When I was a kid, my class took a field trip to San Francisco, where we spent the day "working" on an old wooden ship. We performed a variety of tasks, from swabbing the decks, to prepping meals in the galley to what I recall being a lot of stuff involving ropes. In a hazy soup of childhood memories this Gasparilla weekend, it strikes me as especially vivid. I've always daydreamed about spending long periods of time at sea.
I recently visited the Galley, a new nautically themed bar in downtown St. Petersburg. Opened last month by high school friends and St. Pete natives Pete Boland and Ian Taylor, the Galley is intriguing to me on multiple levels.
First, and most obviously: The nautical interior immediately brought back nostalgic memories of my childhood trip. The interior is small but cozy, decked out in copious amounts of wood — wood ceiling panels and cross beams, wood floors, a wooden bar (with masts on the ends) and even a wooden ship's wheel converted into a light fixture near the entrance. Much of this was done by Taylor himself, a former sailor and skilled woodworker.
If it weren't for several TVs throughout the bar, you might actually think you're in the hull of a ship — well, you'd maybe need a few drinks first.
Most of the theme is implied, which I love. In fact, you could toss up some shamrocks and a Guinness mirror, and it would pass for an Irish pub. Swap those out for a red phone booth in the corner, and it's British. Leave it as is, and you have a bar with an unforced theme, which I think is what downtown St. Pete needs.
I'm also impressed with just how solid of an establishment the place is right out the gate. Boland has no shortage of bar and restaurant experience, and this is evident in how well-designed the bar's programs are. There aren't any obvious weak points — whether you come in for beer, wine, cocktails or food, you'll find a satisfying but generally concise range of options. It's all very uncomplicated and to the point.
The Galley takes over the space formerly occupied by Reno Downtown Joint, which had an unfortunately short run. I'm sure the Galley will stick around, especially once the major condo across the street goes up in 2018.
Why do I think they'll stick around? It's highly visible from Central Avenue, thanks to a massive work by by Seacat Murals that rises a full story above the entrance. There's cafe seating out front, and a cutaway to the bar, allowing indoor-outdoor access. There's a fantastic selection of beer, wine and liquor (including a half-dozen house cocktails), and it's open late every night (including a late-night menu). It's hip, but not too hip. The service? On point.
The cocktail list has six options, and is smartly designed to cover a pretty good range, which is surprising considering half of them are rum-based.
Tapping into an idle fantasy may pique my interest, but I wouldn't expect that to resonate with everyone. The Galley, however, has a decent shot of doing just that. It's a modest, straightforward pub that happens to have a bit of a nautical theme. But in terms of detail and execution, The Galley is a tight ship, indeed.
Contact Justin Grant at jg@ saintbeat.com; @WordsWithJG.