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Noshes and sips with a new vibe debuting in the heart of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG

A spate of new restaurants and bars opened in the past few months on and around Central Avenue from downtown to the Grand Central District, bringing some hope that the local restaurant scene is pulling out of a woeful slump. Here are some notable examples.

Vue Sushi and Martini Bar

200 Central Ave. (727) 821-4600. Hours: Daily 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.

A sleek addition to downtown's tallest building (formerly the Bank of America tower), Vue Sushi and Martini Bar opened last month by owners Marek Pietryniak and Bart Pilipajc. It's all about the view here (thus the name), from the street people watching through floor-to-ceiling windows or the interior itself — granite martini bar up front, sushi bar in back, banquettes and tables covered in black and red faux alligator skin. Lunch is quiet and orderly, nights are more cocktail lounge than sushi bar. A panoramic photo provides a view of the downtown waterfront as seen from the 19th floor, where a companion lounge opens in March.

Gratzzi Italian Grille

211 Second St. S. (727) 623-9037. Hours: Mon.-Thur. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sun. 5 to 10 p.m.

Gratzzi closed its doors more than a year ago after a decade at BayWalk, a victim of the shopping center's slow decline and an unforgiving economy. It reopened a month ago in the spot formerly occupied by Pacific Wave, and loyal fans already are filling the place. The modern interior has been warmed considerably with soothing earth tones. The main room features comfortable booths with frosted-glass dividers, black-and-white photos of Rome and a marble-topped bar next to a pizza station that replaced the sushi bar. It's old world meets big city. Co-owner Domenic D'Angelo runs the front of the house with a gracious air, while chef-owner Tony Mangiafico has crafted a menu of Italian classics, with fast and affordable lunch specials.

Ruby's Elixir

15 Third St. N. (727) 898-7829. Hours: Daily 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

A cocktail lounge with live jazz and blues on weekends, Ruby's Elixir is going for the trendy speakeasy vibe, but without the double-secret password. It opened in what used to be the Havana Room and the lounge for Central Cigars. It's a co-production of the folks behind Central Cigars and Push Ultra Lounge.

Crystal Head Lounge

16 Second St. N. (727) 565-0551. Hours: Wed.-Sat. 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.

When it opened last month, Crystal Head Lounge had a unique claim to fame: the first bar tied to actor Dan Aykroyd's Crystal Head Vodka. Part of the Jannus Live complex, it's on the second floor just off a balcony overlooking the concert venue. It's a small place — a bar and a few couches and chairs — and it doubles as a VIP-only lounge during concerts. It's a bit hidden from the street: Enter at the Jannus Live VIP gate on First Avenue N between Second and Third streets.

The Burg Bar and Grill

1752 Central Ave. (727) 894-2874. Hours: Daily 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Bill Georgiou and James Laughorn were tending bar at the Hangar Restaurant and Flight Lounge last year when they decided to open their own place. Their place is a cozy throwback to the corner bar: juicy burgers, cold beer and an affable barkeep. The name is a nod to the city's unofficial nickname and the signature menu item. "We knew the theme was going to be burgers. The name seemed to match perfectly, '' said Laughorn, a former sous chef at Dan Marino's at BayWalk. The standard bar menu is accented by Greek dishes like souvlaki and spinach pie, thanks to Georgiou's background running Maria's Greek Family Restaurant (his mom ran the kitchen and lends a hand here). The kitchen is open till midnight. Free WiFi and lunch specials.

Grand Central Perc

2444 Central Ave. (727) 498-8870. Hours: Mon.-Fri. 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Grand Central Perc features locally roasted coffee (from No Name Java three blocks east), breakfast and lunch. A simple menu is enlivened by guest chefs for Sunday brunch. A blackboard asks customers to vote for their favorite soups. Free WiFi and local art for sale on the walls.

Queen & I Restaurant

2410 Central Ave. (727) 954-3926. Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.; Sun. 4 to 10 p.m.

Bryan Chant sold his interest in the popular downtown Thai restaurant the King & I and opened a new spot 20 blocks east in the Grand Central District. The name echoes the first restaurant, but also is a nod to Chant's popularity in the gay community. The menu features Thai, Japanese and dishes from Chant's native Laos. The bold flavors of Laos are not the only thing spicing things up: Weekend nights feature Thai dancers.

Coming attractions

The Ale and the Witch (111 Second Ave. NE) Billing itself as an American craft brew taphouse, featuring 32 craft beers, with live music and local art, a grand opening party is planned for Wednesday "featuring the Shiny Shoes Band, bringing the spirit of New Orleans jazz.''

Double Wide Saloon (1235 Central Ave.) Bills itself as downtown's "only rock 'n' roll country bar.'' Still under construction, no opening date set, but it looks close.

Taco Bus (2320 Central Ave.) The opening of this offshoot of the foodie-fave Tampa taqueria, complete with kitchen in a panel truck, has been delayed a couple of times but is planned for early February.

This story has been changed to reflect the following correction: The Burg Bar and Grill is at 1752 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. A story about new restaurants and clubs included an incorrect address.

Noshes and sips with a new vibe debuting in the heart of St. Petersburg 01/28/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 11:25am]
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