It started with the Eagle in London in 1991. It was a pub, only with really ambitious food. Thus, the gastropub was born.
First and foremost drinking establishments, this new breed of bar took food seriously, even if still largely in support of libations. Forget wings and fries, chefs at gastropubs started experimenting with their own charcuterie and other rustic, gutsy fare.
In the past five years, gastropubs have proliferated in the U.K. as well as the U.S. So, what's next? Enter the gastro lounge. Still a bar, still with more ambitious food, but now we're talking chic, dramatic spaces with Miami-ish fripperies and low couches on which to loll louchely.
Last month saw the opening of St. Petersburg's first gastro lounge, Tryst, and it's a stunner. Banquettes suitable for the likes of Marie Antoinette (had she been a barfly), a long onyx bar capped by a crowd of dazzling pendant lamps, shimmery silver wallpaper and a reflective mosaic tile backsplash on the bar — it's about as stylish a nightspot as we've seen in these parts. It has walk-up indoor-outdoor counter seating and low-slung sidewalk seats (dog friendly), an attractive staff and these faux alligator chairs that you just can't stop running your fingers over.
I went not long after it opened and felt that the menu and service hadn't quite gelled. Giving it a few more weeks seems to have been wise, as the servers have settled into a groove and the menu has solidified. I will say that the lunch menu is tremendously expensive (order a tasty mushroom pappardelle for $18, but if you want chicken on that it jumps to $23 — that stings a little at lunchtime), but the dinner menu is geared around more sharable nibbles to support the drinks menu.
The beer list (27 on tap arrayed gorgeously behind the bar) is thoughtful and shows enough breadth to accommodate most tastes (a lot of IPAs), and the cocktail list, on an absurdly large piece of paper, features a number of unusual signature drinks, many involving muddled fruit. These are less classic cocktails a la Mandarin Hide, and indeed more Miami-style fancy. I'm not going to say girlie drinks per se, but it did occur to me that this would be a great place for a girls' night out.
Owner Renaud Cowez owns the House of Beer in Orlando; chef Mark Kaba came most recently from the Ritz-Carlton there. Together they lend a certain professionalism to the venture and a willingness to tinker with the details as they settle in. The lunch menu, although, as I said, pricey, has found its way. There's a gorgeous lamb burger ($14) with Manchego, great fries and a ramekin of cucumber raita; also a nice tomato soup ($8) served with a dainty but delicious Gruyere grilled cheese.
At dinner, more work needs to be done: A charcuterie board ($14) and a cheese board ($16) were both pedestrian, a mishmash of flavors and garnishes, with the cheese served too warm and neither accompanied by enough breadstuffs with which to pair the meat and cheese. Dishes like pan-seared scallops on a corn-poblano relish with bacon ($13) and seared yellowfin on a bed of citrusy Israeli couscous ($16) are in the right direction, nicely executed and sophisticated concepts, but small portions. It's a tall order, but both Ciro's and Fly Bar in Tampa have figured out how to feed drinkers with affordable, easily sharable small plates.
That said, Tryst seems like just what Beach Drive was missing, filling a niche not quite met by Parkshore Grill, Bella Brava or others. Its glamor alone makes it a natural draw for an assignation, amorous or otherwise.
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. She dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.