I'm almost upset that this year's World Cup takes place so close to our time zone. I had a lot of fun four years ago drinking beers at 10 a.m. at the World of Beer on Fourth Street in St. Petersburg, watching the world's best soccer players duke it out on the pitch. I admit it's probably more reasonable to do this in the afternoon, and for this I've secured my viewing location, though it's liable to get a little crowded.
Jack's London Grill is a tiny pub and restaurant that opened across the street from St. Petersburg's Rutland Plaza late last year inside of an old Pizza Hut. While such a lineage does not suggest an authentic U.K. pub vibe, the transformation that's taken place inside absolutely does, from the miniature, seven-seat bar area, to the steel-tipped dart board and brick wall façade.
The dining room, carefully packed with white padded booths and square tables, is about the size of an average living room. There are TVs in both corners of this room, as well as a large one right above the back wall of the bar, surrounded by wine racks. Three total TVs may suggest that Jack's is a poor choice for World Cup viewing, but the place is so small that these actually provide pretty comprehensive coverage from anywhere in the place.
In some cases, small translates to cramped; at Jack's it's charming. It feels very much like the archetypical British pub: a social meeting place where you can grab some drinks and a meal. No pretense, nothing fancy. When I visited, a small group sat at the bar, eating dinner, pints of Guinness in hand (admittedly not British, but those Sam Smith's kegs are hard to come by), watching a game.
Jack's is the creation of Peter Leonavicius, a longtime bay area chef who wanted to try his hand at something more low-key and intimate than his previous ventures. Jack's limited size and scope (the food and drink menus fit on two pages) allow Leonavicius to cook a full menu of dishes from scratch — even the bread is made in-house — while personally interacting with patrons.
While the dishes at Jack's are fairly well in line with the kind of pub fare you'd expect, they're prepared with an enthusiasm that you might not, from the colorful presentation to subtle ingredient twists that go beyond the standards. For example, I ordered a side of sautéed vegetables, which Leonavicius feared might come out a little plain, so he added some sweet dates and pecans as a garnish.
The drink list follows suit, covering the basics but going just a little bit extra. You'll find classic British and continental European fare on the beer list, ranging from Bass and Boddingtons to Pilsner Urquell and Weihenstephaner, as well as a few craft offerings, such as Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout, Hobgoblin ale and the locally brewed 3 Daughters IPA.
There's a full range of house wines available for a mere $4 a glass, as well as a respectable list of additional options by both glass and bottle. Although the entire drink list — both beer and wine — has only around 30 entries, it doesn't feel particularly lacking; in fact, it feels more extensive than that of many similar-but-larger pubs in the area.
Aside from airings of the World Cup matches, Jack's also has a pub quiz night on Tuesdays that's worth checking out. Two bucks gets you an entry, and the winning player or team takes the pot, along with a $20 gift card. I'm no slouch on trivia, so I'll be shooting for this bar-tab rebate after the Tuesday matches.
The only thing keeping Jack's from becoming my new local bar is the fact that it closes at 10 p.m. The location is a tad obscure, and there aren't 50 beers on tap, but it's about as friendly and fun a neighborhood pub as you could ask for. And often that's exactly what I am asking for.