Water Street Tampa Logo

a person wearing sunglasses and a white shirt

Culture Maestro: Ryan Brown Crafts Connections and Cocktails in Florida’s Five-Star Oasis

Ryan Brown, The Tampa EDITION’s Director of Culture and Entertainment, is connected.

Written by Ray Roa
Photos by Adrian O’Farrill and Foto Bohemia

On a cool night last October, every security professional in Florida over 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighing at least 275 pounds was on the clock in the Water Street Tampa neighborhood. They stood at the entrances to The Tampa EDITION where people lined the block, hoping to find their name on a list during grand opening weekend. Inside, Tampa’s first five-star hotel was crawling with actors, models, designers, musicians, and magazine editors, many of whom had just left Amalie Arena after a private concert from Lenny Kravitz.

More of that hulking security detail manned every elevator on the ground level of the 26-story, 172-room hotel with 37-residences, leaving anyone who managed to get in still trying to gain further access to the rooftop bar, seven restaurants, and elusive Punch Room. Someone needed this wristband, or that one, or had to be escorted by so-and-so just to get through to the next layer of sentinels.

a person pouring a drink into a bottle

And inside the third, back chamber of the EDITION Arts Club, the deepest pocket of the exclusivity that night, Q-Tip, co-founder of legendary hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, was bathed in red light and the twinkle of disco balls as he worked a DJ set for no more than 100 people who danced without a care in the world as they sipped on free booze and bumped elbows in what felt like the epicenter of a culture shift in downtown Tampa.

Standing there, just a few feet to the right of Tip, casually chatting up Michelin star chef John Fraser (of Lilac, Nix and Dovetail), was another six-foot-something guy who was too skinny to be security, but entirely too handsome, sharp-dressed, and, well, sober and in-tune with the details of the room, to be there on accident.

“I’m glad I found Ryan,” Frank Roberts told Current, about Ryan Brown, Director of Culture and Entertainment at The Tampa EDITION. There aren’t many like him. In fact, there are just four other people in North America who have a similar job, and only about 20 who do it worldwide (the chain has 16 hotels open, with six more on the way).

Roberts started barbacking in New York City before launching the Sunday party at Lotus on West 14th Street, then opening Gramercy Park’s Rose Bar alongside Studio 54 co-founder Ian Schrager. Once the Director of Culture and Entertainment at the New York EDITION, he now travels the globe opening hotels in his role as Vice President of Brand Experience for EDITION Hotels worldwide.

The requirements for those in the Director of Culture and Entertainment role?

“They’ve got to have a large Rolodex and be in good standing with their community,” Roberts said.

Brown has both, after spending his life in Tampa. But as executives, they also have to get along with the rest of hotel leadership, maintain a 90-day calendar (all while making sure the EDITION stays ahead of trends), and ensure the brand is profitable, too. “All of that work defines the programming and cultural vision for that property,” Roberts added.

The number one rule, though, is to just be nice. Anyone who gives off the nightlife, club-guy, vibe simply cannot do the job.

a group of people posing for a photo
a group of people standing around a pool at night

Ryan Brown is the man behind the
parties galore at The Tampa EDITION

So, yes, Brown knows the hotel’s regulars, and its residents, and interfaces with them, but he also caters to A-listers staying at the EDITION, whether they want to be seen or simply enjoy a quiet dinner on a private patio. After setting that up, Brown might play stage manager and find new ways to improve the aesthetics of the Arts Club or rooftop, tweaking little details, or tucking away a speaker wire, all to improve the guest experience.

“There is that element of bringing people together, but a lot of people think that the role is all about partying—it really isn’t,” Roberts said.

Watching Brown work inside a windowless office in the belly of the Tampa EDITION, that much is true.

Born and raised in Tampa, Brown came of age in a house on the corner of Habana Avenue and Platt Street before graduating from Plant High and then Bethune-Cookman University. After coming home from college, Brown was studying for the LSAT when Sing and Kevin Hurt—family friends who were over to watch football, offered him a job at their soon-to-open restaurant Anise.

At that point, Brown had barbacked at places like the since-shuttered Amphitheatre in Ybor City, but at Anise—which will go down as one of downtown Tampa’s pioneer restaurants—he got to dip his toes into more high-level service.

“I think that Anise was ahead of his time in a lot of ways. But it was my introduction to a really high level of service,” Brown says.

Through his time there, he built up that Rolodex of contacts, working with other up-and-coming local movers and shakers on not just live entertainment, but food and drink events featuring high end wine and spirits. Those connections helped him grow, and he’s remained connected to those roots in his new role. Whether it was a sommelier teaching him about different varietals, or a DJ inviting him to Hyde Park to get a deeper knowledge of house music, Brown was moving around Tampa, absorbing every bit of information he could.

“Fast forward, and a lot of those people that I met during that time, over there, there. I’ve chatted to them about coming in here. So it’s full circle now,” he says.

a person sitting at a table with his hands folded
a bar with a shelf of bottles

Brown took other stops at other high-end staples like Mandarin Heights, but at Anise, he also crossed paths with another mentor, Ro Patel, and eventually took over the cocktail program. It was Patel that connected Brown with the job at The Tampa EDITION.

Patel—one of Tampa’s first cocktail kings—only knew that the hotel was looking for someone who was connected in Tampa. Brown was in search of a new challenge, a job that could let him be happy executing a larger scale vision.

“Frank looked through the camera lens during that interview and just told me, ‘Your job is to intertwine the culture of Tampa with the various food and beverage venues that we have in the hotel,’” Brown says about his interview. His mind started to race around that strategy, and he immediately started thinking of everyone in his life he could plug in. Roberts picked up on the excitement right away.

“He looked at me and asked, ‘Are you feeling this right now? I think we’re vibing,’” Brown says, smiling. They were, and now at EDITION, Brown gets to marry the depth of his food and beverage background with a venue that’s asked him to showcase the whole of Tampa’s unique creative culture to the world.

At his office Brown shares his simple vision for an upcoming activation, one that sheds light on how he sees his new job.

“The event has to be impacted by the community as much as the event impacts the community,” Brown says, alluding to all the locals he wants to bring into the spotlight with national talent traveling in. “That’s the kind of footprint it has to have.”

Roberts, and in many ways, the rest of Tampa, may have just found Ryan Brown, but it’s pretty cool to know that a guy like him has also been standing here, and standing up for the city, all along.