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- Photo by Rob Bartlett
Tommy MotCulture creator
Civics nerds were justifiably excited late last year when the Milk District – the commercial area clustered around the intersection of Bumby Avenue and Robinson Street – was made an official Main Street District by the city. This designation gives businesses in the area access to special funding, managed by a board and implemented by a full-time director. It's a goal that Spacebar owner Tommy "Mot" Barger has been working toward for several years.
Mot's ties to Orlando's cultural scene run deep. He first rose to prominence as a DJ in Orlando's heyday as a dance music capital, back in the early 1990s, and found success running Covert Skate Shop (now Spacebar) in the nascent Milk District. After Mot and other local business owners teamed up to brand the area, the Milk District gradually became known in local and national press as one of the hidden gems of Orlando.
Now, though, the Milk District is anything but hidden. On any given night, one can find slam poets, comedians, DJs, bands, artists, food trucks and more crowding the core strip on Robinson Street. And a lot of that success ties back in to Mot and Spacebar. When Covert's business took a hit due to the 2008 recession, Mot says, "I was left with a couple bucks in my pocket, got a beer and wine license, said, 'Here's a space for anyone to do something in. Whatever. Come to me.' And we have beer and wine, but it's not really a bar."
- Photo by Rob Bartlett
That attitude of viewing Spacebar as more of an event space than a regular bar still holds sway with Mot, and the variety of events – art shows, Bring Your Own Vinyl nights, parking-lot dance parties, punk shows, pop-up shops – shows that. During the day, Mot runs a T-shirt brand, Please Evolve, out of the same space. But he's the first to attribute the bar's current success to others. "I'm super, super grateful and thankful for having a great staff of people. I want to be the best boss I can be to them, because without them I wouldn't be able to do what I do with the T-shirts."
Mot sees a lot of similarities between the scene that's sprung up around the Milk District and the '90s scene that revolved around downtown, and being able to foster new ideas is a source of pride for him. "That's one of the things I love about having this space: young people coming in and doing cool shit. I love it. I had that energy. I was that dude for so long in this town. No money. Vision. Do it. Bam."