Bar review: From coffee to cocktails, Left Bank Bistro finds the right niche

Take a trip to Paris and never leave St. Pete
Published January 24
Updated January 24

It took long enough, but a bar and restaurant has finally pulled off a 1920s theme without any mention of speakeasies, flappers, bootlegging or Prohibition. There’s still juice to squeeze from that fruit, but distinct variations on the theme are most welcome.

St. Petersburg’s Left Bank Bistro gained an edge by borrowing a 1920s Parisian theme, rather than an American one. While we were making bathtub gin, the French continued to enjoy a wide variety of spirits, many of which were consumed in the various cafés and brasseries of Montparnasse, a neighborhood on the Left Bank of the Seine.

The significance of the Left Bank — la Rive Gauche — dates to the 1920s, when it was a home and hangout spot to artists of the early 20th century. Hemingway, Stein and Fitzgerald were regulars, as were Picasso and Matisse.

These were France’s années folles, a counterpoint to our Roaring Twenties: equally booze-soaked and with the same jazz soundtrack, but with an inimitable Bohemian cool. Wine, coffee and cocktails, in no particular order and not in a hurry, either.

True to form, Left Bank Bistro operates as a full-scale coffee shop, featuring coffee from local roasters such as Tampa’s Buddy Brew and St. Petersburg’s Made. A pastry display replaces a cocktail garnish case in the early mornings, though coffee drinks are available into the evenings, as well.

A wide selection of wines is a given — including four on draft — as are a range of café-style small plates and French-inspired meals. There’s Kronenbourg 1664 on tap at all times, rounded out by five rotating local beers, from breweries such as Green Bench, 3 Daughters, Coppertail and Tampa Bay Brewing Company.

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Although the restaurant is wildly popular — I couldn’t find a parking space on a Wednesday evening well beyond dinnertime — it really does feel like the sort of place you can spend some real time in (sorry, table wait list).

The whole thing is situated, appropriately enough, in a 1920s home with beautiful wood floors, a peaked ceiling and a wraparound balcony that on one side overlooks the Flamingo, a bar famously frequented by Jack Kerouac.

It’s bright and cheerful inside. Behind the bar, a wall of spirits rise in front of a mirrored case, rows of international whiskies, infused vodkas, small-batch rums and premium tequila.

There are 10 house cocktails on the menu, each named after an artist known for their time on the Left Bank. Some are household names, like Picasso and Fitzgerald; others are somewhat deeper cuts, like the interesting whiskey drink named after jazz musician Sidney Bechet (Knob Creek bourbon, basil-infused simple syrup, fresh-squeezed lemon juice and muddled basil); or a citrusy affair dubbed The Colette, after the French novelist who also dabbled in mime and acting (the drink: Ginraw gin, elderflower liqueur, Aperol, fresh-squeezed lemon juice and an orange twist).

Left Bank Bistro is beautiful, but its surroundings are far less picturesque than the French riverside just shy of a century ago.

While I’m not sure it will serve as a geographical muse for the artists of tomorrow, it’s still a great, modern take on 1920s Paris and a period-themed bar that manages to feel remarkably fresh.

[email protected] Follow @WordsWithJG.

Left Bank Bistro

1225 Dr. MLK Jr. Street N, St. Petersburg 33701. (727) 256-1691; theleftbankbistro.com

The vibe: A swank but subdued bar and restaurant, inspired by the Bohemian art scene of Paris.Food: Sides, starters and salads, $6-$10.50; entrées, $9-$32; desserts, $6-$12.

Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $6-$6.50; wine, $7-$18 by the glass and $18-$140 by the bottle; liquor, $6-$12, with some premium spirits priced higher. Happy hour: 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, $2 off select sparkling wines, $6 select red wines, and $1 off draft beer and wine.

Specialty: Left Bank’s 10 house cocktails are named after 1920s artists who spent their time on the left bank of the Seine. One standout is The Piaf — Édith Piaf, a famous singer and cabaret performer — which combines Dobel Diamante tequila, crème de cassis, simple syrup, fresh-squeezed lime juice and a splash of ginger beer.

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; closed Tuesday; 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

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