By Justin Grant
ST. PETERSBURG — When the Havana Room closed a few months ago, I had mixed feelings. When I learned the new place would be a "jazz bar," with classic cocktails and an emphasis on old-fashioned mixology, I was astounded by the prospect of an actual cocktail spot opening in the heart of downtown.
But that was before cocktails took over downtown. In the past four months, four cocktail lounges have opened within a four-block radius (numerologists, take note). A previously beer-and-bourbon town was now a Sidecar-and-Collins town as well.
Now that the honeymoon's over, how are cocktails holding up in downtown St. Petersburg? Quite well, as you'll notice if you stop by the Mandarin Hide, Vue Martini Bar, Crystal Head Lounge or Ruby's Elixir just about any night of the week.
Ruby's has been open a couple of months now, and the crowd doesn't seem to be waning. On a recent Saturday night, there were no open tables or seats, and the bar was lined with people waiting to order from the selection of old-school cocktails, premium liquors and tidy lineup of a dozen or so craft beers, served from a draft line sporting a stone facade resembling a fireplace.
Before Ruby's opened, I spent some time nosily peeking in the windows, trying to get an idea of how the owners could possibly expect to open a live music venue in this tiny space, and what I saw then is what you see today: the original bar's quarters, plus the space next door, combined into one wide room with enough table seating to be a restaurant.
Fortunately, Ruby's has a cafe permit, allowing the crowd to spill out onto the front patio, which is filled with tables and lounge chairs. The doors are always wide open, giving the bar a strange vibe from the juxtaposition of the open-air seating in front and the dark, moody lighting in back.
The artwork and bar staff's attire is also quite unusual, with the Prohibition era and the 1950s pinup scene colliding head-on.
The atmosphere is subdued, with red dominating the color scheme, extending from the rope lighting behind the bar and the hanging lamps dimly illuminating the area surrounding it, to red-tinted rocks glasses.
Jazz and blues bands perform six nights a week, ranging from classics to contemporary. There's no shortage of music and good company here.
Now that premium cocktails have officially hit the scene in St. Petersburg, expect to see more bars following suit.