt about it.

"It's an institution," Turner said. "It's so depressing. Just really sad. A lot of people grew up here."

Among those who grew up with Stick & Stein is Patty Carron, a 38-year regular who has been a fixture on the pool tables since the beginning.

"This place has always been about the people," Carron said between pool games. "It's a landmark -- to me it is. People of all seasons came in here."

Many of those people came during hurricanes, when the bar generators kept residents cool and their beer colder while the storms pounded the island. Many Stick & Stein "hurricane parties" became routine during storm season for regulars and neighborhood patrons.

"We would take out the grills and start making hot dogs and hamburgers for everyone," Gillikin said, wiping away tears. The sometimes salty and colorful characters that frequented the bar made for the best memories, both women said.

She and Turner laughed and recalled one woman who ditched her pants after she couldn't make it to the restroom in time.

"I had to tell her, 'No, ma'am, you've got to have pants on,'" Gillikin said as she and Turner laughed, but mostly cried. There were too many stories to tell, the women said.

Outside on the door a sign read: "We are closing forever in the Keys. It's been a great run, but it is done."


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