By Justin Grant, tbt* correspondent
No one will be surprised to learn that I’m a big fan of the Paramount Network show Bar Rescue. Love him or hate him, bar consultant Jon Taffer knows the score, and his program is as often as informative as it is entertaining and bombastic.
One of the latest Bar Rescue transformations happens to be a St. Pete classic: Buffalo City Bar & Grille. While the new version of the bar — now known alternately as just BCBG — features a mounted buffalo head (when will this awful trend die?) and buffalo wings on the menu, the name is actually in reference to the city of Buffalo. That explains the huge neon Buffalo Bills helmet on the wall.
For years, Buffalo City Bar & Grille has been a favorite place to watch Bills and Sabres games, as well as to grab a cheap cold one in an average sports bar. There have been some changes here and there, like a short-lived change to a non-smoking format, but the bar ultimately found itself floating a nice chunk of real estate on a value-focused group of neighborhood regulars, which isn’t always an ideal way to get the bills paid.
Enter Taffer. The episode hasn’t aired, but from my experience watching the show, Bar Rescue is usually the last option before pulling the plug. Now, the post-Bar Rescue reviews for BCBG have been mixed, which is usually the case when the status quo is upended. Maybe that explains some of the regulars who now sit out front smoking. It’s not the best welcome, but it’s better than being greeted inside by a haze of cigarette smoke.
As for the interior, BCBG is practically unrecognizable as the same business. It still features two full-service bars, and pool and darts. The front windows are covered in one-way film that appears red and white from outside but is almost totally transparent from inside. Cool touch.
The dining area is now dubbed The Apothecary, and ST PETE is emblazoned on the back wall in huge block letters floating above white brick. The ceiling tiles have been mercifully painted black from their original nicotine-beige, and there are even some houseplants in the mix. It’s surprisingly hip and modern for a strip-mall sports bar — a place that you’d go for cocktails on the weekend just as soon as you’d grab lunch and brews to watch Sunday’s NASCAR race.
Despite the dramatic improvement in environment, the prices remain budget-friendly. $3 cocktails are still a given, as are $2.50 beers. There are an impressive 20 beers on draft, including a couple of local options (Yuengling and TBBC Reef Donkey pale ale) and some New York icons, like Blue Point Toasted Lager and the upstate classic, Genesee Cream Ale. Who else in town has Genesee on tap? That’s reason enough to visit.
I’m aware that not everyone will be impressed with the changes, but Taffer did the place justice. The name and theme has stayed, and the original Buffalo City neon still hangs above the entrance, a respectful nod to its 15-year legacy. The bar’s working-class vibe is intact, but it’s been tidied up and polished, welcoming a new audience along with longtime patrons.
All the pieces are in place for BCBG to enjoy a long run as a neighborhood bar for snowbirds, locals and, hopefully, first-timers. Now, when does the episode air?
— Contact Justin Grant at [email protected]
BCBG (Buffalo City Bar & Grille)
5631 Park Street N, St. Petersburg. (727) 549-9464; facebook.com/buffalocitybar
The vibe: A truly transformed locals haunt popular with upstate New York expats.
Food: Appetizers, salads and entrées, $1.95-$10.95.Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $2.50-$5; wine, $6.75; liquor, $3-$6.
Specialty: It would be downright criminal not to order from the top of the draft menu, where you’ll find the relatively uncommon Genesee Cream Ale. The classic brew has been a staple in upstate New York since it was first brewed more than 50 years ago, and this is a Buffalo bar. Pints of Cream Ale are only $2.50 — making the choice even easier. Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily.