Make us your home page

Bar review: Margaritas and murals at El Gallo Grande in St. Petersburg

If you spend any time in downtown St. Pete, you've no doubt noticed the rise of the building murals, culminating in last fall's SHINE Festival, which brought a dozen or so large-scale works to town. Murals quickly have become one of the town's visual highlights, adding a colorful, lively feel to the neighborhood, as well as some street cred for a city gaining national recognition for its arts scene.

A little farther south, buildings tend to fall back into the strictly utilitarian look that we've become accustomed to, which is why El Gallo Grande stands out so boldly — a flash of saturated, vivid colors against a plain, mostly residential backdrop.

Although El Gallo Grande — "the big rooster," if you're wondering — is a bar and restaurant, it's probably most well-known for its murals, courtesy of the Vitale Brothers: Johnny, Paul and cousin Bruce. The Vitales have beautified businesses across the bay area for the past couple of decades, and at El Gallo Grande, their work is as much a part of the business as is the food and drink.

The biggest and boldest works are on the exterior, from the giant tagline "That Mexican Place," to a striking portrait around back of legendary Mexican actress María Félix, adapted from a promotional poster for the 1950 film Doña Diabla. El Gallo Grande is painted onto rusted metal siding, hinting at the retro kitsch that you'll find inside the restaurant.

To me, a visually interesting interior plays a big role in how much I enjoy spending time in a place. You can have great food and drinks, but if they're served in a bland environment, there's not much reason for patrons to stick around once they're done eating. El Gallo Grande is very far removed from this description. I could spend all day there.

Simply put, it's colorful. Very, very colorful. From the mismatched, brightly painted furniture, to paintings of luchadores, dancers, roosters and skulls, El Gallo Grande gives you plenty to look at.

There's a reproduction of La Calavera Catrina, José Guadalupe Posada's iconic, early 20th century etching, as well as several depictions of painted sugar skulls, both immediately recognizable symbols of Mexico's Día de los Muertos holiday. Inverted lamp shades hang from the ceiling, directing colored lights down to the heavily lacquered tables, some of which are repurposed doors salvaged from the old Dalí Museum.

There's a good deal of authenticity to it all, to be sure, but it's also a distillation of Mexican pop culture, viewed from a domestic perspective. I've more than once seen the name of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez — director of From Dusk Till Dawn — mentioned in describing El Gallo Grande's look, and I only wish I were the first to make the observation. It's "Authexican," as the restaurant's website notes — a stylized, tongue-in-cheek approach to an authentic Mexican cantina.

The drink program has changed a bit in the time since El Gallo Grande's opening in 2014, but I think it's in a good spot now. There are six house cocktails, house-made sangria, six drafts (a mix of local and Mexican brews), a diverse wine list and a hefty selection of tequilas.

Speaking of interiors, how's this for bold: all of the six house cocktails are tequila-based. This absolutely cracks me up; I think it's fantastic. There's a house margarita, a Jarritos-based Paloma, the jalapeño-spiced Fuego y Hielo ("fire and ice"), a cucumber-cilantro cooler, and El Rey — a potent, premium margarita made with El Mayor Reposado and Florida Old Reserve orange liqueur. Strangely, El Gallo Grande's sangrita — usually a sweet-savory chaser to straight tequila shots — is actually a mix of frozen margarita and sangria. Hey, whatever works.

The drinks are generously strong and extremely tasty, which would be reason enough to pay a visit to El Gallo Grande. The colorful, funky design, however, elevates it to a must-visit.

You won't find these murals along Central, but El Gallo Grande makes venturing a few blocks down the road an entirely worthwhile proposition.; @WordsWithJG.

El Gallo Grande

1625 Fourth St. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 851-9579.

The vibe: A colorful, heavily decorated cantina specializing in Mexican-inspired cocktails and premium tequilas.

Food: Appetizers, sides, soups and salads, $2.49 to $9.99; entrees, $7.99 to $15.99; desserts, $1.49 to $5.99.

Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $3.50 to $4.50; wine, $5 to $10 by the glass and $20 to $40 by the bottle; liquor, $4 to $11.50, with some ultra-premium tequilas priced as high as $29. Happy hour is 2 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, featuring two-for-one house margaritas, $3 wells and Dos Equis drafts, and $4 house wines.

Specialty: Margarita fans are in luck: Choose from a classic house version, a frozen margarita, or — if you don't mind the $11.50 price tag — El Rey, a seriously strong premium version made from El Mayor Reposado, triple sec, house-made sour and a float of Florida Old Reserve orange liqueur. Don't ask me why there's triple sec and Florida Old Reserve; deliciousness trumps redundancy.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Bar review: Margaritas and murals at El Gallo Grande in St. Petersburg 05/05/16 [Last modified: Thursday, May 5, 2016 5:35pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Glen Campbell's wife Kim discusses challenges, guilt caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, others face

    Life Times

    If there's one thing Kim Campbell would change about caregiving for Alzheimer's patients, it's the attitude so many of us have toward transferring a loved one from home to a long-term care facility. According to Campbell, it's often the most kind, loving decision you can make. It's not a sign of failure, but one of …

    Kim Campbell, wife of country music legend Glen Campbell, is acknowledged by those attending the free event where she shared the story of her personal journey with Alzheimer???‚??„?s disease and the struggles she faced caring for her husband on Friday (5/26/17) at the Suncoast Hospice's Empath Health Service Center in Clearwater. Empath Choices for Care, a member of Empath Health, and Arden Courts Memory Care hosted the free event where Kim shared her story to help others understand the early stages, how the disease changes lives, the challenges families face and the role of caregiver.
  2. What happened when I took my dad to a Pitbull concert

    Music & Concerts

    TAMPA — "So, you know how you like Pitbull?" I asked my dad. "We can see him."

    Selfie of Divya Kumar and Anand Kumar at Pitbull/Enrique Iglesias concert.
  3. Tampa City Council votes to accept travel invitation from Cuban ambassador


    The invitation came to Tampa City Council chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin in a June 9 letter from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.

    The Tampa City Council voted 6-0, with Frank Reddick out of the room, to respond to a travel invitation from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 25


    St. Pete Pride Festival: The daytime festival covers Central Avenue's Grand Central District with more than 350 vendors, multiple stages, live music, art and food. 9 a.m., Grand Central District, 2429 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Free. (727) 342-0084.

    Kristen Whalen poses for a photo before the start of the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg last year. It's that time of year again, so check with us for your planning purposes. [LUIS SANTANA  |   Times (2016)]
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24


    St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride's popular parade moves to downtown St. Petersburg's scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at 7 p.m. with fireworks at 9:45 p.m. 2 p.m., North Straub Park, Fifth …

    Thousands line the streets of Central Ave. during the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg.  [Saturday, June 25, 2016] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]