A larger-than-life airbrushed portrait of Hulk Hogan, former WWE champion and current Loan Mart spokesperson, stands guard overlooking the parking lot of his new business venture, Hogan’s Beach, a restaurant and club that opened on New Year's Eve of 2012 in Tampa Bay, Florida.
As you pass by the “motorcycles only” section of the parking lot and make your way through the damp Best Western banquet hall lobby that’s lined with Hard Rock Café-style memorabilia in dusty glass cases, it’s almost as if you get transported back to a time when Urkel was the class dweeb, Kelly Kapowski was the homecoming queen, and Hulk Hogan was that really cool PE teacher who looked the other way when you cut class to smoke weed.
When you finally arrive at the entrance of Hogan’s Beach, it’s hard to believe that this dream of a restaurant was almost just that.
Even though he had experienced huge success in the wrestling world—such as winning “Best Babyface” for ten consecutive years—Hogan’s track record in entrepreneurship has been somewhat shaky. His first restaurant, Pastamania, was located in the Mall of America and closed less than a year after opening. And after passing on the George Foreman Grill franchise (before Foreman was attached), Hogan tried to make up for the loss by fronting a line of health-centric blenders called the Hulk Hogan Thunder Mixer. The device has since been discontinued.
Hogan also suffered a string of seemingly unrelenting and very public personal lows from 2007-2012. There was the messy divorce from his wife Linda in 2007, in which it was reported that he turned over 70 percent of the couples liquid assets to her (no word on who got to keep the couple’s Thunder Mixer). Later that year, his son Nick was arrested at 17 for an illegal street race turned car crash that left his close friend, and former Iraq War veteran, braindead. A lengthy and expensive civil suit followed, and Nick spent six months in county jail before he was released on probation. Then, in 2008, Hogan started a 19-month-long nightmare where he endured nine back surgeries and was told he’d never walk again. To top it all off, an embarrassing sex tape he made with his best friend Bubba the Love Sponge’s wife, Heather Clem, was made public in April of 2012. But if there’s one thing Hulk Hogan fans know, it’s that he’s never down for the count for good.
In what could arguably be called his comeback, Hogan seemed to invest all his energy into Hogan’s Beach. It's a throwback to his glory days, and the carefully selected color scheme of American mustard yellow and cookout ketchup red pay homage to the wrester’s infamous costume.
As I sat down to eat next to a table of 20-plus patrons in the midst of what I can only describe as an NRA meet-up, I realized just what it took for this living icon to complete this venture.
Head Chef Rob Uzzillia, a graduate from the Culinary Institute of America, rounded out the menu at Hogan’s Beach in a way, he described, “that will make Hogan’s Beach a dining destination as much as it is a place to come have fun on the beach.” While I can certainly attest to having fun on the beach, I also ate at least half of the $14 microwaved chicken fettuccine alfredo that was served lukewarm. I took a break from devouring Chef Rob’s creation and walked out onto the restaurant’s “Tequila Sunrise meets Pirates of the Caribbean”-themed patio.
It was easy to imagine how this Tampa hotspot transformed into the place to be for people like this on weekend nights. Equipped with a jet ski-up beach, where patrons can literally park their jet skis near the beach, and some of the areas most high-end DJs spinning insane tracks (such as Tony Puccio, who’s described on his website as earning “respect both locally and globally"), it’s no wonder Hogan himself describes the nightlife “like a crazy beach party… that on Saturday and Sunday has 3,000 to 4,000 people.”
A flier near the outside bar informed me that the venue is set to host a “Nothing But 90s” Halloween Bash, featuring Vanilla Ice on October 31. A $5,000 cash prize will be awarded to the best-dressed contestants in the sexiest, scariest, and totally 90s categories.
Oh, and this bar gives back too. When 9/11 fell on the bar’s infamous “bike night” (gotta wonder what the “motorcycle only” lot looks like on a night like that), Hogan’s Beach took the opportunity to host a party to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Cover band Cross Eyed Larry, self-described as "Tampa Bay's Best Roll and Roll," played on the main stage while a Latin-style/electronic DJ spun tacks in the lot to honor our nation’s soldiers.
As I walked towards the exit, feeling how Bill and Ted must have felt upon returning from their excellent adventure back to San Dimas, I looked back and I noticed this:
How could a man who seemingly put do-rags on the market for white people suddenly discriminate against his clientele for wearing them? Let alone the laundry list of other clothing he banned:
- Skullcaps or bandanas
- Workout clothing (including tracksuits, jumpsuits, sweatpants, basketball, gym, or mesh shorts)
- Hats, caps, or visors worn sideways
- No camouflage (unless with military ID)
- Work boots
- Oversized or excessive jewelry
There is, of course, a reason for the restrictive dress code: “This is a beach party and beach attire is required.”
Hulk Hogan has done a lot over the years for his fans. This restaurant seems to be his way of grasping at his glory days, trying to remain the Hulk Hogan we knew and loved back then, but I wish he would allow himself to retire his do-rag and maybe jet ski up to someone else's beach.
Follow Whitney Teubner on Twitter.