Peel away SoHo’s protective outer layer of partying and posturing, and you’ll find an entire underground house-music scene that has existed for two decades, and took root with the opening of Hyde Park Café in 1995.
Through highs, lows, and typical ebb-and-flows, Hyde Park Café has endured, not only becoming a fixture of the SoHo landscape and the vital core of the local underground house scene, but also developing an international reputation as a preferred destination for house and techno DJs to play in Florida.
HPC owner Tommy Ortiz operated the club in virtual obscurity for its first five years, barely managing to stay afloat as he attempted to foster a nightlife scene in SoHo, and throw a weekly underground house-music party featuring the artist who’d originally introduced Ortiz to the genre, DJ Jask (still an HPC resident to this day).
“My bathrooms didn’t even work for a while,” he says.
Ortiz can laugh about it in hindsight, given HPC’s current thriving status and his subsequent acquisition of two more successful SoHo ventures, Cheap and The Kennedy. But he insisted it was never about the money. “I just loved to throw parties. And house music, it is truly a spiritual thing. I’ve sat in that place, by myself in the back corner where no one can see me, with tears streaming down my face because I just love it so much and it moves me so much.”
“It’s a really unique thing Tommy has helped us cultivate,” Hallucination Ltd.’s DJ Three (aka Christopher Milo) commented in a recent email conversation. “Tommy is both a believer and at the same time good at business.”
Three started gigging at HPC in the early ’00s, taking over the deep house Snatch parties with DJ Matty in 2003, which gained steady traction as attendance went from 300 to 600 to sometimes 800 a night. Though he relocated to NYC a few years later, he continued to help run Snatch remotely until its end in 2010, when he passed the Friday-night torch to Brian Busto. He maintains a presence in Tampa, however, and uses the relationships he’s built with his DJ peers around the world to facilitate club bookings at The Kennedy and occasionally HPC. “I’m not a promoter, but rather, just wanting to keep the roots of where I came up alive in a way that’s relatable to what I do as an artist, DJ, label guy — whatever,” he wrote. “I want to bring my people to play for my people, if you will.”
Three described Tampa as “a boutique marketplace (see: small but with strong musical character)” and was quick to point out Hyde Park Café’s high-ranking status in the world DJ community, a preferred U.S. stop by the likes of Laurent Garnier, Damian Lazarus and Mr. C. “The DJs know what to expect. They simply love it. It might be lost on people in Tampa just how good the vibe is here … It’s just that small town thing where you’re certain it sucks ’cause it’s where you’re stuck living, but I can tell you even from my own global travels as a DJ — I would not keep fighting for it here if it wasn’t special.”
While the squat, palms-shaded single-story spread of buildings might appear unremarkable from the outside, Hyde Park Café has a warm and welcoming vibe on the inside, with a sexy-chic yet upscale design that spreads over three spaces that include a spacious open-air Café courtyard lit by hanging lanterns and festive holiday lights, and the main Velociti room, with its wheeling disco ball, generous DJ booth, wall-length bar and lights-strewn fog-shrouded dance floor. The audiences range from the slightly older and more experienced heads who’ve been part of the scene since its early ’90s rise at clubs like SIMONS in Gainesville and Orlando’s Firestone, to the fresher young faces flushed with the buzz of new musical discovery and from dancing nonstop to the relentless deep house beats.
HPC’s current chief resident, Brian Busto has been part of the HPC landscape for the past seven years. The Tampa native dove headfirst into Florida’s club culture directly after graduating high school, and started DJing officially in 1994. His first residency was in The Castle courtyard.
“So many clubs back then, and good ones,” he says. “Ybor was the spot.”
He picked up steady gigs from the late ’90s into the early ’00s, when he said the house-music community was at the peak of its powers. He landed a guest spot with Three at HPC in 2007, and a year later was asked to be an opener at Snatch. “His belief in me caused a ripple effect and opportunities to throw my own night came about,” Busto insisted. “One night a month turned to two, then three, to eventually Tommy convincing me to do a weekly on Friday night.” And thus, Serious Soul was born. “I bring in DJs from all over the world to play underground house and techno along with a rotating list of killer locals. The focus is to introduce new names and bring in Tampa favorites along the way. I keep it very simple. No bells and whistles, just proper sound, dancefloor and booth.”
When digging for music to add to his sonic palette, he doesn’t restrict himself to any one style of house or techno, explaining, “There are four things that really grab me — something deep, sexy, hypnotic, or something very tough feeling.”
And he knows how to get people on the floor, though it’s not his primary motivation. “It’s funny because obviously, you want to make people dance, that’s the most important thing. But for me, I like the challenge, and the thrill, that’s what drew me to DJing — doing something that’s not rehearsed, that’s completely spontaneous, that you can potentially not do a good job or fail at. So that when you do
do a good job, when it works, there’s a high you get from it like nothing else.” And when he’s feeling good, you can hear it in his mixes. “The way I DJ is pure emotion. So if I’m in a bad mood, you’ll hear it, if I’m in a good mood, you’ll hear it. I don’t pre-plan anything, it’s strictly how I’m feeling at the moment and that dictates how I play.”
He likes to keep it old-school, one of the reasons why he has a ‘no computer’ policy on his Serious Soul nights. He’s not against them, per se, “but I know what I like as a fan, and what I like as a fan is to look up at the DJ booth and see a guy working, not looking at a computer.”
He points out that technology has removed an important element of the DJ learning curve. “You don’t have to go through the years of learning how to beat-mix and program and flow, you never put the years and time into perfecting the thing that’s the hardest, and that’s learning how to beat-mix, and beat-mix good
. It’s an artform and the way we respected it, that respect is fading, and it’s a shame. I’m just doing my part at keeping it as genuine as possible.”
More from Brian Busto: Serious Soul
More from DJ Three: Hallucination Limited
International electronic music vet Alexi Delano joins Brian Busto for Serious Soul this Fri., April 11, with support from Just Steph and Zane Stewart; 10 p.m. doors (more info here
). Upcoming: DJ Three & Andy Hughes BDay Jam with Brian Busto and Mike E., Fri., April 18
(more info here
), and Julietta with Brian Busto and Dough Kenderdine, Fri., April 25
(more info here
). Hyde Park Café is located at 1806 W. Platt Street, Tampa. Regular admission ranges from $5 to $10.