I recently received an e-mail from a reader suggesting a visit to the Rusty Nail Lounge in St. Pete. I'd noticed the bar before while driving down 46th Avenue west of 66th Street; it seemed like a no-frills place, a neighborhood spot where the locals could congregate and enjoy a frothy mug of ice-cold draft beer. I figured I'd take a trip to see what the 46th Avenue crowd was up to.
My preliminary Internet detective work came up goose eggs, as the Rusty Nail seemingly has no web presence. All I could gather was that this was a bar popular with the locals, possibly prone to occasional rowdiness, and the fact that smoking is allowed at the bar is a point of pride. It was a start.
The Rusty Nail fit in nicely with my expectations. The layout is similar to many establishments of a similar ilk, with the bar in the center sporting a solid stock of bottles, a few tap handles and a rack of cocktail glasses that I seriously doubt see much action. The place is pretty well-kept, even decorated with hearts and bright red streamers along the bar for Valentine's Day.
A pool table is in one corner, flanked by a room for throwing darts. The opposite corner contains a small stage for occasional live music. There are several arcade games, such as the ever-present video bowling, as well as two of my favorites — Daytona USA and Ms. Pac Man. Pinball and a Megatouch machine complete the bar game superfecta, but a claw game filled with stuffed animals takes it to the next level, ensuring that no bar patron could possibly find boredom here.
As it turned out, auxiliary entertainment wasn't needed, as I arrived shortly before a loud argument broke out, eventually escalating into an actual fistfight outside. This was the source of several animated discussions afterward, the specifics of which I couldn't possibly hope to slip by my editor.
Now, I don't mean to imply that this kind of activity is commonplace at the Rusty Nail. On the contrary; the bartender, a friendly fellow by the name of Andy, seemed embarrassed by the whole spectacle and did his best to defuse the situation. Most of the clientele ignored the scene, content to relax and enjoy what would otherwise be a pretty laid-back atmosphere.
As the drama of the fracas unfolded, I tuned out and went back to the drinks. The focus here is on your basic domestic drafts — Heineken is about as exotic as it gets in regards to beer. Well liquors are also big sellers here, but the selection is thorough enough, with ample calls and premiums to choose from should you decide to mix it up.
I asked what the house specialty was, half expecting it to be the Rusty Nail itself (a blend of Scotch and Drambuie), but I was informed that there was no real specialty, just basic drinks at bargain basement prices. And who can argue with that? For a local watering hole, this is a tried and true formula. It would be hard to go broke here, with even the most premium drinks topping out at around $6, a welcome change of pace from some of the pricier places I've been torching money at lately.
The Rusty Nail Lounge doesn't try to be something it isn't, and it works. The bar thrives on its regulars, and everyone knows each other. If you're not a local, you need not fear any needles scratching off the surface of a record when you walk in — the service is friendly and the vibe is relaxed, despite the festivities on the night I visited.
Affordable drinks, and no gimmicks. Works for me.