It takes a lot to catch my attention when a new sports bar opens. Unless the phrase mini bowling is involved, in which case that's pretty much all it takes.
That's what initially caught my eye when Ducky's Sports Lounge was announced late last year, although for most people, that detail probably plays second fiddle to the fact that Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria is a primary investor and co-owner of the West Kennedy sports bar.
It would be easy enough to write off Ducky's as just an overhyped sports bar backed by a local celebrity if it didn't have enough unique qualities to set it apart. Mini bowling is a good sign. But what else? A full menu of creative fare is available, and the drinks — both in terms of quality and selection — are pretty far beyond the realm of the standard sports bar. Not a bad start.
I had the bright idea to swing by Ducky's on Monday, partly to avoid huge crowds and partly because I was recovering from the flu that kept me in bed over the weekend. Of course, Monday happened to be the FSU-Auburn game, meaning the place was mobbed. I've been in a lot of rowdy sports-bar scenes during big games, but this one might take the cake. The crowds, overall enthusiasm level and the percentage of people decked in FSU gear could've fooled anyone into thinking that Ducky's is located in Tallahassee. So I think it's safe to say that fans do, in fact, like this new sports bar.
I've got a good idea why. Aside from the wider-than-average food and drink options, the setting is slightly more upscale than your typical sports bar; it's a "boutique sports lounge," according to the bar's website. The front patio offers open-air seating, a view of Kennedy Boulevard and 60-inch flatscreen TVs.
Inside, there's a large dining area with hardwood floors, booth seating against the wall, and a long, U-shaped bar. Oh, and more 60-inch flatscreens. Any self-respecting sports bar needs to have a good audio/video setup, but Ducky's really goes all the way with the concept, adding a whopping 35 TVs into the mix, giving guests a clear, unobstructed view of games from literally any seat in the house, as well as booming, room-filling audio that makes you feel like you're actually in the stadium (or maybe that was just all the customers chanting and making tomahawk gestures).
In the back corner is my favorite part: Four lanes of mini-bowling! It's Ducky's take on duckpin bowling (hence the name), featuring smaller balls and pins and shorter lanes. It's an extremely cool feature to have in a bar, and to my knowledge, it's the first of its kind in our area. And don't worry, it has all of the corny animations that you love when you go regular bowling.
The drink selection makes it clear that Ducky's is more upscale. How much so? Enough to offer private bottle service, VIP-club style. But if you'd rather order them one at a time, Ducky's has several signature house cocktails, ranging from variations on the mojito and gin smash to a custom Ducky's Bowl for you to share with friends.
Perhaps coolest of all is the fact that Ducky's even has its own beer, and it's not just the re-labeled Bud Select that you find at plenty of other places. No, Ducky's Pils is a European-style lager custom-brewed by the folks at Cycle Brewing. I know the sports crowd loves their Mich Ultra and Miller Lite, but this could just be the perfect gateway beer for them to explore one of Ducky's nearly 30 other taps, which include other local brews from Big Storm, Cold Storage, Cigar City and Tampa Bay Brewing Company. They also do beertails, if you can't decide between a traditional cocktail or a craft beer or cider.
Ducky's definitely has a solid head start due to its affiliation with Longoria, but that's just one of its selling points. I know many sports fans will keep coming back for the impressive and comprehensive TV coverage, and I'll be back — hopefully on a slower night — to try my hand at a few games of mini bowling.