Cocktails X Couture 2015

Originally posted Thursday, January 15, 2015 by Tampa Bay Times:

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Moving away from Tampa Bay Fashion Week may boost the profile of Cocktails X Couture
Robbyn Mitchell, Times Staff Writer

Flamboyance and fierceness will be on tap Saturday night at The RITZ Ybor as the venue kicks off the year in fashion with the Cocktails X Couture event.

Eight local designers will showcase small collections on an 24-foot by 8-foot runway specially constructed for the evening in the Ritz’s theatre. There will be live performances by musicians, dancers and showcases of art.

“Our theme this year deals with gender identity but it’s not an overarching banner,” said Okesene Tilo, a spokesman (and event organizer) for The RITZ Ybor. “We will have themed cocktails for each room of the venue including male and female interpretations of the Moscow Mule.”

Sassy drink names like Gin Kardashian and Whiskey Brinkley are just the start of the interesting offerings for Saturday’s event. The RITZ Ybor in partnership with Tribeca Color Salon has been hosting the Cocktails and Couture party during Tampa Bay Fashion Week since 2012. Fashion week organizers decided to postpone 2014’s event in favor of spreading the fashion love to other months.

“The idea was to move the party away from Fashion Week to January so there would be fashion week events all year long,” Tilo said.

Tribeca will be styling the manes of all the show models. Sponsor Kevin Murphy will be providing hair product swag bags for all VIP ticket holders. The $50 VIP admission includes reserved seating nearest to the runway and two drink tickets.

The RITZ crew spent six months planning the event, which is expected to have more than 800 attendees. Kicking off at 8 p.m., there will be three runway shows featuring entertainment and designers. The final show at 10:30 p.m. will be an avant garde extravaganza, Tilo said.

“It’s going to be very Lady Gaga — some sexy moments but nothing too racy,” Tilo laughed. Some Little Monsters will even be wearing their Sunday best to the cocktail-attire event.

Cocktails X Couture is one of several events that The RITZ Ybor donates the proceeds to the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Last year, the venue raised $105,000.00 for the charity through various events.

CXC15 01CXC15 05CXC15 06CXC15 04CXC15 03CXC15 07CXC15 08CXC15 10CXC15 09CXC15 11Photos by Aimee Blodgett, Rafael Martin + Rion Sabean

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London Bridges

If I ate my heart out in Italy, then I drank and danced the rest of the time in London.

Last fall marked my first time back in Europe as an adult.  I was already there with my good friend Neil, and my other good friend Areis was flying over from Tampa just to meet us.  (My measurement of knowing you’re getting older: when you constantly make plans with your friends who live in the same city as you to hang out anywhere else but that city.) The plan of attack for those couple of days in London was quite simple: dine, drink, dance, sleep, repeat.

London London Pub
I’ve long had an indescribable connection to and fascination with the U.K.: Their chart-topping recording artists have always filled my earphones.  Popular television shows like Footballers Wives and The X-Factor (and I’m not referring to that abominable U.S. flop that once had Nicole Scherzinger as a judge) were favorites of mine.  Most importantly, my attempt at only speaking in a British accent when inebriated never fails.  (Academy Award winner Gwyneth Paltrow, I am not.)

So here I was in the most-expensive city in the world with two of my best friends, and I only managed to snap the above two photos the entire that I was over there.  (My measurement of knowing you had a great vacation: when you did absolute zero sight-seeing and took less than three photos your entire time overseas.)

Whoever said that New York City is the capital of the world deserves to be fined and imprisoned for uttering such a false statement.  That person deserves to share a prison cell with the same person who said the following false statements about London: (1) They do not like Americans over there, and (2) the food there is disgusting.  Solely judging from the numerous locals I met at the innumerable places that I Facebook checked-in to, visiting from America and having an American accent was a draw.  And every fish & chips, meat pie with mushy peas, and bangers & mash platter that I had was Hoover Wind Tunnel vacuumed up into my belly with delight.  In fact, the only time I ever raised an eyebrow of concern while in London was my aggressive attempt to locate a nightclub that didn’t intentionally play Disney’s Frozen soundtrack, B*Witched, or S Club 7.  I’ve long known that London loves pop music, but little did I know to what extreme I suppose.

“Rather Be” by Clean Bandit ft. Jess Glynne:
 This song was utterly inescapable in London that entire week: being played on every radio station, in every pub and bar, in the hotel lobby, on TV.  The lyrics to “Rather Be” also perfectly sum up the entire magic that was experienced while there.  London, England… there’s no place I’d rather be.

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Big Fat Love Italia

I am blessed in this life.  I love, and I am loved.  Earlier this month, I flew thousands of miles to see love, to see one of my best friends Cheri get married.  And it was while I was miles away from home that I had a torrid, scandalous love affair with the greatest love of my entire life…

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Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite pastime is eating.  And anyone who doesn’t know me can only imagine what happened when I traveled to Italy earlier this month…  I feasted my big fat heart out.  If you vacation overseas while on a diet, then you’re living a nightmare you’re not really on vacation.  Because when you are truly on vacation like I was, all control, restraint, the MyFitnessPal app, and restrictions go out the Mini Cooper window.  I was free to order anything and everything on the restaurant and cafe’ menus that I wished to taste.  Veal scaloppine with mushrooms. Risotto with artichoke.  Prosecco. Melon wrapped in prosciutto. Fresh mozzarella and tomato. Fernet Branca and cola. Brioche and pistacchio granita. Cannolis. More Prosecco.  Caponata.  Pan-fried sea bass.  Limoncello.   Arancinette.  Mushroom flan.  Double espresso.  Another bottle of Prosecco.

In those moments, who cared about  caloric intake?   (I obviously cannot flaunt that question ten years from now, or currently to my primary physician.)  Who cared about the amount of Euros being shelled out?  I was in m#thaf$cking Italy bitch, and I was going to take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity to enjoy the culinary orgasms.  There were times I left the dining table so completely stuffed and ridiculously full, that the few steps to the elevator up to the hotel room seemed comparable to climbing Mount Etna.  Dining in Italy was an evangelical foodie revival, and sharing those moments with friends, family, and loved ones was magical, especially when the sole reason any of us being  there was to celebrate love.

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There are few people that anyone in their lives would go out of their way, and cross the globe for.  My dear friend Cheri is one of my few.  After all, I was right there the very first time she met her new husband Michael nine years ago in Chicago.  I had invited Cheri to fly to the windy city to meet my friends Gina and Neil, and Michael happened to have been visiting Gina from Los Angeles that same weekend.  Here we were nearly a decade later sitting across from one another at a dining table inside of a castle in Sicily for their wedding.  It was just meant to be.

Just as everyone who traveled to Cheri’s wedding was meant to be there.

So many stories were shared.  So many stories were told.  So many new friendships and bonds were formed.  The most touching moment of the entire trip, and one of the most touching moments of my entire life’s existence was Cheri’s Uncle Junior’s toast to the newlyweds.  Perhaps it was his strength during the darkest moment in life that inspired me while he proclaimed how important it is to love and to be loved, but I was moved.  I was moved to tears.

Whether love padded our midsections and caused planned wedding outfits not to fit.  (Thank God for backup outfits!)   Or whether the love was through stories shared at 1am over hysterical laughter, and endless glasses of wine and champagne…  that entire week in Italy, we were all surrounded by love  …and pasta.

Congratulations to Cheri & Michael.  I love you both.


If I ate my heart out in Italy, then I drank and danced the rest of the time in London.  My European adventure continues in London…  STAY TUNED for my next post coming soon!  TO BE CONTINUED.


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“Diamonds” by Lane 8 featuring Solomon Grey: I also had a love affair in my earphones with this song while traveling…  If seduction had a sound, it would sound like this!

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Ask The Locals: Okesene Tilo

Okie Tilo Ask The Locals 2014
Ask the Locals: Okesene “Okie” Tilo of the RITZ Ybor
by Heidi Kurpiela

Okesene Tilo is the director of public relations, marketing and events at The RITZ Ybor. He arrived at the storied theater in 2008 after it had undergone a transformation from seedy nightclub to hip new concert venue.

Tilo –– known as “Okie” among Tampa Bay artists, musicians and Ybor clubbers –– is a 34-year-old social butterfly; an Ybor denizen with a weakness for Madonna, music festivals and comfort food.

An Army brat, Tilo was born in Berlin, Germany and moved to Tampa in 1991, where his knack for bringing people together made him the obvious choice for senior class president at Armwood High School in Seffner.

He studied political science at the University of South Florida and in 2005 produced his first fundraising event. The project proved the perfect outlet for a party-going extrovert with an admitted “OCD streak.”

For five years Tilo served as the managing director of Square One Creative, a collective of artists, designers and entertainers best known for hosting raging art parties at venues across Tampa.

In addition to his work at The RITZ, Tilo is the managing partner of the Up Up Up Group, a special event, festival and attractions planning company. He serves on the steering committee for Pride & Passion at the Tampa Museum of Art and the planning committee for Festa Italiana.

Best Ybor watering hole: First Chance Last Chance in Ybor. “It’s not too overwhelming or too loud. It’s a good place to have a conversation with someone over drinks.”

Best place to people watch: The bench in front of Honey Pot. “You’ll see rockers, hipsters, drag queens and people in fetish costumes coming and going.”

Best reason to cross the Howard Frankland bridge: Sake Bomb. “They make my favorite saketini. I’ve tried to replicate it at home and I can’t.”

Best cheap date: Five Bucks Drinkery in St. Pete. “Nothing costs more than five bucks. You can get loaded tater tots, a root beer float and a Frito pie. It’s like a Jack in the Box.”

Best weird food fusion: Nitally’s Thai-Mex Cuisine. “Thai food mixed with Mexican food is a nice little twist. It’s an interesting place. You’ll always leave with your nose and eyes burning from the spices.”

Best food truck: Aloha To Go. “Whenever they feature the Loco Moco I go nuts. It’s a hamburger patty over rice with gravy on top. Their Facebook page tells you where the truck will be. They go to Tampa General a lot. I’ve got no shame. I’ll follow that food truck to the hospital.”

Best hidden park: Edward Medard Park and Reservoir in Plant City. “It’s a gigantic park with hiking trails and tons of outdoor activities. It feels like you’re in North Carolina.”

Best act to play the RITZ: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. “Everyone I know was going crazy for her and she actually lived up to the hype. She was at the merch table at the end of the show talking to every single fan. She was very down-to-earth and natural. I felt like I’d known her for years.”

Best place to stretch out: Yoga Loft. “Yoga actually works! I started going two and half years ago. Now I can completely touch the floor.”

Best new local band: The Sh-Booms out of Orlando. “They’re amazing. I saw them at The Hub. I’m somewhat of a Sh-Boom stalker now.”

Best wild Friday night party: The Filthy Richard Party at The RITZ. “If you want to full-fledge drink and dance this is the place to go.”

Best all-American eating: The Florida State Fair. “I don’t eat fair food regularly, but when I do go all out. My friends and I go on rides first, then eat every ounce of fried food we can find: fried Pepsi, fried bubble gum, fried butter, funnel cakes, elephant ears … This isn’t just one day of cheating, it’s destroying your entire eating plan for the month.”

Best way to burn off fair food: Spin class at Powerhouse Gym. “I take Mike Hammonds’ class every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 p.m. DJ Jason Krouth spins EDM, dance, Top 40s and 90s hip-hop. The guy has a following because his class is always full.”

Best bargain basement finds: Revolve Clothing Exchange in Ybor. “I once found this Michael Jackson Thriller jacket. It was such a rare find I got a call from someone at the store asking if I still had it. Apparently it was in high demand.”

Best way to tick off your dentist: Binge on croissant donuts at Piquant. “Everything they bake gets reserved. Basically you have to call and place an order. There’s a waiting list. My friends made fun of me for loving this place and then they had a croissant donut and now they’re hooked. It’s heaven.”

Best guilty-pleasure greasy chain: Church’s Chicken. “I’ll go to get my fried okra on. A big box of okra at Church’s is cheap!”

Best way to spend a silly Sunday: At an auction at Myers Fine Art & Antiques. “Once or twice a year my friends and I get dressed up and go to Myers in St. Pete. We don’t go to bid. We go to watch. It’s crazy what some of these things sell for. People are actually on the phone with bidders. You’ll see someone throw down $5,000 for a spoon.”

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Loco Moco… Tales of an Epic Brunch Party

Food War Brunch Brunch Group
The Brunch Edition of the Food War / Food Throwdown Party took place last Sunday.  For those unfamiliar with the dinner party concept that my good friends Katina and Justin started, it’s basically an episode of Chopped meets Top Chef played out among friends and fellow foodies.  [READ HERE for the specific event details & rules.]  From these parties, I somehow managed to  earn a Simon Cowell reputation for my harsh honest critiques, and am constantly asked to put my money where my mouth is by entering a challenge and preparing a dish.   I have only entered one previous challenge where my Peanut Butter Chicken Chili tied for the top spot.  Truth be told, I will only enter any contest if I know that I will come out victorious on top, hence why I never participated in the homemade pasta and Moroccan challenges.

My friends Jaime and Jaden put so much work into hosting these parties at my dream their house, and creating such fabulous dishes, that it would only be fitting that I participate in this edition.  So the challenge was on: contestants must prepare a Brunch Dish, savory or sweet and not limited to specific ingredients, to be critiqued by all guests, but ultimately selected as the winning dish by chosen judges.  The cocktail challenge: to create the ultimate Bloody Mary, not limited to specific ingredients.  Being that I can barely properly pour a beer, I stuck with preparing a Brunch dish for the challenge.

I have a reputation with my friends and co-workers for not knowing how to cook, solely because I may dine out often.  Truth be told, I am a fine, young cannibal chef in the kitchen, and when I throw down, I throw it the @#$! down.   For my brunch dish, I knew that I wanted to create a hearty dish.  I also knew that I wanted to prepare something from Hawaii or Samoa that didn’t involve spam.  (And yes I can make that joke!)  Although, I may have lost this Food War, I am very proud of my dish and had quite the challenge with all of the wonderfully prepared and delicious dishes.  I am looking forward to DESTROYING Jaime and Jaden participating at the next challenge.

Sunday afternoons don’t get much better than spending it with old friends, new friends, enjoying delicious cocktails and homemade food.


Here were the brunch dishes entered at this Food War / Throwdown: 

Food War Brunch Dish 02

Jessica & Amber’s Dish:  Peruvian fish ceviche  made with lime, onions, spicy peppers, fresh cilantro, and served with a sweet potato round and toasted corn kernels


Food War Brunch Dish 03

Lauren’s Dish:  Homemade almond, raisin monkey bread  served with creme anglaise


Food War Brunch Dish 01

Areis’s Dish:  Southwest stuffed breakfast pepper – stuffed with eggs, spinach, potatoes, pepper jack cheese, and topped off with black beans, pickled onion, pickled jalapenos, avocodo scallions, and sour cream


Food War Brunch Dish 04

The Best Dish in the Universe My Dish:   Hawaiian Loco Moco: coconut beef patty and brown tapioca gravy served over steamed jasmine rice, topped with a fried egg and bacon crumble


And of course for the WINNING DISH:


Food War Brunch Dish 05

Jaime & Jaden’s Dish:  Sweet potato hash, tossed in a spicy curry and sundried tomato sauce, topped with an olive oil poached egg, bacon crumble, and fresh herbs, and served with a gin, honey, simple syrup, ginger liqueur, fresh lemon juice topped with an IPA.


Food War Brunch Winners Judges Food War Brunch Winners


A HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to Jaime and Jaden for not only winning the Brunch Challenge, but for also winning the Bloody Mary Challenge.  And yes… they won Trophies for their victory.  We foodies take these challenges very seriously!

A SPECIAL THANK YOU to Nicholas and Allison with NHIE Tampa Bay, who judged the Brunch Portion, and were amazing troopers for putting up with my bribery, harassment, extortion tactics  allowing me to call them un-American graciously being a part of this challenge.  Be sure to check out their amazing NHIE: Never Have I Ever – Tampa Edition BLOG online at:


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The RITZ Ybor Photos: Machine Gun Kelly

MGK 2014 A MGK 2014 B

Machine Gun Kelly at The RITZ Ybor
on Saturday, July 19, 2014
Photos by Nicole Abbett

Check out more photos online RIGHT HERE.

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The RITZ Ybor Photos: Phantogram + Shaun White

There’s something to applaud about Tampa when a concert rightfully sells out!  It restores my faith in this city having exceptional taste in music, and gives me hope that other fantastic artists and musicians will take note and head down this way to perform.  Last night’s SOLD OUT Phantogram wih Bad Things concert at The RITZ Ybor was simply put… FUCKIN’ AWESOME!  An even bigger bonus when the music artists are just as cool and genuine as you would hope them to be.

Phantogram 2014 Shaun White 2014

SOLD OUT! Phantogram with Bad Things at The RITZ Ybor
on Sunday, June 29, 2014
Photos by Nicole Abbett

Check out more photos online RIGHT HERE.

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The RITZ Ybor Photos: Cut Copy

Cut Copy Okie

 Cut Copy at The RITZ Ybor
on Tuesday, June 14, 2014
Photos by Nicole Abbett


Check out more photos from Cut Copy with CLASSIXX + Nile Delta at The RITZ Ybor online: CLICK HERE

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Happy Everyday

My good friend Katina urged me to attempt the 100 Happy Days Challenge that she and numerous other participants have been posting about.  So, I visited and read the website.  I recognized and understood the concept.  Hats off to her and anyone else playing along with the challenge, because it really seems to be one of the more genuine and harmless social media gimmicks flying around out there.  I definitely am not knocking it, but for me, it’s (simply put) just not me.  Just as I loathe those silly website lists telling me what 20 places I need to visit before I die, or those ludicrous and annoying personality quizzes that “determine” which Real Housewife, 80s Pop Star, 90s Rock Star, Hollywood Movie Star, Boy Bay member I am based on my answers to 5 brainless questions… my happiness, my personality, and my future will never be validated, defined nor governed by any website.

HOWEVER… Katina was ON to something, and her enthusiasm with how the 100 Happy Days Challenge has inspired her wound up inspiring me.  I DO need to quit making the excuse that I am too busy to find time to spend with old friends.  I DO need to make more of an effort to stay in touch with others outside of the realm of social media.  I DO need to always remember that I have a pretty awesome life, and to be grateful for its privileges and the individuals living in it with me.

I didn’t quite make 100 days, but I did document the last 7 days that were pretty damn magical.

2014 Edison Okie Steven Dinner

Happiness:  having dinner with one of your best friends

2014 Filthy Richard Okie Jamal Areis Traye

Happiness:  a sudden night out on the town with your boys

2014 Ybor Wine Bar Okie Linley

Happiness: enjoying a long-overdue dinner, movie and wine night with a loved one

2014 GD Okie Neil Jason Areis2014 GD Okie Cody Areis Jason

Happiness: acting as if not one day has passed when reconnecting with your travel crew and best friends from Chicago and New York

2014 GD Okie Dani Steven 2014 GD Okie Nathan Dani Steven Carlos2014 GD Okie Will O

Happiness: randomly running into old friends when in another city

2014 Oxford Exchange Hyacinth Robby Jason Charles Areis

Happiness: when a best friend visits and wants to meet for brunch

2014 Rooster Till Katina 2

Happiness:  nearly ordering the entire menu when dining with a best friend

2014 Little Dragon Group

 Happiness:  experiencing a concert with loved ones
Happiness Bonus:  when the presence of a photo bomber makes you smile

Cheers to #100daysofhappiness A LIFETIME of happiness.

“The world is ours, and no one can take it away except the exhaustion of enjoying it so much.” -my friend Michael Maurer

“Inner Smile” by Texas:  After all these years, this song still makes me feel happy!


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