Advertisement
  1. Arts & Entertainment

A Gibsonton bar is Barfly’s last call

Justin Grant’s final column is from a laid-back AJ’s on the River. | Bar review
AJ’s on the River in Gibsonton. [Justin Grant]
AJ’s on the River in Gibsonton. [Justin Grant]
Published Dec. 11, 2019

In the nine years I’ve written this column, I’ve visited a startling number of pubs, speakeasies, dives, clubs, restaurants, biker bars, breweries and everything in between: more than 450 bars. That’s a lot of columns.

This one will be my last.

The best part of this gig has been the need to venture outside of my comfort zone to keep things lively and varied enough to hopefully entertain and inform thirsty Tampa Bay area residents. That has been the plan from the start — my first two columns were on an old-school tiki bar in Sarasota (Bahi Hut) and a Chinese restaurant in Seminole (Zom Hee) that remain two of my favorite spots for a drink to this day.

Venturing off the beaten path has brought me to novel locations such as Gibsonton, a town known for its large residence of traveling carnival workers. I’ve sucked down beers and second-hand smoke at the now-shuttered Tropicana Bar and admired the bizarre murals at Showtown Bar & Grill. Last stop: AJ’s on the River, a sleepy watering hole on the banks of the Alafia River.

Gibsonton’s primary claim to fame is that of a carny town, but AJ’s on the River is more along the lines of your typical sports bar, with cheap and cold beers, a menu of simple meals and bar snacks and a few TVs inside at the bar presenting the various sports du jour.

It’s an Old Florida bar, too, with an indoor-outdoor component that stretches onto a split-level, spacious patio deck, framed by boat ramps and trailer campsites. Flip-flops and tank tops are perfectly appropriate attire here, which makes sense, considering some of its patrons will invariably arrive by water.

Decorations range from dollar bills stuck to the ceiling inside the bar to old outboard motors hanging from the rafters on the patio. There are string lights above the bar that add to the outdoorsy, almost campground-like feel to the site.

In the back of the bar is the kitchen, which is actually a food truck of sorts, built into a pop-out trailer. This means the menu is somewhat limited, consisting primarily of burgers, sandwiches and pizza. There are a handful of beers available, including several local craft options, as well as a small range of wines on draft and wine-based faux spirits.

Longtime readers will know that I don’t mind these faux liquors when prepared correctly, and that’s the case at AJ’s. You can get away with a lot when making faux tequila sunrises, amaretto sours, strawberry daiquiris and Long Island iced teas (all on the menu at AJ’s). If they taste good and have adequate booze in them, I’ll sip some while enjoying a nice riverfront breeze.

There’s not a particularly elaborate setup at AJ’s, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that simple can be great, and showy bars rarely guarantee success. I like the simplicity at AJ’s. It couldn’t possibly be more laid-back or unpretentious, but it’s not a crumbling mess, either. That’s a harder balance to strike than you’d think.

Working the bar beat has been quite a ride, and I’m fortunate to have been able to take it. Now I can spend more time revisiting all those places I’ve been meaning to go back to all these years. If you see me out there, be sure to say hi — the first round’s on me.

— Contact Justin Grant at jg@saintbeat.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.

AJ’s on the River

9808 Vaughn St., Gibsonton. (813) 605-4621. facebook.com/ajsontheriver

The vibe: A laid-back bar and grill located on the banks of the Alafia River.

Food: Sandwiches, burgers and pizza, $7.50 to $9.50.

Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $3 to $5.50; wine, $5 to $5.50.

Specialty: AJ’s stocks a small but decent beer selection, featuring a variety of craft options, including local brews from places like Cigar City, 3 Daughters, Tampa Bay Brewing Company and Coppertail. There’s no liquor, but that hasn’t stopped the bar from assembling 10 house cocktails, with classics like the Moscow mule, margarita, piña colada all present, just made with wine-based mock spirits. They’re not bad!

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1.  [Times (1996)]
    Here’s why we chose to highlight iconic spots, and how we came up with the list.
  2. Patron vie for beads while attending in the 103nd Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of the Pirates presented by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on Saturday, January 25, 2020, in downtown Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes]
    Hundreds of thousands flock to Tampa each year for the pirate invasion, but other events across the country cast doubt on the ranking.
  3. Sammy Hagar performs at his 70th birthday party, dubbed Sammy Hagar's Rock-n-Roll Birthday Party, in 2017 in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. [Jill Trunnell]
    Catch up on today’s Tampa Bay concert announcements.
  4. An entree of Orange Plum Duck made with crispy duck on a bed of Chinese broccoli, bell peppers, and oranges. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    Now under new ownership, the St. Petersburg Thai restaurant serves up classics plus gems for more adventurous eaters. | Restaurant review
  5. The popular Red Boyz Dancers and Drummers return to the Brooksville Native American Festival this weekend at Florida Classic Park. [Courtesy of Paul DeLuna]
    Things to do in Pasco and Hernando counties
  6. Disturbed will perform at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on July 23. [TRAVIS SHINN  |  Warner Records]
    The nu-grunge giants are hitting the road to commemorate the 20th anniversary Disturbed’s debut album.
  7. Yesterday• Arts & Entertainment
    Broadway, film and TV star Bernadette Peters will perform with the Florida Orchestra at their annual fundraising gala on Feb. 1 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. [Andrew Eccles]
    Broadway’s Bernadette Peters headlines gala, Monster Jam returns and Lyle Lovett has a two-night stay in Clearwater.
  8. Billie Eilish poses in the press room with the awards for best album and best pop vocal album for "We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?", best song and record for "Bad Guy" and best new artist at the 62nd annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center on Sunday in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello) [CHRIS PIZZELLO  |  Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP]
    She is the first artist to sweep all four of the Grammy’s top awards since Christopher Cross in 1981.
  9. Kris Kristofferson performs at the Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater on Jan. 26. [JAY CRIDLIN  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The 83-year-old songwriting legend brought his songbook to life one more time at the Bilheimer Capitol Theatre. | Concert review
  10. The techniques are as varied as the costumes when Gasparilla parade-goers beckon for beads from the floats. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times]
    We were warned. Now the pirates are here. Stay with tampabay.com all day for the latest reports.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement