TAMPA — Don’t call Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux a sports bar.
Yes, the newest hangout at Midtown Tampa has 48 beers on draft — more than almost any other bar in South Tampa — and 84 TVs throughout, including 31 directly above the bar.
But the bar, its owners say, is only part of what’ll make Tampa’s first Walk-On’s appealing.
“We’re not a sports bar; we’re a sports restaurant,” said Mike Lester, the franchisee behind this Walk-On’s at 1140 Gramercy Lane. “Our demographics are entirely different. Our demographics are right down the middle — 50% men, 50% women and lots of families and children. They’re all welcome.”
Well over a year since Walk-On’s was announced for the $1 billion mixed-use development near Interstate 275 and N Dale Mabry Highway, the restaurant is finally ready for its grand opening on June 20. Walk-On’s is planning a ribbon-cutting at 10 a.m. with giveaways for the first guests.
The delay was due partly to slowdowns in the permitting and build-out process, especially as Midtown opened and residents moved into the development. But it was also because Lester, previously president of the fondue restaurant chain The Melting Pot, wanted the design and feel to be just right. An average Walk-On’s costs around $4.2 million to open, Lester said, and the Tampa location came in right around that figure.
“We hadn’t fully appreciated how complex this whole operation is,” Lester said. “We have 100-and-some people sleeping right above us. We have to take safety into consideration. So we slowed down, we said, ‘Okay, let’s make sure everything goes perfect,’ and that’s what we did. That just took extra time to do that.”
Walk-On’s began in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the brainchild of former Louisiana State University walk-on basketball player Brandon Landry, with later backing from former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. For the last few years, it’s been one of the fastest-growing restaurant franchises in the country, with dozens of stores nationwide, including new locations in Wesley Chapel and Lakeland.
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The 9,171-square-foot restaurant seats 343 people indoors and outdoors, with a bar window serving walk-up customers from anywhere in Midtown. The neighborhood is wet-zoned, Lester said, meaning customers can take their drinks out into Midtown’s courtyard.
“We think this is going to get a lot of action, because if someone wants to just walk around, they don’t have to wait in line inside for the bar,” Lester said. “They can come here and get a drink.”
Inside, the walls are plastered with images of Tampa Bay stars, from Rays shortstop Wander Franco to the Lightning’s 2021 Stanley Cup win — but also athletes from the University of Florida, Florida State and the University of Miami. The menu features Cajun cuisine and Louisiana-inspired takes on pub fare, from po’ boys to crawfish to alligator tail.
With Raymond James Stadium sitting just up the road, Lester believes Walk-On’s will bring big game-day crowds to Midtown Tampa.
“We want to be known as the restaurant of choice where a fan of any team can come and enjoy it,” he said.